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#176 Not working in silos

October 15, 2012

If there’s one thing that helps Expat Aid Workers sleep well at night, it’s knowing that whatever they’re working on – a life-saving program in the field or perhaps a “synergy maximizing” initiative in the office – is the result of a participatory, dialogic process in which the broadest possible range of stakeholder/clients was mobilized, empowered, and “given voice” in order to ensure full buy-in across areas of functional interest and to focus organizational energy on those serendipitous areas of overlap (“the sweet spot”) between longitudinal strategic goals, (sometimes latent) local capacities, and immediately attainable programmatic gains, while at the same time identifying and remaining realistic about all possible mitigating contingencies.

Because if there’s one thing any EAW worth her or his hardship allowance knows, it’s that integration and process are “good things”, always, by definition. Regardless of the task at hand, integration and inclusion can always be assumed to add value. There is virtually no facet of the aid industry or the EAW’s experience which does not benefit from additional process and/or the inclusion of other participants.

There are few doctrines in the church of aid so sacred as the doctrine integration and process.

Process = accountability.

Integration = transparency.

Process + Integration = impactful aid.

And so as you no doubt expect, there is no EAW sin quite so egregious as the opposite of integration and process: “working in silos.”

It has been proven, established fact since at least 2001  that working in silos has been the cause of every bad thing from the fall of Rome right up to yesterday’s badly implemented handicrafts project. “If only they hadn’t been working in silos…” is the common refrain from undiscovered humanitarian prodigies and reasonably paid evaluation consultants alike. Working in silos is at the root of what keeps MONGOs from becoming BINGOS, and LNGOS from becoming SLoNGOs. If things are going badly at the NGO, UN agency, or project the culprit is almost certainly that people – maybe even you – are working in silos. Any new leader coming in from outside or EAW recently promoted to management will serve her/his career well by rambling on about how everyone needs to stop working in silos.

For those EAWs so naïve as to think that they can simply focus on their tasks, do their jobs, or keep their heads down, think again. Everyone in the agency is relevant to whatever it is that you’re working on. Just getting on with your job and doing what needs to be done with out a lot of ponderous discussion is just proof that you’re not really committed to saving the poor from poverty.  So no, actually you can’t make this decision on your own. An inclusive, integrated process matters at least as much as what actually gets done.

Don’t work in silos.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2012 11:31 am

    This is absolutely brilliant. Love the jargon and how effortlessly it just spills out.

  2. ckombo permalink
    November 19, 2012 5:28 pm

    Well written and true in many organizations and contexts beyond EAWs.


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