Source: http://whyworkwhenyoucansit.blogspot.com/ Two years ago my son Amar, who was three years old then, asked me: "Baba, these meetings you go to everyday, how do you have so much to talk about?" At another time he wondered when I get my work done when I was in meetings all the time. Most people in Tanzania, and in the world, do what my son would call real work. They farm the land, drive daladalas, launder clothes, cook food, build buildings, write books, teach, heal the sick. These people also meet from time to time, to make arrangements to ferry a child to hospital, or raise money for school fees, or decide what food to cook for the festival. But the meetings are few, and focused on getting something done. In contrast, there is a special group of people in Dar es Salaam whose main job is to meet, including meeting to plan for the next meeting. They ‘dialogue' about development in Tanzania. The dialogue is organized around lots of acronyms. The top one is MKUKUTA (it used to be PRS), which has many levels, such the TC, CWGs and RAWG. Some of these are meant to meet weekly, others monthly; though at times when drafts have to be written their members meet daily. And then there is the PER, which has a PER Main, PER Macro, 4 different PER CWGs, and a dozen sector PER working groups. These are meant to meet every two weeks in many cases. On top, each sector (such as health, education, roads, HIV/AIDS) have their own groups. In education, for example, you have the ESDP, which has an advisory group headed by the PMO, BEDC, BEDC Task Force, RACEF, QTWG, ETWG and several sub-groups. Since these are not enough, we also have the GBS. This focuses on the big picture and key ‘reforms', such as LGRP, PSRP, PFM, LSRP (each of these also have their own meetings) all through a document called PAF. The donors are very keen about this since it involves them giving hundreds of billions. To guide their behaviour we have the JAST (that used to be called TAS). The total number of people who go to these meetings is at most one thousand. They include senior government officials from key ministries, a whole bunch of donors, and a few NGO types. For a long time I have been an active member of this special group of people. In fact if there were prizes for attendance, I would have been among the top winners between 2002 and 2005. I used to go to those meetings because I thought they would help improve important things, such as the quality of education, ensure budgets help the poor, and enable ordinary citizens to realize their rights. But the fact is that, other than long reports and a hefty business for caterers of unhealthy fried meats, these meetings achieve very little. Meetings are constantly postponed and start late. Documents are rarely distributed in good time so most participants are unprepared. Key participants, especially on the government side, are often absent. Minutes are sloppy. Decisions made are quickly forgotten. There is no accountability for follow-up. In the end it's hard to see how they help development. If the meetings were a factory, it would have been closed down long ago. Because this is known, every so often we discuss how to make the meetings more effective. I have been part of at least half a dozen such efforts in the past, but they have made little difference. There is a new effort right now, called ‘proposed new dialogue structure' that seeks to reduce duplication and coordination (by merging MKUKUTA and PER for instance). But I predict it too will fail, because it doesn't go to the heart of why the dialogue has failed in the past, and because what it proposes is still too heavy and unwieldy. The new dialogue structure should not rearrange the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic. Before you prescribe medicine, you need good diagnosis. The core problem is that the dialogue machinery is simply too heavy for government and ‘domestic' civil society, but it largely exists to appease hundreds of donor staff who need it to feed their machinery. Dialogue and process should not be conflated with or displace real work and performance. Instead we need something radical. We need real leadership with the guts to replace the entire dysfunctional dialogue machinery with something simple and lean, focused on helping each ministry deliver results.