Sep 29, 2015

What’s Your Problem? Identifying Development and Delivery Challenges

Daniel Ortega Nieto , Operations Officer

Properly defining a problem is an integral part of understanding it. When problems are properly defined we can identify key variables that impact the success or failure of development interventions. In a previous blog, I discussed the ongoing effort of the Delivery Challenges work stream and why using stock phrases such as “political will” and “lack of capacity” might capture something about problems in implementation, but emphasized the overall limited analytical or practical value of these phrases. I argued that articulating the issues that practitioners are trying to solve, as well as those that can hinder progress along the way, can help provide analytical clarity and practical value.

So, how can one go about defining problems that affect our everyday work? Identifying development and delivery challenges can be thought of as a sequence that involves clarifying problems, the objectives of an intervention, as well as the details of the intervention. An intervention aims to solve a specific problem (development challenge) through the achievement of certain objectives. Attempting to solve a development challenge will, most likely, involve unexpected problems throughout implementation since most interventions unleash change processes. Identifying these problems (delivery challenges) is thus key for better understanding how to attain results. It is important to remember that while different organizations are trying to solve the same development challenge, the delivery challenges will be specific to an intervention and can potentially be related to the organizations involved.

In addition to the practical benefits for practitioners of properly identifying problems, a collective effort to “speak the same language” when it refers to challenges can also help shift organizations from a focus on projects to a focus on problem solving. It can also assist to generate knowledge that is useful for practitioners on the ground by pointing out common issues that continually hinder our interventions.

With the aim of helping practitioners identify development and delivery challenges, the Science of Delivery team has put forward a definition and a set of characteristics -which are being used in the Delivery Case Studies- that can help identify development and delivery challenges. The attachment, which includes inputs from other WBG colleagues and builds on previous work, explains key characteristics of Delivery and Development Challenges and presents some basic examples, which hopefully can help the overall effort of giving clarity to problem identification.These characteristics should be used as guidelines and, by no means, as the definitive word on this emerging topic.

Development Challenges:

Development Challenges describe in concise and simple terms the pressing issues that countries face which, if resolved, would significantly contribute to ending poverty and enhancing the quality of life of their citizens. The challenges are captured in a way that distills “what” is the fundamental problem that impedes people from improving their overall well-being. The following characteristics and examples serve as guide to identify and describe development challenges.

Characteristic 1: A development challenge should contain one problem statement only.

Characteristic 2: A development challenge is global in nature and should travel beyond borders.

Characteristic 3: A development challenge is not an intervention, project or program.

Characteristic 4: A development challenge is, ideally, linked to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Delivery Challenges:

Delivery Challenges are the non-technical problems that hinder development interventions and that prevent practitioners from translating technical solutions into results on the ground. They are intimately related to both development challenges and “how” interventions are implemented, but they can also emerge from within the organization that is leading the intervention. A delivery challenge is generally an issue that occurs during implementation. As you try to achieve your objectives, a problem that is not entirely related to a sectoral area of expertise comes up that you need to address. Delivery challenges should be the answer to the following questions: Why intervention X, aimed at solving the development challenge Y, did not work or did not achieve its full potential? What were the main obstacles that intervention X faced during its implementation?

Characteristic 1: A delivery challenge is a non-technical problem. 

Characteristic 2: A delivery challenge should be as granular as possible.

Characteristics 2 and 3 of Development Challenges also apply to Delivery Challenges.