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#32 Working Groups

March 8, 2011

Submitted by A.S. , working in Ethiopia

Working groups, task forces, sub-groups, committees – whatever name you want to use, they are all the same…and Expat Aid Workers love them! Love creating them, being members of them, and pretending to work on activities for them….

We love working groups almost as much as we love meetings and workshops! Are there issues of accountability among the humanitarian community? Is there a need to increase effective “coordination” and “collaboration” among partners? The answer is simple – create a working group! Is the current working group not achieving its aims? Then just make a sub-working group to tackle this issue.

The brilliant thing about working groups is that they enable meeting participants to avoid making decisions of any real substance at meetings. Instead, a working group is formed and tasked to take the issues forward until the next meeting (which inevitably never happens).

Life Cycle of the Working Group:

1. Participants within an organization or among organizations meet to discuss some issue over which they have little control or that is so huge and insurmountable (i.e. food insecurity) they can’t possibly resolve it. Since EAWs like to feel like they have paramount influence and the ability to actually, well, change things, they meet anyways.

2. It is discovered in the meeting that they cannot possibly agree on decisions or a plan of action on the spot, so the select members of the group are “volunteered” to come up with a working group to take the issues at hand forward. There is usually a snappy acronym created for the working group so working group members can feel important when referring to it.

3. The working group spends the next 3-4 months developing a Terms of Reference (or a ToR as we like to call it in the biz) which of course has to be fully reviewed and endorsed several times over before any Working Group activity can actually be started.

4. After the ToR is finally endorsed (and irrelevant at this point), the infamous working group action plan is developed…followed by another 2-3 months of endorsement.

5. Now the working group is ready to begin. But at this point, there has been turnover of staff in the original working group, issues that the working group was tasked for have become moot, or they have lost interest all together. Everyone decides it is a good idea to bring this up at the next meeting.

And the cycle continues…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. remotegoat permalink
    March 8, 2011 11:16 am

    This has been beautifully illustrated here:
    (but maybe you already saw this?)

  2. c-sez permalink
    March 8, 2011 11:58 am

    Anyone on a working group is really just jonesing to be on a steering committee.

  3. Greg permalink
    March 8, 2011 10:36 pm

    And this is exactly why NGO’s are the opium of the developing world. You all need people to suffer to justify your existences. Saw lots of bragging about this fact at consecutive Stockholm World Water Weeks.

  4. h2haiti permalink
    March 30, 2011 11:54 am

    I was once asked to chair a working group on working groups. Worst part? I accepted.


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