Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Part VI:EDFF, the Multi-Donor Fund, and the case of the vanishing databases

When I first started doing projects in Aceh in 2005, all of us (the NGOs, the community groups, everyone) were told that we had to enter all our programmatic and financial information on a database called RAN. 
As you remember, BRR (Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency of Aceh and Nias) was established to coordinate the recovery program and to jointly administer the reconstruction funds ($7 billion) with World Bank acting as fiduciary, through its Multi-Donor Trust Fund program. BRR’s mission was “to restore livelihoods and strengthen communities in Aceh and Nias by designing and overseeing a coordinated, community-driven reconstruction and development program implemented according to the highest professional standards.”

One of the things BRR (or rather, its well-paid international consultants) did very, very well was create impressive hundrd-page documents outlining the proojects, heralding their successes, and making even their failures (“lessons learned”) sound positive and hopeful. (their 16-book, 3,200 "BRR Books" series is a marvel.) One of the shorter documents  at 23 pages was a Power Point Presentation on the RAN Database.
Here is what BRR said about it:
What is the RAN Database?
•RAN Database is a system for collecting, tracking, analyzing and displaying project  and funding information.
Who will use it?
•NGOs, donors, BRR, local government, media and the public will have access to RAN Database and to paper based reports.
How will RAN Database benefit the reconstruction effort?
•RAN Database will provide up to date, transparent and accountable information on  the recovery process in Aceh and Nias.
•RAN Database will be used by BRR to coordinate more effectively, pinpoint gaps
and overlaps in the recovery process and resolve bottlenecks and issues.
•RAN Database will enable all organisations to plan and coordinate their projects with
other actors working in the same sectors and locations.

Sounds great!! 
But let me tell you, even in its heyday, with IT personnel at their battle stations, and money flowing like wine, none of us could wrestle this multi-tentacled monster to the ground.   Still, the developer (Synergy) touted it as a godsend: “The RAN Database won the Innovative Government Technology Award in the Information Management category at the 2008 FutureGov Summit. RAND was . . . recognised as an innovative model of information management that has successfully promoted improvement in public services, modernisation of government administration and efficiency of public sector management.” 

And just as soon as it appeared, with a halo round its head, it disappeared.
Well, that's not entirely true; the website still exists, with a helpful list of 500+ recipient agencies.  But every link is broken and no one is maintaining the site.[AM_MonoFrame]&now=1413834974744&sessionid=141383497335656&clickedModelId=*54# 

I do have to say, however, that its Help section and instructions for using the thing, were it live, are quit extensive, so I am sure that the database itself exists.
Just not in Aceh.
It has no backup that anyoe knows of.
It stopped being used after 2 years.
First and foremost, because of the same bloody thing that I have been harping about in this space for over 5 years: no one ever thought, with all their money and all their wonderful ideas, to teach Acehnese survivors how to implement the projects that were supposed to “save” them.
So when the highly paid IT people left, no one knew the system, including government employees, BRR, Bappenas, Bappeda, World Bank’s PMU, etc.
I wish I could think that this was just a horrible oversight.
But I can’t.
Those in charge simply did not care about sustainability.  They operated a reconstruction program in recovery mode, and because of that, the province has neither recovered nor been reconstructed.

But I digress.

The BRR document goes on to say that Within the RAN Database, Synergy developed a number of other systems to build the capacity of the Government to track tsunami reconstruction and enhance the management of the work-flow processes. These included a Donor/Partner Profiles Module and a Concept Note Submission and Approval Module for organizing the bottom-up and top-down budget planning process of the reconstruction. The Concept Notes online submission and approval process involved the entire NGO community in sharing data on their planned activities for better coordination.  
 The RAN has become the central coordinating database for Tsunami recovery data in Indonesia, tracking 1700 projects and a total of USD 3.7 billion in commitments.  

And nobody bothered to use it or maintain it .

“Synergy worked with the government of Indonesia to define Sector specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring progress of reconstruction at various levels including the project level and overall sector level.”

If these KSI’s existed in document form, they are in the wind now.

“RAN provides a tool to analyze trends of KPIs against baseline and target values, as well as financial and other project data. The RAN was also integrated with the Regional DAD that includes information from other Tsunami affected countries including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. “

Could be.  Haven’t chatted with  Maldives yet. But over the past year when I have quizzed former colleagues working with both NGOs and directly with the Indonesian government regarding this and other possible locations about programmatic information concerning any of the MDF/EDFF projects, no one has mentioned this database as being an information archive .  It appears to have been a multi-million dollar boondoggle from right out of the gate, global prizes notwithstanding.  Don't get me wrong--I think Synergy developed a bang-up program.  I don't know whether it was charged with teaching anyone to use it, however.  Someone kind of fell down on the job on that one.

So counting on RAN as being the receptacle of any further information on AAA’s cocoa improvement project, or Keumang’s community development/participatory rural appraisal work in the five districts, was pretty much out of the question.

Happily (in a surreal, mildly hysterical John Waters sort of way), EDFF, MDF and the World Bank had not run out of money to spend on phantom databases.  I was next introduced to something called KNOW--the kinder, gentler reconstruction database.

Since there are no appropriate photos to accompany this post (unless photos of me crying into a big handkerchief and gnashing my teeth in frustration will do), I’ll stop here.  More tomorrow!

RAN Database gush-fest:

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