We all know that doing things the same way doesn't work. What, on the other hand, is the alternative?

This is the second instalment of a three-part series. The first of the three interviews, as well as the context for UNDP's examination of portfolio techniques and some overall emerging themes, may be found in part one.
Eta Kelvin Ayuk, UNDP Burundi Project Manager, was interviewed. Contribute to the acceleration of system-wide effects in cross-border communities as part of your portfolio.

Instead than starting with a pre-existing solution, start with the problem.

Due to the intricacy of the issues and the limited breadth of available solutions, the Burundi Country Office (CO) decided to focus its Deep Demonstration on issues affecting border communities.

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"The administration has been tackling the problem from a cause-and-effect standpoint. Its principal goal was to create border settlements by establishing a shared market. The Deep Demonstration process helped us recognise that market access is simply one of several development choices that we may pursue in order to accomplish the systemic effects that the government is aiming for."

While driven by national priorities, the starting point for developing a portfolio was enhancing awareness of human experiences in border communities, rather than existing policies and partners.

"We started with a stakeholder mapping exercise to discover who has an interest in or influence over border communities policy." This [stakeholder engagement process] assisted us in defining and rephrasing our problem space, as well as in determining what we actually wanted to investigate and transform utilising the portfolio approach."

Making space for flexibility by utilising structure

"We felt like we were entering the unknown at the start of the procedure." […] It's critical to have a methodology in place to guide you. I imagine that if there hadn't been a defined process in place, we would still be caught in the same state of confusion we were in at the start."

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Over the course of ten months, the CO undertook a portfolio design process that included stakeholder mapping and interviews, sensemaking sessions with internal and external partners to define the problem space, the development of a statement of intent, and the articulation of development options across several areas of interest, all guided by the methodologies of a technical partner (Chôra Foundation).

"The methodology required a significant adjustment in our thinking." We are more enmeshed in cause-and-effect linkages in older programming methods. It's possible that these connections don't exist at all. We look at fundamental causes, dynamics, and experiences in the system when we employ the system transformation approach, rather than looking at [linear] linkages. This is a significant distinction. It has given us a better understanding of how addressing underlying issues can result in system-wide repercussions."

The structure for a portfolio of experiments based on three primary objectives arose as a result of this process (sustainable and safe environment, increased socio-economic opportunities, and accountable public services). "These were the beginnings of our portfolio: looking into the system and determining what we truly want to focus on, watch, and connect with." We were able to come up with six areas of interest that we could turn into development choices as a result of this."

Creating a new type of evidence base

The process of "listening to the system" takes many different forms, ranging from stakeholder interviews to travelling out into communities to learn about the landscape of existing solutions.

"A key takeaway from the stakeholder workshop is that we should not only make decisions or implement programmes based on formal data, but also [harness] the informal data of the community's experience and way of life, which should impact and inform the work we're doing." […] Discussions with various stakeholders, both externally and internally, helped to modify our thinking about border communities' representation, difficulties they face, and what matters most to them."

Such revelations also encouraged consideration of the usual entrance points that characterise project planning procedures.

"An issue that has arisen as a result of this process is the necessity to [ensure that] planning begins at the local level." In general, we work directly with ministries, assisting them in the implementation of strategic goals. Often, this is funnelled through a planning process in which community voices are lost. We're starting to notice that there are other interests that aren't being documented and discussed [in these procedures], and we need to have these types of local conversations that allow people to speak freely."

Changing the perspective to find new areas and ways to intervene

The opportunity to unpack the assumptions that support existing interventions and establish new frames within which to consider the roles and experiences of intended participants was provided by the Deep Demonstration process's room for inquiry. For example, in the context of youth unemployment programming, this meant moving the focus from skills development to entrepreneurship.

"We're thinking about graduating 'entrepreneurs' rather than 'trainees' in our [planned intervention for] a youth entrepreneur academy." In terms of how we think and what we want to achieve, this is a significant distinction. Graduating entrepreneurs necessitates the development of a new model. [The current strategy] is to provide training as well as financial and technical assistance. The academy will provide mentorship and coaching, and the youngsters will be involved in a business before they complete the programme."

The team evaluated the interests and experiences of many personas in the border community ecosystem seeking public services as another exercise in reframing.

"A Burundian returnee, for example, should be able to obtain information that allows them to conduct business in Burundi." This person has been out of the country for roughly ten years and is returning with the desire to improve his or her social and economic situation. What kind of information would we need to provide to such a person? This is the conclusion we've reached as a result of this procedure." Human-centered thought exercises like these helped to show the necessity for a research and development component in one-stop cross-border service centres, as well as a shift in services from public to private.

Adding a portfolio to a project-based environment

"A portfolio is more than a collection of initiatives with a shared goal. Each of the initiatives or programmes accomplishes a certain goal. These are goals that might not be met if the projects were implemented one at a time. Because the impacts are interrelated, we need all of these alternatives to be able to accelerate them."

The effort of socialising the team's objectives and dynamics as a comprehensive framework for transformation will be a learning process in and of itself as the team moves from portfolio creation to portfolio execution. Finding the correct balance between moving pieces of the portfolio forward as resources become available and establishing the framework for future funding, partnerships, and learning architectures to keep the interdependent elements together will be one of the difficulties ahead.

"We recognise that the desire to project the many development choices exists. Instead of [attacking the problem] at the portfolio level, you revert to executing projects." While the goal is to implement the portfolio in its whole, this is contingent on the capacity to raise the necessary financial and technical resources. "We'll have to weigh the pros and cons of projecting vs adopting the portfolio in its totality."

What does a portfolio's success look like?

One of the main goals of the Deep Demonstration process was to improve the CO's ability to apply portfolio techniques to various policy areas. Parallel to its work with border communities, the team has begun to include elements of the technique into its policy formulation support for the Ministry of Community Development, based on the Director General's interest.

"We want a multi-sectoral approach, not just a ministerial strategy," she says. Using this method to create a national strategy for local economic development will aid in the establishment of a multi-sectoral approach. This is only possible if we employ a systems thinking approach."

While reimagining progress indicators that line with portfolio logic will be part of the work ahead, the process thus far has helped to position success as something found not in a static endpoint, but in the capabilities that allow a portfolio to continuously change depending on the learning it generates.

"In our current projects, we define success more in terms of outcomes," says the author. What I'd like to see with the Deep Demonstration approach is that we look at success not just in terms of outputs or service delivery, but also in terms of ownership. In order to create effects in a system, the system must contain parts that can generate and handle these effects. Ownership will also imply [the ability to] learn. For me, success is learning from what we're doing and putting what we've learned into practise."

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