These past few weeks have been overloaded for me – we opened up two new learning centres in Bangalore, and launched a new summer camp program in all five of our centres across Bangalore and Calcutta!
We are additionally bringing up more new centres in Bangalore. This is kind of a run before you walk time period. I have been involved with implementing projects before, but never before on this scale. I thought I would share some best practices I picked out from this past month.
#1) Learn on the go. In a chaotic and complex environment, the only way that you truly learn your best practices is through implementation. So be in it as you go, and share everything you learn. My organization has been very proactive in emailing at the end of everyday…this way people who weren’t actually there onsite can have access to the knowledge of people who were out in the field.
#2) Second, if things are not going your way, it might be because of two reasons. Be aware of the difference between a poor intervention and poor implementation. There are absolutely projects and interventions that are just not appropriate for their contexts – for example, the merry-go-round water pump idea or the energy harnessing soccer ball. These ideas might be innovative, but simply are not feasible in their particular environments.
Then there is poor implementation. Did your project fail because the idea is bad? Or did your project fail because the rollout was shaky? Because your organization did not have the capacity to support it? In this case, don’t trash the project and reinvent the wheel. I know people in the social impact space who would rather rip out the plumbing and start over…and in some cases, this is necessary. In many cases, this is destructive and unnecessary. It might be equally beneficial to step back and figure out what the key issues in deployment were, and then take an iterative approach to correct this.
#3: Look at infrastructure and maintenance. If you have an intervention that is highly focused on infrastructure (and by infrastructure I mean technology, electricity, etc), then you may run into problems. In developing countries or in rural areas, you might not have access to things we take for granted, like electricity or Internet. A tech heavy intervention could potentially be far more resource intensive than you had originally thought – because what if you can’t get Internet? What if the power goes out for 7 hours a day, on average? Look at how well something could be sustained, and if it needs a lot of maintenance or infrastructure requirements, you might need to figure out how to reframe it to accommodate local realities.