Development workers in different advisory roles

GIZ seconds development workers to carry out different tasks in partner countries. Depending on the areas and the partner organisations to which they are assigned, development workers can fulfil a wide variety of roles. The advisory approach must be well-planned and tailored to the specific mandate.

GIZ's work is guided by the principle of sustainable development. The secondment of development workers focuses on developing the capacities of partner organisations and target groups. Capacity development involves assisting partner organisations and target groups in identifying development problems, devising strategies for solving these problems and successfully implementing these strategies. All roles adopted by development workers in different operational areas therefore always include an advisory component.

The orientation framework on advisory services compiled by the former DED describes how we work on improving the quality of advisory services. The framework revolves around planning the advisory process with the partner organisation, agreeing on the development worker's role in providing advice and engaging in dialogue with the partner organisation during cooperation in order to ensure that the development worker's tasks and role can be adapted in good time, in line with specific needs. The following sections provide a brief overview of the key content of the framework document.

Depending on the situation, development workers can take on a wide variety of roles. In some cases, they assume the bulk of the responsibility for finding solutions and even implementing them. In some situations, they transfer know-how (sectoral or specialist advice), whereas in others they advise on and support the process and the partner organisation assumes a large degree of the responsibility for solving the problem and for implementing the solutions. Sometimes advisory services have a process-based slant and focus on building the problem-solving potential of individuals, groups and organisations.

The advisory component can vary widely, depending on the development worker's role, and may even evolve throughout the course of cooperation. For example, it may be more important at the outset to build a relationship of trust with the partner organisation, whereas it could be expedient to take a step back from implementation at a later stage.

Involvement in implementation

The provision of advisory services should not be played off against involvement in implementation. Both aspects are usually part and parcel of the different roles, to a varying degree depending on the context. At first glance, the work of advisors who take on a 'line function' in a partner organisation and also assist in implementation may not seem to be in keeping with the principles of sustainability, capacity development or organisational development. A doctor who carries out operations in a hospital may facilitate a speedy recovery for patients, a teacher who teaches in a school may help educate pupils, or a planner who drafts urban development plans in a local authority may contribute to local development. However, they have not assisted in the further development of the hospital, school or local authority or its staff. So, justifiably, we can ask 'Who will carry out this work when the development worker has left the country?’. The flip side of this viewpoint is that GIZ development workers often work in relatively weak organisations. Therefore, more often than not they are – at least temporarily – involved in the provision of services or production of outputs by the partner organisation. Without their initiative and involvement in using the products created with the help of their advice, the process would never have started in the first place or would have lacked momentum. Therefore, involvement in implementation may play a key role in ensuring that advisory services are sustainable. There is a big difference, however, between being involved, and being the person doing most of the actual work. In some cases, development workers need to tread a very fine line: this is what makes their job so challenging.

Both of these aspects – involvement and advice – are closely interlinked. The ratio between advice and involvement depends on the specific situation, the partner organisation and the duration of cooperation. This issue must always be negotiated between GIZ and the partner organisation and the consultation process must always start from scratch.

As a result, the advisory process takes on a more central role. As is the case with other processes, advisory services must be planned. Goals must be agreed, and the roles and remit of the advisors clarified. The process should be reviewed at certain intervals and changes made as required. This may seem obvious, but very often it does not happen in practice.

Advisory services as a form of social interaction

Advisory services are a form of interaction. They have a content-specific aspect and a relationship-specific aspect. The quality of advisory services is determined by successful interaction between both of these aspects. In development cooperation, the focus is often on the goals and contents of advisory services. The relationship aspect is often underestimated. This is interesting, as it is at odds with the lessons learned by development cooperation. If and when problems do occur, this rarely happens at the content level or the level of the development workers' sectoral skills. Problems usually occur at the interaction level. Dealing with cultural differences, perceptions, intercultural sensitivity, and awareness of roles, i.e. the ability to establish some distance from one's own work and deal with different expectations as regards the development worker's mandate, is usually the biggest challenge faced in this context.

When we plan advisory services, we plan the tasks and responsibilities – in other words, the actual contents. We rarely step back to plan and reflect on interaction and the process itself – the 'How'? This indicates that, as far as advisory services are concerned, we focus more on the services themselves, and less on the actual process.

However, if any problems that occur tend to be at the interaction level, then we need to discuss the aspect of interaction with our partners to a greater degree. We also need to plan the advisory process so that it links up with the tasks and responsibilities of the development worker providing the advice.

Phases of the advisory process

Specialist literature on the subject recommends breaking down the advisory process into different phases. The structure of the problem-solving process is used as a basis for structuring the advisory process. The advisory process can be planned, implemented and reviewed throughout these phases. They can also be adapted to cooperation needs when required.

The aim of the orientation phase (clarification of the commission) is for the advisor and members of the partner organisation to get to know each other and establish a positive relationship. They also clarify their expectations of the advisory process and provisionally define the advisor's role and mandate.

At the end of the diagnosis (clarification) phase, both sides have an overview of the problems and the underlying causes that need to be addressed with the advisor's help. The different interests of the stakeholders affected by the problems and potential solutions are also clarified.

During the change (implementation) phase, the short and medium-term advisory strategy (for one year) is defined, with clear objectives, results and activities. This includes jointly defining advisory services by clarifying the methods and instruments that will be used. Activities are implemented in line with this plan.

The aim of the completion phase is to review the advisory process and ensure that the results achieved to date are stable. The next advisory cycle is also planned based on the lessons learned.

Advisory cycles

The advisory process comprises several cycles. The number of cycles depends on the planning cycles the advisory services comprise, and should be agreed with the partner organisation during the planning phase. A planning cycle of one year should include a review of the advisory process at the end of the year. The review findings can either be channelled into a new situation analysis or – if there have been no significant changes to the situation and there are no indications that the situation analysis needs to be revised – used to plan the next one-year advisory cycle. Arranging advisory services in cycles will ensure that a systematic process is used and allows the advisor and the partner organisation to engage in joint, well-structured dialogue on the advisory process.

Survey tools such as the service quality instrument are used to determine whether partner organisations are satisfied with the advisory services provided by development workers, to discuss the findings with the partner organisations and to further improve quality.

As advisory services are guided by the principle of sustainable development, the advisory process, the development worker's role and, where applicable, any changes to this role must be planned throughout cooperation, which usually runs for several years. It is therefore vital that both sides engage in dialogue on the advisory process. It also avoids a situation where too much attention is paid to the content aspect rather than to the relationship aspect. This underpins the argument that the quality of advisory services depends just as much on the relationship aspect as on the content.

Dr Joachim Stahl,

Competence Centre for Change Management and Development Approaches

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