Guest blog written by Daniel Canteros, David Riveros Garcia, Irene Clementina Esquivel Hermosilla, Sofía Belén Pozzo Centurión.
This is a team working a grassroots NGO called reAccion Paraguay which fights corruption in the education sector through promoting citizen participation and technology. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
In terms of education, Paraguay ranks among the worst in the world, only countries in civil war, continuous political conflicts or periodically affected by natural disasters have worse rankings. Hence, for a country that has lived in a relatively stable democracy for over 25 years, the education problem is a considerable challenge for the future of our nation. We applied to the PDIA course because we have been tackling a problem related to funds for infrastructure in the education sector that are not reaching the neediest schools.
Our team faced a particular challenge. None of our members are from the public sector. We are from a grassroots NGO called reAcción Paraguay, which fights corruption in the education sector through promoting citizen participation and technology. We train students to monitor a national fund for education infrastructure, so that public resources go to the neediest schools. During the course we worked hard to catalyze the 4 years of experience we have monitoring the National Public Investment Fund for Development (aka FONACIDE).
The processes of the FONACIDE law are unknown and not respected by government and non-governmental actors alike (i.e local governments, ministries, parent associations, students, directors, teachers). Our team has verified these irregularities and several others for over four years through the implementation of a monitoring mechanism. It consists of visiting the neediest schools to collect data about the infrastructure works for schools financed with FONACIDE. We then work with university students to match the collected data with open government data in order to expose irregularities.
We summarize our findings in an annual presentation of results, usually at the end of the year and then publish everything online. We have been doing this annual report since 2015. We also make recommendations to all the key stakeholders that are part of the FONACIDE administrative process.
We learned about technical terminologies that describe things we have been doing in practice. This gives us a common language to express our work with other development practitioners. Obviously, we also learnt expressions and processes we have not considered. For instance, change space analysis (i.e. triple A mapping) and problem deconstruction were key processes that allowed us to step back and give structure to different components of our problem. In addition, thanks to the course’s sessions, we were able to focus on an alternative to demonstrate to the Ministry of Education and Sciences (MEC) the small amount of human resources to monitor in situ the schools that should receive FONACIDE, with the official results we would have, we we try to demonstrate, with official data, that the MEC does not have the capacity or resources to verify that the FONACIDE is invested in the most needy schools.
Our organization does not have enough human resources to follow up on the trainings of all the governmental actors that are part of the FONACIDE processes. But now we know how we could work with the public sector to agree upon the a problem, better understand its many causes, and start working on a first iteration that could slowly get us towards a more transparent and efficient allocation of FONACIDE resources in the education sector.
Previously we believed that one important step to fix the problem was to modify the current law that regulates the funds’ allocations. Mapping the space of change in group meetings, we realized other ways for the effective use of public resources.
Also, we better understood the value of being able to work with the government to cooperate on a common approach that could lead to more impact while also increasing capacity in the process. This will come handy given that just a couple weeks ago the new Governor of the Alto Paraná department, who recently took office in August, contacted us to express his interest in working with us to ensure good investment of FONACIDE resources in his administration. Our challenge would be to build skills with government actors in a complicated political moment in the region. As we know, it is necessary that the “skills” of the efficient management of FONACIDE’s resources be strengthened.
What we learnt can also be applied internally. Concepts like premature overload made us aware of future considerations for project escalation. Given the labyrinthine nature of the FONACIDE administrative process, we considered not overloading new members of our organization with complex tasks that they probably would not immediately understand.
We greatly appreciate the opportunity to be part of the The Practice of PDIA course: Building Capability by Delivering Results. Without this course, we would not have taken the time and applied new concepts and techniques to analyze our problem and consider new ways to tackle it. We hope this will allow us to look for other ways to increase change spaces and achieve greater impacts.