Supporting the drive for improvement
Arnaud Agon, AMBERO expert from Benin, presents his experiences with the operationalisation of the coaching concept at a workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Technical article by Cédric Kotitschke and Alexandre Martinez
Technical cooperation (TC) is one of the major building blocks of official development assistance (ODA). The theoretical framework for it has changed considerably since its inception – a change that reflects a new awareness: the emphasis today is on transferring ownership of consultancy to partner countries.
The role of TC workers has also changed accordingly. In the past, the need was mainly for workers with specialist knowledge and implementation skills. Today, they have to be able to perform various support functions that are incorporated in the consultancy services and depend on the partner’s degree of autonomy. They include:
- the function of trainer, passing on knowledge and implementation skills,
- the function of (traditional) advisor, analysing situations, defining goals and sharing personal experience,
- the function of coach, helping partners find their own solutions.
None of these functions stand alone; the aim is to create a combination of functions tailored to the context and to bringing about the changes required.
Supporting processes of change
This framework has been acknowledged since the 2000s. However, many TC workers find it difficult to function as a coach. Two major reasons for this are:
- the disparity between the process support paradigm and the profiles of the TC workers recruited. Coaching has a reputation for not offering clients concrete solutions to their problems. In classical development work, however, the aim is to produce tailored solutions. The expertise required is very specific, so recruiters look mainly for specialists, such as agronomists or experts in public finance. The functions of trainer and advisor are required for their work but coaching is almost completely ignored.
- the disparity between rapid results and the time taken by sustainable change processes. Even though TC workers are exclusively involved in capacity development, they are still too frequently judged by the operative results that the consultees are supposed to achieve. In the absence of clearly defined targets in capacity development, it is tempting to prioritise tasks that produce measurable results over process support.
The above disparities can be illustrated by a comparison from the world of sport, where the concept of coaching originates. Athletes are interested in boosting personal or team performance. In competitive sport, at Olympic level for instance, athletes in a particular discipline could be described as experts in their field. At that level, competitive athletes would benefit little from a coach who regarded himself as a specialist and offered more or less standardised solutions.
For the coaching function it is essential that the coach should enhance the performance of the coachee without encroaching on the same territory or offering off-the-peg solutions. One of the first rules of coaching is that the coachee must be recognised as an expert, with the wherewithal to achieve perfection. Coaches need to support coachees in their drive to improve without proposing courses of action or acting on their behalf.
However, many TC programme partners find this approach disconcerting. For decades, they have been accustomed to receiving technical and financial support of a different kind. In many cases, a system of dependence has developed, with both donor and partner tacitly accepting it or at least making no effort to change it.
Operationalising a paradigm shift
Because of inherent blockades or a lack of concrete guidelines, many TC workers have difficulty performing the function of coach. It is the most complex of the three functions because it draws on approaches, disciplines and skills that are extremely diverse – from fields such as psychology, institutional analysis and change management.
Today, the challenge is to operationalise that paradigm shift. The first step is to recognise the specificity of the coaching function, which – like any occupation – has its own theoretical principles and skills. Coaching can be learned. Corresponding course content should therefore be integrated in master’s or advanced training programmes that are relevant for technical cooperation. It would also be conceivable to recruit coaches in TC programmes to supervise, train and support TC workers in coaching positions.
The methodical introduction of coaching in TC also means developing service specifications for TC workers that contain targets and indicators designed exclusively to help autonomise the coachee.
The aim is not to create a completely new cooperation mechanism but to reorganise and prioritise the instruments. However, it would be useful to conduct a detailed and structured analysis of a partner’s capacities and capacity development requirements – for instance during project reviews. The main thing here is to define the threshold for deciding whether a TC worker is sent or not.
This article has been published online before at D+C, Development and Cooperation. The copyrights belong to the two aforementioned authors. You can find the original publication online here.
Topics: Technical Article on coaching in the technical cooperation sector