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Pro-Active Project Planning – Serbian Example

Michael Lippe, Eluned Schweitzer

Considerations of three PTF-supported projects in Serbia, all of which impacted sensitive political and judicial developments, highlighted the crucial need for sponsors (donors – in this case PTF) to pursue sound and substantial planning to provide an enhanced assurance of positive outcomes and a greater ability to assist the project-implementing CSOs with quality control. As a result and the effectiveness all three organizations are committed to continue their project activities and they and PTF are now looking ahead to further actions to improve the impact of their efforts.

As is the case in so many parts of the world, the approaches of the Serbian government effectively constrain the activities that civil society organizations (CSOs) can undertake. There are mostly windows of opportunities in the anti-corruption space, but  in the case of Serbia this is  somewhat wider than in many other countries because of Serbia’s desire to strengthen its relationship with the European Union. Nevertheless the perceived levels of corruption in the countries are high and, unsurprisingly therefore, the demand for good governance is formidable. The challenge to PTF – indeed to all who seek to promote governmental transparency and accountability here and in similarly situated countries – is to find pragmatic ways to best support the efforts and plans of local CSOs whose goal is good governance.

PTF’s approach in 2011 was novel and while it is too early to draw firm conclusions concerning the results, the process seems promising. It was to see PTF supporting three CSO-led projects: The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM) project that is engaged with judicial reforms and transparency – a particularly difficult area in Serbia, yet key to enhancing basic civil rights; the Toplika Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Transparent Public Procurements for Less Corruption in Serbia) project that concerns public procurement at the national level; and, the Southern News (Juzne Vesti) internet media project that targets improving oversight of local budgets.

How did we come to support these projects and what have we learned through our approach?

PTF had some past experience in Serbia; we knew that CSOs there were keen to push hard for reforms and we felt that we had the unique tools – our small grants and our advice – to provide assistance. But, as we started our planning it was clear that we did not know enough about what was going on in Serbia to be able to say what was important, what would have an impact, and which CSOs we should partner with.

Key Approach Features
We took a range of actions in our basic planning and design approach – an approach that we see as replicable –:

  • We set up a “brain-trust” involving people who knew Serbia well – it enabled us to bounce different ideas and perspectives around over a 2-3 week period.
  • We consulted with other donors, especially USAID, but also others who also had a presence on the ground to understand both what they were doing and what they thought PTF might best do.
  • We put together a list of 6-8 CSOs that were thought to be reliable and effective, rather than waiting and investigating random proposals from organizations we did not know.
  • We made sure we had PTF management support for the approach.
  • We came up with 3 or 4 major themes that most everyone thought were where the fundamental problems might be.
  • We introduced PTF to the CSOs that we had pre-selected and asked them if they were interested in submitting proposals in accordance with our guidelines and on the themes we wished to pursue.
  • We received 6 responses. We pursued them, and management agreed to go forward with three projects that reflected the broad issues we had defined, that we believed would address some fundamental issues and – very importantly – that could be replicable. We believed that the three organizations that were selected had the experience and knowledge to have an impact.
  • Serbians mentioned that one of the best things they had learned from PTF’s involvement with them in the design process was just how this should be done, very useful for them in working with other donors. This is part of the advisors normal design routine. We put a lot of time in on helping to design the projects, and our partners learned from this collaboration.

As the three projects were pursued it became very clear that our preparatory work strengthened the ability of the PTF Advisers to interact closely with each of the CSOs and have a meaningful impact on strengthening their project designs and implementation work.  In addition it meant that we could have a multiplier impact by enhancing synergies that we saw in each of the three projects.

All three projects combined information and education campaigns for the general public with fostering dialogue between actors such as the police, judiciary and government agencies at the national and local level.  They used print, television, public fora, training workshops and the internet to disseminate information about poor practices and to highlight the need for public responses to and monitoring of areas where government corruption was known to be found.

The sound and substantial planning by PTF provides an enhanced assurance of positive outcomes and a greater ability by the PTF Advisers to assist the CSOs with quality control. All three organizations that we are working with are committed to continue their project activities.  They and PTF are now looking ahead to further actions to improve the impact of their efforts.

These would include: (i) moving beyond advocacy and blaming and shaming to changing the existing social climate in which integrity is not valued and; (ii) expanding their networking activities, perhaps on a regional basis.  The emphasis on improving training for judiciary and other stakeholders, which was followed by YUCOM, is one such type of activity.  Finding other ways of incentivizing public officials to do their job properly (perhaps using positive deviance approaches) is key to sustainable transparency and anti-corruption activities.

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