Preparing for an assignment as an advisor

Advisory services constitute the main duty in more than 80 per cent of job descriptions for development workers. What exactly do these services involve? What skills are required? What are the expectations of GIZ and of partner organisations? To answer these questions, we will need to take a detailed look at the role of a development advisor, starting from the two-week in-house preparatory course.

"For your information, I would like to ask you some questions."– (K. Lewin)

This quote from Kurt Lewin – often considered the father of modern social psychology – epitomises the shift that has occurred over the years in the approach taken to providing advisory services. In the development cooperation context, advisory services are provided in complex, intercultural environments. They involve balancing the different interests of a wide variety of actors and require sectoral and methodological expertise and social skills if the desired results are to be achieved. Within the context of the Development Service, the understanding of advisory services has moved away from sectoral advice towards process-based advice. Advisory services are usually designed to increase the partner's problem-solving abilities. The focus event 'Roles and tasks of development workers and intervision (peer-assist)' – held during the two-week in-house preparatory course held in the run-up to an assignment – gives a brief overview of what this involves.

The event aims to familiarise participants with the different advisory roles that development workers (can) take on at their partner organisations and points out potential areas of conflict and challenges they may face in this context.

Mutual expectations

During an initial interactive course unit, development workers voice their expectations of GIZ, their colleagues, the future partner organisation and of themselves within the context of GIZ’s Corporate Principles. The partner organisation's and GIZ's presumed expectations of the development workers are also addressed. This admittedly involves some speculation, but it is helpful to look at the different expectations that all stakeholders have. Finally, the development workers outline potential areas of conflict and challenges they may face. These are used as a basis for introducing and practising the 'peer-assist' methodology in the afternoon session.

Integration into GIZ's structures in the partner country, support for administrative issues, an induction and training period, training opportunities and transparency usually top the list of expectations that development workers have of GIZ.

What do development workers usually think the partner organisations/GIZ will (could) expect of them? Expertise, professionalism and competence in their specific field top the poll. Most believe that partner organisations in particular expect an awareness of other cultures, the ability to quickly get to grips with their new working environment and to accept existing structures. Some development workers even assume that their partner organisations expect them to secure third-party funding and to act as an intermediary between the partner organisation and GIZ.

And what are development workers' expectations of themselves? In addition to performing well and providing sound advisory services, they would like to integrate well into the partner organisation, immerse themselves into the local culture and enhance their skills throughout the course of their assignment. A team game is then played, which is based on the findings of the working group, before moving on to an explanation of the advisory role and the different dimensions involved.

Food for thought

In a fun exercise, the five advisory roles of mediator, trainer, 'implementer', expert/specialist advisor and lawyer/manager/lobbyist are written on cards and placed on the floor. The participants position themselves at the card they believe corresponds most closely with their job descriptions. Experience shows that most development workers hover between several cards rather than committing to one specific role, demonstrating the fact that they will fulfil different (advisory) functions. To follow on, they pool their ideas on what sectoral, methodological and social skills they believe they need to successfully carry out their assignment. They may also break into small groups to do this. Most participants list the key social skills and knowledge required in this context either intuitively or based on previous experience.

The unit usually concludes by drawing participants' attention to the fact that the stakeholders involved in the project may need to come together to clarify mandates and roles at routine intervals. The development workers should also explain their individual roles as advisors in order to ensure transparency.

Intervision ('peer assist')

In the afternoon session, participants learn about 'peer assist', a method used to provide support to other colleagues and to solve problems. Peer assist adopts a systematic approach to dealing with problems in a specified period of time. A constructive solution is usually found to problems over a time frame of between forty-five and sixty minutes. The instrument is already being used in many of GIZ's country programmes.

Many participants assess the sessions on expectations, advisory duties and understanding the advisory role as a success because it raises their awareness of the specific issues they need to address in their future role as development workers and the potential for conflict that may arise in this context. It allows them to devise targeted solutions for potential problems. The day offers a general introduction to the topic. As a one-day module does not offer sufficient scope to deal with the personal attitudes of development workers in any great depth, and since there is a high demand for sessions on practising different question techniques, active listening and participatory advisory methods, we advise participants to attend more detailed courses during further preparatory measures at the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ) in Bad Honnef or during briefing in the partner country, where specific aspects of advisory services in a particular cultural context can be addressed.

Jutta Heckel is responsible for preparing development workers at GIZ.

Further Information

The Academy of GIZ prepares prospective development workers extensively for their stay abroad.

Academy for International Cooperation