Friday, February 20, 2009


This was part of my February newsletter (Feb 14). If you don't receive them and wish to, email me at

For the last month I’ve been planning this district-wide survey around the clock. As I mentioned in my last post, it started with talking to the communities to influence the planning process of the government. Since those community visits, it has been a logistical thunderstorm, filled with spontaneous planning meetings, designing the community approach and questionnaires, and pre-testing that process in the field.

The first success was getting the government to cut a check for 3660Gh¢ (~3660 CDN) to fund the survey. After a week of hassling with cumbersome processes, the check was in the bank and I had one less problem to deal with. What was once an idea in December was now one step closer to reality!

The second success was the assembly the team. After sitting down on two separate occasions with all department heads (a once in a blue moon occurrence), we finally managed to draw a roster of 12 names that would form my team. After writing letters to inform the officers of the project, confirmation phone calls slowly started coming in. There were times when I would be driving through town and a man I didn’t know would stop me. After stopping the motorcycle and greeting the anonymous man good morning, he would say:

“Good morning Nicholas. I received your letter, and I want you to know . . . I’m in. By the way, my colleague John, he wants me to tell you that he is also in.”

The way these mysterious strangers would stop me in town and confirm their commitment in a secretive fashion, made me feel like we were planning a bank robbery. After two weeks of phone calls and personal visits, and 12 letters; The Fellowship of Saboba was assembled. The journey ahead would be long and intense, but if done well could serve the district in a profound way.

With personnel and cash in the bag, it was just a matter of having the community approach fine tuned. With my right hand man, Tanku, we headed off to a few communities to test our approach. After ironing out some glitches in the survey, we were ready to train the team and start spreading throughout the district .

Finally training started. I ran an intense program: 1 classroom day to introduce the team, 3 field days for practical experience, and a final day in the classroom to discuss protocol and get feedback. On the first day, people were excited and we quickly got to planning the evaluation.

Half of my team are elected community representatives. This is done so that when we enter communities, they see someone they trust, and thus share views more openly. The first activity we did was to start mapping out the district. This is where one huge problem with development in Africa was revealed.

The district is divided into four zones. What we quickly realized was that our list of communities was very inaccurate. Communities were in the wrong zones, there were duplicate communities, and some communities that did exist weren’t even on our list! Imagine that you lived in a community that the government does not even have on its radar. How would you ever receive public services!?

The other challenge is that communities change their names constantly. Sometimes communities will just decide after a chief dies, that they will change their name to the name of the new chief. So the records that we had five years ago, might be completely different from the records we have now. To compound this, villages fragment. When land becomes scarce, a family might decide to move a few kilometres away and start their own settlement. A decade later you have a new community to serve.

During this activity, there were vibrant discussions over the names of communities and what should be deleted and added. Once we made it visual, we were finally able to draw a comprehensive list of all the communities in the district. It’s hard to put into words just how instrumental this will be for the district in terms of planning! With this complete, we can now reach out to all citizens in the district. Once the survey is complete, we will actually have vital data on all communities in the district. Moving from not knowing the exact number of communities in the district, to knowing crucial data on all communities in the district, is the first step in empowering the government to evenly develop the district.

The next day was into the field where things really got interesting. All 14 of us went as a team to a community, where I demonstrated how the survey is supposed to work. Following that we split into two groups, where each team of two surveyors would get a chance to administer the survey, while being evaluated by their peers.

There are two objectives to each community visit. First, we split the women apart from the men, and speak to both groups in isolation. This is to create a more conducive environment for women to participate, since rarely will women speak up in front of men in a rural community. We probe into issues such as: drinking water, education, agriculture, health, and gender. Second, we bring the community back together and explain to them the new ranking process in the government. Through this we can hopefully empower communities to start taking development into their own hands and advocate needs to the government.

These days were no picnic. We would leave the office at 8:30am to meet the first community, and three communities later we would return to the office at 7:00pm . . . without taking lunch. After a 10hr day in the field and only drinking 1L of water, my partner and I kid about how nice it would have been if farmers had offered us some groundnuts to snack on. After the first day, my team told me that we would need to revisit the allowance I was planning to pay them each day.

“Now that we have had a taste for the work, we will need to have a long discussion about the money we are getting paid each day!” Salifu Dramani tells me with a grin after day one in the field.

By the last day of training I was exhausted, having to work two hours on both ends of each field day just to take care of the logistics for the survey. We closed the training by opening up the floor for reflections and feedback on the survey. Within minutes we were on the topic of allowances, and my team seemed ready to go on strike. After some tinkering with the budget, everybody was able to get a 100% increase in allowances brining it to 10GH¢/day. My staff sat smiling, as I cringed at the fact that for the following four weeks we would be operating the project with a contingency hardly over 200GH¢.With the tip of the iceberg finished, we’ll now begin ‘full swing surveys’. 14 communities down, 240 to go!