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Setting It Up: Basic Services Alternatives
Staffing Projects

Two articles are included which provide a guide in setting up a project office. Organizing the field office offers suggestions when hiring staff; localization of staff addresses the issue of expatriate vs local staff, which is important when considering sustainability.

Organizing Field Office

Excerpt from:
Low-Cost Urban Sanitation in Lesotho. Isabel C. Blackett. Water and Sanitation Discussion Paper Series, DP Number 10. 1994. A publication of the UNDP-World Bank Water and Sanitation Program.

New Team or Existing Team?
A newly selected team is definitely preferable to trying to change the habits and practices of an existing government department. However, many people come from within and not outside of existing government structures.. Most of the best staff arrived directly from school, college or from another department which had a teamwork philosophy, necessary for effective projects.

Level and Type of Skills
Technical knowledge required is not very high. Essential is a confident manner and ability to express oneself politely and clearly when dealing with builders, local officials, suppliers, and clients.

Important Traits When Interviewing
Consider type of personality that is needed to do job well rather than focus on particular academic or technical qualifications. Students straight from college often can be trained quite easily and were open to the “teamwork” spirit necessary. With a general technical background, the particular technical requirements of a project can be quickly taught.

Men or Women?
Many of the best staff have proved to be women. Women staff seem to get fewer complaints and more compliments about the work they do. Many of clients to come into the office for assistance are women and thus women are better for working with them. Women technical and community officers have the advantage of being able to understand, empathize and work better with the female clients. Female community workers have proven to be the most appropriate conveyors of promotion and education messages.

Equipment and Staff
Labor-intensive methods are the norm in sustainable programs, avoiding costly maintenance and operating costs of equipment. When programs are taken over by government and external support is ended or limited, operating costs must be low enough to fit into government budgetary constraints. Any equipment brings with it service, maintenance and repair costs, which are often higher than expected and can substantially affect monthly running costs. On-site sanitation is labor intensive, hence it is important to use labor-intensive methods in many cases except for limited jobs where modern technology is appropriate. Any equipment must be maintained and serviced locally, thus the very cheapest item may not always be the best if it would mean more maintenance problems.

Permanent vs Temporary Positions
The all too common ‘civil service lethargy’ is avoided largely because most staff are unable to be employed in established and permanent positions. Unfortunately, this also has the adverse affect that good staff have left for more permanent employment in other places.

Team Structure
The project team must be easily approachable, with a structure that enables people to get help required with a minimum of forms and waiting time. Working with people in a slow, highly bureaucratic way will not achieve the aims of working at the community level. Teamwork is the key to success. Everyone is expected to do his or her own job but is expected to be able to assist others when necessary. A balance of technical and community staff is required. A seniority structure must exist, but all staff are encouraged to communicate regularly and freely with each other. Junior staff and their opinions, attitudes, problems, needs and training were considered quite important to success. Senior staff must be prepared to also go out into the field, get dirty and tired and not expect others to do what they are not prepared to do for or by themselves. Monthly staff meetings are held to air views, problems and complaints, and to discuss new ideas.

Way of working
The project started with a set of ideas that were tested in a pilot phase. These ideas were continually tried, tested and evaluated, and refined when necessary. Successes, failures, ideas, and proposals were collected from other projects and from anyone who had a suggestion. At staff meetings, such ideas were discussed to reach a consensus on whether and how a particular idea should be tried. A ‘right way’ to proceed should not be expected from year one. Progress will require changes. There must be a willingness to admit when something has not worked and the willingness to try something else.

Photo: South African Staff Meeting
South Africa: Staff meetings are an important way to exchange
successes, failures, and seek new ideas.

Localization of Staff

Excerpt from:
Low-Cost Urban Sanitation in Lesotho. Isabel C. Blackett. Water and Sanitation Discussion Paper Series, DP Number 10. 1994. A publication of the UNDP-World Bank Water and Sanitation Program.

When establishing new departments and recruiting staff in developing countries, an appropriate and practical staff structure has to be looked at very carefully. In many countries, during the first years of a project, expatriate assistance will be needed. Ideally this will be withdrawn progressively as the team gains experience and can be run completely by local staff. This is a slow process and can easily require five years or longer.

When to start planning localization
Even in the initial stages localization must be built in. The nature of the work is such that it can never be done quickly and requires long lead times for pilot phases, research and evaluation. Going from the initial stages of pilot work into a national program will require consistent government commitment, aided by external support, staff training and workshops.

Providing assistance
Fundamental to localization is allowing the local staff to do their jobs with support and advice, and without continual interference from expatriates who think they could do the job better.

Transition period
It is important that the local staff occupy their posts with full responsibilities for several years, while expatriates may or may not be around as advisors. It is impractical to have an expatriate run the program and then expect a local manager to take over after a short transitional period.

Continuity of expatriates
Services of one or two committed expatriates who are prepared to stay for several years will be much more constructive than several people coming in for shorter durations. Two-year contracts could be too short and staff spend too much time settling in. In the Lesotho program, one advisor stayed 7 years, another 5 1/2, and another for two.

Short-term consultants
These are invaluable for training and assistance on specific subjects. The time period may be for a few weeks and up to a couple of months.

Training of staff
Both overseas and local courses, as well as practical hands-on experience is involved.

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