The skills associated with programmes based work including project design, management, delivery and evaluation are vital for development professionals. When a development project comes to fruition, the final results represent the outcome of a series of processes, all of which are geared towards ensuring that the objectives of the project and the organisation are met. Efficient, effective project management and evaluation mean that an organisation can work towards its overall goals and make the change it wants to see in society.
Many volunteers we place get involved with project management activities. It is a role that allows volunteers to take on a beneficiary focused position and see the impact of development NGOs on the ground. Even though project management can be very hands on and field based, it is important to understand the ‘behind the scenes’ work essential to the success of any project.
When charities and non-governmental organisations design a project, they first identify the needs of a target group and then formulate an achievable response, given the skills and expertise of the organisation. An HIV/AIDS charity, for example, may notice a low-level of sexual health knowledge among young people in their area and formulate an educational campaign to increase knowledge levels and help to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Project designers have to closely identify the needs of their target group, decide on their objectives and then put together a project proposal. Effective project designs identify clear steps for the project, account for the costs of the project at each stage and give achievable aims and measures of success; the process of designing a project can be highly creative and extremely rewarding when a project comes to life.
Project Management & Delivery
Once a project has been designed and funding has been secured, the project manager is responsible for taking the project design and making it a reality. To successfully implement a project, the project manager has to juggle a variety of needs and constraints to ensure that the project is delivered on time, on budget and that it meets all of its key objectives.
Using our example of the HIV/AIDS charity, if the project is agreed upon and gains funding, the project manager will then be responsible for putting together a team of people, managing the available funds and ensuring that by the end of the project, sexual health knowledge levels among the target group have increased.
Monitoring & Evaluation
The final element in running a successful project is monitoring the project to check that it is on course to meet its objectives and then evaluating the final outcomes of the project to determine whether those objectives have been met, or whether further work is necessary. Time, human resources and funding are scarce commodities in international development work. It is therefore vital that projects that are funded and implemented are effective and that possible improvements are brought to light as soon as possible. Good monitors and evaluators have strong research skills and the ability to assess evidence and determine whether a project has been successful. Monitoring and evaluation is often seen as an ‘entry’ role for graduates wanting to move into a programmes management role in the future.
Working in project management gives volunteers the opportunity to use and develop a variety of skills, from human resource management to financial planning.
Placements involving project design and management suit volunteers with strong skills in management and are more relevant to volunteers taking a career break or mid career professionals, rather than recent graduates. Although recent graduates doing a long-term placement can start with fundraising and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities and work towards management roles over time.