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New Tool Increases Focus on Quality Assessment of Technical Cooperation

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20 January 2010

EuropeAid has developed a new Technical Cooperation Quality Assessment Grid, which must be used by its task managers to self-assess quality of TC. This gives a clear signal that focus on quality has moved up a gear as the European Commission reform of TC enters its second phase.

Since January 2010, the TC Quality Assessment Grid must be attached to Action Fiches sent by Quality Support Groups (QSG) 2 for any project that includes a significant technical cooperation component. "Significant" means a TC operation focusing on capacity development or with a budget of more than 1 million euros.

The Grid is based on five quality criteria as developed in "The Guidelines on Making Technical Cooperation More Effective".

In order to be quality compliant, TC support must:

1) fit the context

2) demonstrate clear commitment and adequate ownership from partners

3) be harmonised and sustainability of benefits considered

4) link to results and expected outcomes

5) have appropriate programme implementation arrangements (PIA)

The first three criteria need to be addressed starting from the first steps of the identification phase and then followed through formulation. Point four, on result orientation, is to be addressed mainly at the formulation phase. While PIAs provide the structures needed to implement a project, by screening accountability, internal organisation, roles and responsibility of local and external staff and so forth.

Over the coming months, real life examples of how the quality assessment grid is being used will be collected. These case studies should enable us to draw the first conclusions on how the five quality criteria on TC and PIUs - as developed in the Guidelines of Making Technical Cooperation More Effective - are shaping the identification and formulation process.

The TC Quality Grid gives EuropeAid staff basic measures to assess if new projects are in line with the principles of the Backbone Strategy.

Even though TC may constitute a relatively minor element of a programme in financial terms, it nevertheless can be critical in achieving the agreed results. It is therefore important that TC is carefully and thoroughly designed, and this new Quality Assessment Grid should help us do that.

The revision is meant to help task managers by simplifying the formulation of some of the questions and by including precise references to the text of the  "Guidelines on Making Technical Cooperation More Effective" for each question, for guidance.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


Firstly, I want to stress that I completely agree that there must be an increased focus on quality in our assistance programmes. The question is: how?

In essense, the new Quality Assessment Grid asks a lot of relevant questions - but too late. In real life, the grid will typically be filled out by very busy Task Managers a day or two before handing in the Action Fiche. At that point, the  identification and formulation phases are already over with. If the task manager and consultants did not work according to the principles of ownership, harmonisation and sustainability during the identification and formulation phases, filling out a Quality Assessment Grid certainly won't change that. Therefore, the grid only becomes yet another form to fill out.

While admittedly I do not have the final solution, I think the Commission should put in place some sort of quality management system to guide:

1) The writing of ToRs for the identification and formulation missions

2) The actual implementation of the identification and formulation missions

In that way, we would be reacting before and during the identification and formulation phases - not after :-)

Dear Lars,

I think that your queries and reflections are very relevant and actually have got us thinking! As I am in charge of the oQSG system in Directorate E of course my interest is how we make sure that our support system delivers the best results for all. My first comment is that the oQSG is one of the tools of Directorate E to provide feedback during the design phase but probably more important is the informal contacts that should start when you have the initial project idea. As my thematic colleagues in the other E units are there to help and support right from the beginning of identification when you come up with the first embryonic idea. I would also say that rather than fill in the identification fiches and the quality grids or screening documetn at the end of the process of identification and formulation use them as a basis for the process to help you plan the work. In fact the last chapter of the identification fiches are there to help structure the formulation phase and with the context and problem analysis are considered to be one of the most important aspects of the fiches since the revision. 

Whislt I agree that ToR for identification and formulation missions are useful and their quality should be enhanced, it may be better to talk about a workplan/process for the identification and formulation phases as with missions we tend to rely too much on external consultants but they cannot replace the inhouse expertise whether at delegation level (country and institutional knowledge for example) or at HQ with the thematic expertise and overview of good experience in other countries and regions.


Trust is good but control is better...
I think all quality management systems should be oriented at creating the right reflexes among the task managers. One way of doing this is through training, the other by creating quality check of the result of their work. We can assume that Task Managers prepare the documents knowing what questions shall be posed at the oQSG - since the checklist is available upfront. So taking the approach of any game, you adjust to the rules set upfront.
I do not want to say that your point is not valid. Any help is always good. I participated in many oQSGs where staff from AIDCO Quality of Operations Directorate declared upfront: We are ready to help you/provide comments on the ToRs for the formulation mission etc. So the openness is definitely there.
But introducing too many levels of quality control risks reducing the role of Task Manager. And since we know the rules of 'delegation' - delegate a task asking for a result; I am not so convinced that setting a new mechanism would be beneficial.
If you once see the TC quality grid and the questions, you will know what is expected on your side. And this is precisely the aim of the whole Backbone strategy, I think.
But thanks for comment. It is always good to have another insight!

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