Looking Back on Some Amazing Years - One Last Interview with Project Manager Susanne Stephan

Looking Back on Some Amazing Years - One Last Interview with Project Manager Susanne Stephan
11/10/2012

The clock is ticking for DELGOSEA’s project manager; at the end of October 2012 it will be time for Susanne Stephan to say goodbye to the DELGOSEA network and to the Philippines. Having steered the project to success over the last 30 months, she reflects on her experiences.

To start with, Susanne, what do you see as the highlights of the DELGOSEA project - what makes you personally proud?

The ultimate highlight for me was the final DELGOSEA conference that took place in Bangkok in August 2012. To feel the spirit of the more than 140 participants from the five Southeast Asian countries and to witness their enthusiasm for taking DELGOSEA forward really touched my heart. I was also amazed by the pilot cities' exhibition showing the results of their projects after 30 months of DELGOSEA while at the same time highlighting the different cultural settings we worked in. I was also moved by the big closing ceremony and the pilot city award that was given to five selected DELGOSEA cities.

 But apart from all the activities we have done – and there were many – I am really proud that we have managed to nurture the feeling of belonging to a family: the DELGOSEA family. It was great to see this sense of unity gradually emerging: we started as a transnational project where people might have met but still felt very shy about working together and ended as a tight network with real trust and genuine friendships across borders.

 

Which brings us neatly to the next question: which elements of the project did you feel worked particularly well?

I think all my colleagues would agree with me that the most important activity, the one that ensured real knowledge transfer across borders, were the study tours. All the feedback we received showed that these visits by representatives of the pilot cities to their respective best practices were even more important than the training seminars we ran. I sometimes had the impression that people only really understood the project they had selected for replication after they had seen it live in action, even though we had extensively documented all best practices and had organized several information sessions. Clearly, only seeing the projects made them come real. 

While I am not sure that the monitoring and consulting element worked quite as well as it could have, it is definitely one of the key factors for a successful replication. We tried hard to train coaches from the Local Government Associations (LGAs) to consult and support the cities through continuous project monitoring. The results of the monitoring visits were incredible important for the next steps and sometimes even led to a re-organization or re-direction of the project implementation. Our coaches and coordinators have done a great job here. 

 

Does this mean that there are some things that you would do differently if you were to start again, knowing what you know now?

There is not much that I would change in project design or methodology, but there are two things that I would definitely approach differently when planning such a project again: First of all, I would try to reserve more time for research and documentation. We only had three month to identify, select and document 16 best practices on good local governance from five countries. There was also the issue of having to translate the documentations between different languages – all in all, a very time-consuming process that had to be rushed along due to the project timeline. The originally planned documentations also turned out to be too long to be of much use to our target group, i.e. local government officials and administrators who needed an easy and concise guide to help them with their implementation. We therefore developed our own short version, allowing for quick information and responding better to the needs of our target audience.

I would also adjust the timing of some of our activities: we received overwhelming feedback that it would have been more effective to carry out the study tours before getting into the details of concept development and capacity building. In that way, the pilot city decision-makers will have a clearer picture of what to expect and which challenges to concentrate on. A relationship with the partner city can be developed early on in the project, and there might also be stronger political support for the replication once the political leadership has seen the results with their own eyes.

  

What did you personally learn from the DELGOSEA experience?

That is a nice question! While I feel that on a technical level not much was new and I was well up to the challenge, I have certainly learnt much on a personal level.

First and foremost I had to practice to be more patient, to let things take time and to trust that at the end everything would work out fine. I also had to learn to balance the different working procedures and approaches – remember we are talking about five countries – and to combine them into one overall approach. It was giving room on one side and limiting the framework on the other. All these things took time, which you usually do not have much of when managing a EU-financed project. Especially at the beginning, it took me some time to understand the different messages I got. I noticed that a “no” can be expressed very differently and that everybody has his or her own truth that you have to respect. Before I was often running or rushing down the street, now I am walking slowly. My time in DELGOSEA definitely increased my quality of life.

  

What are your hopes for the network after the end of the funding period?

That is easy to answer: My main hope is related to the sustainability of our results. I hope that the pilot cities continue replicating their projects, even beyond the next funding or election period. I hope that the LGAs will continue supporting the pilot cities and also share their knowledge with many other cities. It would be great to extend the documentation of best practices to include many other examples. My vision therefore is for a broader forum of knowledge exchange amongst cities in Southeast Asia, encompassing more countries, best practices and pilot cities. I also hope that we can sustainably build on the relationship with ASEAN by setting up a DELGOSEA Standing Committee within UCLG ASPAC in connection with a small secretariat to maintain the relationship between DELGOSEA and ASEAN.

 

Finally, on a really personal level: What are you going to do next?

I first would like to thank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung for providing me with the opportunity to manage this network - a great and at the same time challenging job that I enjoyed doing every day. Of course I have many ideas and thoughts in my mind for the future. Project coaching and mediation is definitely amongst them. But I am also looking forward to dedicating some time to my little daughter who will be happy to have her mother at home more often. 

Further news on the future of DELGOSEA on:  www.DELGOSEA.eu:

Exit Strategies: Continuing DELGOSEA in Each Project Country

Where Do we Go from Here – Continuing the Advocacy for Democratic Local Governance Throughout ASEAN

For the Pilot Cities the Journey Continues