AusAID’s approach to revitalising the knowledge sector in Indonesia: a public discussion

3 August 2012

A week or so ago I wrote about an initiative that I think is worth paying attention to; if it works we’ll be onto something, if it doesn’t there will be lots of lessons to learn. AusAid’s knowledge sector support programme for Indonesia is attempting to target not just one or two policy players but the broader sector.+

Another innovation of this programme, even before it starts, is that AusAID’s Scott Guggenheim, Social Policy Adviser, and Ben Davis, Senior Program Manager, Knowledge Sector and Tertiary Education, have written a public response to my blog. In AusAID’s approach to revitalising the knowledge sector in Indonesia they comment on some of the recommendations I made (agree with some and disagree with others) and attempt to clarify some of the ideas behind the initiative. If you are interested in the programme your should read their post. Also, you may want to know that after I posted this blog this morning, Rick Davies added his views on the M&E component of the programme. And, now, FITRA has added its views.

The big innovation is that they have replied, in public, and encouraged a discussion about the programme. The usual approach to these things is to publish a call for proposals and then limit responses to private emails with the bidding parties. The proposals are sent in, in private, they are reviewed, in private, and a decision is made, in private. Only when a preferred bidder is decided, does the public find out what has been proposed. And even then, we only find out what the preferred bidder proposed.

I have a different process in mind:

What if the donor, the bidders and, most importantly the organisations and people who are likely to be directly affected by the programme (in this case: think tanks, NGOs, networks, and policymaking bodies) engaged in a public discussion about the ToRs? What if the think tanks wrote a few blog posts about the ToRs highlighting the kind of support they think they need, or the NGOs commented on the best ways to work with local and national organisations, etc? The biding consortia would have much more information to prepare better bids; and the affected parties would be able to influence the process to actually work for them.

But the public would be privy to these conversations too. Organisations and experts who are not bidding or part from any consortium could add their views to the dissuasion; and some of these are likely to be quite useful and interesting. The bids themselves would benefit from  greater pool of ideas; and the donors would be able to judge them within this much richer context.

I would then suggest that all bids should be posted online for public view. This is a normal procedure in architecture and design competitions. Models of the buildings are exhibited in public spaces to be viewed and discussed. Publishing the proposals would encourage organisations and experts (and the public in general) to praise, criticise, correct, improve, add, and probably even enhance the proposals. They could review the budgets and suggest better or more cost-effective ways of delivering the same services and outcomes. They could offer examples of similar interventions in similar or different context to support or warn against the proposals. Et cetera.

The effect would be that the donor would have many more options. Those in charge of adjudicating the contract would be able to go back to their preferred bidder and ask them to review their budget or add new components based on the recommendations from the public. They could even suggest that the preferred bidder should incorporate some of the components of another bid or change its partners to include those in another bid or an organisation which contributed with great insights to the public bidding process.

The beneficiaries of these intervention would also be able to prepare themselves for it. They would all of a sudden find themselves in a meeting with a bunch of experts who they’ve never before met or heard from.

And the preferred bidders would be able to draw from a much broader pool of ideas, people, and organisations to deliver the intervention.

Oh, and we, the public, will be more and better informed about what is being done and why.

In the mean time, I hope that AusAID’s response will be followed by a few tweets or blog posts from, at least, some of the organisations that stand to be affected by the programme. If any Indonesian NGO, think tank, network, policymaker, or commentator would like to do so, please either add your comments to this (or to AusAID’s blog) or contact me directly. In fact, if you have a view of any kind about the initiative and would like to offer your views, get in touch. (Just make sure you tell us who you are -let’s all be transparent.)