Managing relationships and partnerships with government
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
A narrative by Saurabh Singh, Program Manager -Mantra4Change
Building credibility of the education development program and as an individual among different stakeholders in the state education department is really important. Among key factors that determine the success of a philanthropic program, ’building credibility’ should be our initial focus. Program Interventions fail often not because of the quality of the deliverables like an action plan, progress reports etc but due to poor partnership management.
Here are 10 key aspects I learned and observed in the last few years working closely with different stakeholders in the state education department heading the Training and Research. I believe that these pointers accelerate stakeholder management at various levels.
1. Know Your Corners: You can not establish the credibility of the program and yourself to the government and other partners by just pitching a project and sharing operational decks. You must have a deep understanding of the purpose and process of your program and how it would help the end-user to do his or her job better or solve the challenges which they are facing on a day-to-day basis.
I could contribute consistently to the conversation and meetings with the state education department because I kept participated in the design discussions and owned some program activities as well. Though this requires some extra effort to be put in through day-to-day meetings and related tasks, it’s worth it in the first 3-6 months of the program because understanding this will help align the expectations of the education department to what the program offers.
2. Identify the key decision influencers: In your first one or two months of engagement, you would realize that there are some key decision-makers in every department. It’s really important that you put an effort to start engaging with these people beyond common interactions with your PoC (Person of Contact) or the purview of the institution you have signed MoU for. You never know when a transfer order would change the whole dynamics and one has to start building connection from the very beginning with a new education officer. For those who have closely worked with the leadership of the formal education system especially with schools and clusters, It’s like creating a second line of leadership where your engagement is not dependent on one person
3. Over Communicate, but wisely: There is no harm in over-communicating about the needs, updates, and concerns unless it floods your communications groups and channels. There’s no better way to miscommunicate or create deliberate confusion. Proactively communicating does not only help to keep the department or team informed but also establishes control on the task(s). Simple practices like creating weekly or bi-weekly reports of key activities can help establish credibility. You can do this irrespective of the programs or role you are in. Remember everyone would like to be informed and updated and you would not want to spend your time bridging the communications gap so – try not to leave any!
4. Be patient because perseverance pays: It is not that simple as it sounds. Building relationships be it professional or personal takes time and continuous efforts. There are always days when things would not go as planned, things would not move at all. It took me more than 2 months to get the state MoU to work with only 6 districts in Bihar and 3 more months to conduct any session with the stakeholders like the District Education Officer, Block Education Officer, or Cluster Resource Center Coordinator. Trust me, it’s not easy but it teaches you important things like – “How to make yourself relevant to the organization and the education department when things do not go as planned?”
I could develop relationships with other education officers in the department and this helped me not only to identify different approaches to anchor the meeting but also gave me enough time to reflect on my own program to make it more effective.
5. You are a partner to the state, Act like One: It might sound a little ideal considering that most decisions in the department are taken centrally. Not only that but there is seldom any scope of changing or denying a request. However, you can influence such decisions to some extent by continuously discussing the keywords of the principles and purpose of your program and emphasize it in your conversations with the key education officers. It’s called Socializing the idea. Soon you would realize that the stakeholders or teams use the same terms quite often in their discussions. Remember even IAS officers need coaching, but obviously, they can not proclaim it openly.
6. Show up, because it matters: I have observed that this works at all levels – from schools to the state education department. Do not wait for any good reason to visit the department – just VISIT. I have seen officers acknowledging the presence of the civil society organization representatives more than anything. Just saying ‘Hi’ and making small talk can quite easily become a kick-starter to very important agenda points for the meeting. The education officer should be able to associate your work with any education related requirement at the state, cluster, district, or any other levels. Operational capacity and alignment to the theory of change can always be considered later.
7. Quality and Length of resources: No one likes to go through long documents in the state education department unless they ask for it. It is crucial to be precise in both written and verbal communication.
Three norms to share documents with Departments for philanthropic projects:
Keeping a short 2 pagers report or 5-10 slides PPT is enough for any update or pitch.
Creating a short video with the key activities, highlights, and testimonials of your education program (especially in the case of any workshop update presentation with school leaders, Block education officers, or District education officers) would add so much value to the program-level discussions.
Use of relevant keywords in the documents. For example – avoid using abbreviations or jargons and make use of vocabulary that the stakeholders can relate to as well.
For example – Reusable learning object (RLO) or audiovisual resources can be used. Another example – Districts are called जनपद (Translated to Hindi) in Uttar Pradesh, while in Bihar they are called जिला((Translated to Hindi). Officials prefer to use linguistic connotations as is in the documents and it would beneficial if you practiced the same.
Remember, doing some research or proofreading really goes a long way and if not done properly, it can divert the reader’s attention away from the core purpose of the document.
8. Bring out ground stories: Most of the stakeholders in the department work with the notion that civil society organizations (CSOs) do not have enough contextual awareness about the problem they are working on. These officials prefer individuals who bring real-life stories to them. Plan regular interactions with such stakeholders and present your real-time findings. Trust me, this will reap more credibility in the long run. Remember, in the education system most of the time there has been a disconnect between what reaches top leadership through the regular medium of communication flow and they know it. Use this opportunity to assist the top leadership make informed decisions, not just for your program but for the overall ecosystem of education.
9. Explore previous interventions: It’s demanding and not always possible to dig information about previous interventions by the state or central bodies or CSOs in a similar area mostly because of the speed at which we operate given the expectation from the department or funders to show results. Eventually, you’ll only end up learning the same thing already practiced by previous programs or individuals years ago. Find some time to explore some of the previous interventions, connect with former employees, institutions & experts in the same domain who worked on specific projects in the same geography. It will add value to your conversations and the program.
For example – an in-service teacher training organization/individual should explore past interventions of the central government district primary education program (DPEP) in different states.
10. If you are not convinced about the idea, you cannot convince others: Eventually in your role you are trying to sell your idea to others whose priorities might be very different than yours. Thus, it becomes really important to spend some time questioning yourself, the program and develop end to end understanding of its nuances. Try having multiple internal conversations until you are aligned with the program before taking it to the department.
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