Je bekijkt de reis...
Reisverslag the quantative side of life....
17 maart 2015
the quantative side of life....
I have worked with some UN agencies – as a staff or in a partner NGO – and it seems to be in their nature to fixate on quantities. Not really a problem, you would think. We all have our little peculiar habits and obsessions: One of my colleagues cannot stand it if anyone leaves a door open; a friend puts honey on basically everything she eats, and I myself tend to bite my nails when I am stressed. These are all little things which might not be our most charming personality traits, but they are totally innocent otherwise. Therefore, I have always been inclined to forgive the UN this peculiarity, but I find that recently it’s been getting on my nerves.
Collecting numbers should be a tool to achieve a goal. Not a goal in itself.
For the UN the goal could be something like: improving the quality of the lives of refugee children/reducing their psychological distress/providing them with a safe space to play and feel like children again. I know these goals seem kind of vague (and trust me: they are!) but vague goals encourage creativity in the ways to achieve them. Because do you agree with me that these goals are important? Yes? Good! So does the UN. They get money from countries, other organizations and institutions (like the EU) to fund NGOs in the field (like TdH) to set up programs that help achieve these goals. But of course these donors want to know what the UN is doing with their money (like you would too if you for instance invested in the construction of a building). So every now and then the donors ask the UN for an update (you would call the contractor and ask about the status of your building). The UN in turn asks their partners to provide an update on their programs, preferably in writing (like the contractor would ask his team about the materials, the electricity, the plumbing, etc.).
So every week, month and year the partners inform the UN about the status of their programs. Yours truly included. I write about what activities we do, why we do it, where, when and how many refugee children and parents we reach. Every week the UN is especially looking forward to this last part, which brings me back to the number-obsession. Very often they come back with comments or questions about the numbers. I know better but I still imagine an absent-minded professor with an abacus calculating the cost-benefit ratio after printing out my report every week. And to tell you the truth: the cost-benefit ratio is not always very favorable in a project that aims to improve the psychological well-being of children. How do you assess if that the goal is achieved? Or even if you are making progress? You cannot send the psychological reports on each child to the UN because that would be a horrible breach of confidentiality. And the UN cannot come to visit the camp and see if the children in general look happy. Therefore the UN has to take this information mainly in numbers: How many children in psychological distress did we find? How many of those did we help this week? How many sessions per week? How many children did we refer to another NGO for additional assistance? Numbers, numbers, numbers.
Sometimes the numbers are low, but the impact of the work can still be great. For instance, if we helped only one child today that number seems very low in the cost-benefit ratio, but if I told you that this child was selling gum at a busy traffic light and we helped him to get back to his family it proves to be a big achievement for one day. I wish all my days were like that! But when you share this with the professor and his abacus …. It doesn’t look so good.
But wasn’t the goal of the job to achieve something slightly vague and therefore difficult to be expressed in numbers? When did the numbers became more important than the goal?
Sometimes I feel the UN is tilting slowly in this direction. Maybe because their donors are putting pressure on them. And maybe because the professors with the abacus are becoming more and more influential in an organization that focusses on the well-being of children, despite the fact that they have never seen a refugee child their lives.
In any case, it started to get on my nerves. So, I was happy when I was out with friends and meeting new people. I had an interesting discussion with a nice guy who then told me he worked for the UN. No problem, I thought, he doesn’t look like a professor.
But then he asked: So, can I have your number?
17 maart 2015 15:27 | Door: Maartje
ik kan me voorstellen dat die nummers je je keel uithangen!
en, heeft de jongen je nummer gekregen?
17 maart 2015 19:39 | Door: Juul
Haha, een spannende romantische wending aan het eind je verhaal ;)
Ik ben benieuwd naar het vervolg!
En je liet ons laatst een indrukwekkend rapport zien dat je gemaakt had, is daar op die manier op gereageerd?
Droevig en frustrerend inderdaad.
Sterkte en een dikke kus van je mams
18 maart 2015 20:03 | Door: Roel
The UN tries to be SMART, but you can ask the question whether this is so smart......
There will be a pressure, from the donors to express all in figures. You can give them figures. But be smart and tell them also the stories!
Figures without stories is like a balloon wrapped in gift paper!
And.....................do not give all those guys your (mob.)number
18 maart 2015 22:08 | Door: jantien
Mooi en duidelijk verhaal! Misschien zou je dit door moeten sturen naar de UN... ;-)
En je einde vind ik awesome! :D
28 maart 2015 07:19 | Door: julien
vind ik leuk!! well written and really good food for thought