Quality is based on participation, trust and variation - not control systems and detailed reporting. To cope with Post-2015, development assistance must be reformed and adapted to ever-changing challenges. Evaluations of the evaluations may not be the best way forward in this work, says Klas Palm, consultant and researcher at Mid Sweden University
Quality development has often been about finding good systems for seeing and fixing errors. It has been about rejoicing in discovering that we can do this better. Quality has always been about letting those who work closest to production be the ones who lead quality development. The manager's task is to ensure that those who are in the front line get that space. Quality is not based on control systems and detailed reporting. For a while, it has been thought in the quality area that quality is in direct inverse proportion to variation. The less variety, the more quality. But in recent years, it has been realized that this may be the case if you work with manufacturing cars, but not necessarily when it comes to service processes, then it may even be the other way around. That quality is created by variation.
Since the turn of the century, I have worked as a consultant in the development assistance sector. For a few years now, I have also been researching quality in organizations. It usually rings on my computer when Sida wants to buy up some exciting consulting service. The other day it said pling and on the computer screen an invitation to a procurement of evaluation consultant appeared. Aha, exciting, I thought. What was to be evaluated were… evaluations! Sida's framework agreement with an evaluation company would be evaluated. Maybe good, but it felt a little funny. Can one take it one step further, I thought, to evaluate the evaluation of these evaluations? Somewhere there was a feeling that it had gone too far. I can not help but wonder if this is the way to better quality aid.
Last September, I was at a research conference in Poland. Researchers from all over the world had traveled there to talk about what is good quality and how to work to achieve quality in both product and service-producing organizations. We gathered in the university auditorium to listen to the introductory speech. The talk was about the problem that quality work today in far too many cases is about detailed control of processes and excessive control systems. The speaker said that many believe that we achieve quality through control and detailed process systems. He said that we who work with and research on quality know that this is not the case.
But how is it then, of course, one wonders. How do you achieve quality in such complex contexts as international development cooperation? Perhaps the most difficult context one can work in at all.
Through many long years of development of quality work, beginning in the 30s in the USA, further developed in Japan during the post-war period, refined and exported all over the world such as Kaizen, Total Quality Management, Lean and various ISO standards, quality work is based on a few simple principles. Perhaps these basic principles can also apply to international development cooperation?
The first of the basic principles is to always put the target group in the center. To always start from the target group's needs and opinions. To highlight the target group's opinions and let them be involved in the development processes of the business. In line with this is the second principle; the idea of participation. The target group and those at the far end of the chain of the processing process (of the Swedish tax money) must be involved in the business development processes. Those who work in the front line, closest to the target groups, perhaps know best how development aid should be developed. The role of managers is to create systems that listen to end target groups and those who work closest to the target groups. The third principle is that these groups should feel that there is room to constantly work on improvements, that they are encouraged to find development potential to build on and to correct mistakes. (Sometimes we in development aid are so focused on seeing problems that we miss strengths we can build on.) The fourth principle is that quality is based on both continuous small improvements and large stages of development. The major stages of development are based on innovative ideas that require experimentation, permission to make mistakes and that emerge from the fertile soil that consists of diversity and variety. Like the herbicide, the uniformity agenda can kill all primary innovations that try to take root.
The forms and management of development assistance need to be reformed, developed and adapted to the new world we live in. The only thing that is constant is the constant change. That is why we need the basics of quality: participation, trust and variety to build a flexible system. Then we are ready for Post-2015.
Consultant Palm Quality Management AB
Doctoral student in Quality Technology at Mid Sweden University