#203 Spoiling the Proverbial Soup
A good chef knows if they stick to the basics, it doesn’t take a lot of ingredients to make a delicious soup. They also know that, sometimes, another chef might suggest one small dash or pinch of something to make the soup even better.
But if that proverbial kitchen were run by an international relief and development organization, there would be 47 expat aid workers huddled around the pot and a dozen people from headquarters on the phone. And what was once a simple but wonderful soup would begin to go hideously awry.
Someone would insist that it be strictly organic. Another would mandate it be vegan. A third would demand that all ingredients be fair trade. The next would ask if it all came from a female-owned cooperative. Still another would want to make sure, in fairness to a variety of ethnic groups, that the ingredients were sourced from different countries of origin.
During the entire soup-making process, from chopping to sautéing to simmering, several subject matter experts would offer capacity building. Working groups would form to discuss whether vegetables should be diced or Julienned. An emergency team would hover close by just in case of cuts or scalds.
And then, just as the soup was about to be triumphantly ladled into a bowl, a monitoring and evaluation advisor would proclaim that, since there had been no baseline survey of how the water for the broth tasted when it was put on to boil, there would be no way to determine its impact once it reached the table. So the soup is thrown out and it all starts over again.
By that time, the customer who ordered the soup has left the restaurant and gone for a cheeseburger at the beer joint across the street. But, sure enough, another customer enters the restaurant, sits down, browses the menu and orders the soup. When it’s finally done and served, the customer raises the spoon to his mouth, takes a sip and spits it back in the bowl. “That’s terrible,” he says, wiping his mouth with a napkin crafted from hand-spun organic cotton. “It sounded so appetizing on the menu, too.”
The problem? Too many cooks in the kitchen, of course. In EAWs choose to call it “collaborative problem solving” or “consensus building.” But there’s a real-world term for that: fucking things up.
EAWs – hell, international relief and development workers – excel at overanalyzing, over-planning and over-reporting everything. And just like you can’t take too much salt out of a dish you’ve prepared, you can’t take overcomplicated out of a project.
In any kitchen, there are utensils. In any organization, there are toolkits. But the EAW toolkits aren’t something you can hold in your hands and use to, say, create something tangible. EAW toolkits are conceptual things that are squirreled away in highfalutin white papers, or on easily-forgotten websites, or up in some EAW brain somewhere.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing, for once, to actually hand an honest-to-goodness toolkit to someone? Maybe even a kitchen set – a water jug, pans, knives and a soup pot.
And then maybe EAWs could restrain themselves from hovering, get the hell out of the kitchen, and just see how everything cooks up.