The Ant and the Grasshopper: Lessons for Collaborative Planning in a Changing World [CIES 2024 Presentation]

As economies in the global-South mature and calls for decolonizing international assistance become louder, it becomes increasingly important to reimagine the design, planning and implementation of international assistance. This paper will explore the evolution of the relationship between an international funding agency and partner Ministry over a decade of program implementation. USAID has implemented three consecutive education projects in Tanzania since 2011 that focus on improving the quality of teaching to enhance learning outcomes, starting with the USAID Tanzania 21st Century activity. Over time, these programs have shifted the nature of implementation and engagement with Government with the goal of institutionalizing program activities within the administrative structure of the Tanzanian education system. This paper discusses the strategies used under the two most recent activities (Tusome Pamoja and Jifunze Uelewe) and the associated outcomes, providing options for future collaborative engagement. Education service delivery for basic education in Tanzania is a shared responsibility on the mainland, with Ministry of Education and Sports (MoEST) providing policy direction and quality assurance and the President’s Office – Regional Administration and Local Governance (PO-RALG) managing curriculum delivery through the schools. USAID has supported the provision of teaching and learning materials, teacher professional development, sub-national management and community engagement. In this paper we discuss the evolution of four strategies for collaboration: (i) alignment with Government policies; (ii) collaborative work planning; (iii) exploiting opportunities; (iv) consistent communication strategies. Projects, by nature, are perceived as short-term interventions independent of broader system administration. They are frequently perceived as an additional administrative burden but bringing the advantage of substitutive financing. This presentation discusses how Tusome Pamoja addressed these perceptions and expectations, by recognizing the need to demonstrate the alignment between Government initiatives and activity support. We further discuss how consistent and flexible communication led to significant achievement of Government approval of new national guidelines for school quality assurance, parent engagement, and teacher continuous professional development. We will highlight how the most recent activity (Jifunze Uelewe) made significant adjustments to its annual work planning process to address the mismatch between the work planning and budget cycles of the governments of US and Tanzania. We also discuss how clarity and coherence of communication internally between project management and USAID ensured a unified and consistent messaging strategy, with USAID communicating at the political level while project staff engaging at the technical level. This ensured that when important shifts in service delivery implementation were elevated from technical to political approval, the context and concept was already well understood. The presentation will conclude by highlighting that the path to successful collaboration rests upon several critical factors. These include a deep understanding of the political context, the relative power of personalities and positions with the extant institutional structures, consistent communication and an understanding of vested interests. Flexibility and coordination between funder and implementer is key to success.