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close this bookHandbook for Agrohydrology (NRI)
close this folderChapter 1: Introduction
View the document1.1 The role of hydrology in agriculture
View the document1.2 Summary
View the document1.3 Project planning and practical problems

1.3 Project planning and practical problems

This handbook assumes that work is being undertaken in developing countries and usually, though perhaps not always, will be implemented through a project with a finite lifetime. It is important to consider briefly, the manner in which projects are formulated and evaluated. Project staff should be aware of how and why projects have been devised and funded, and understand the work that has gone into developing the project proposals. Their own experience may be invaluable for future proposals for project development.

Projects have a finite life, but should seek to attain their goals and leave behind continuing benefits that come from the successful integration of new developments; technical, economic and perhaps social. Technical staff have important contributions to make in these areas, to both current activity and future planning, but it would be naive to believe that technical improvement and social benefits are the only aims of funding agencies. Policy and administrative considerations are often paramount and it is essential that technical assessments should be thorough and realistic.

Proposals and Planning for Projects

Project proposals are the first tangible evidence of possible future activity. They collect together ideas generated by the previous work and experience of individuals and organisations and will pass through many different stages of development before final acceptance or rejection. Because of this, project proposals may develop over a long period of time and it is important that their relevance is continually assessed. It is also advantageous, and in the case of most projects essential, that in addition to technical and logistical enquiry, the specialist skills of sociologists and economists be applied at the earliest stage of any proposals, to define the possible consequences of implementation. It is also important to remember that each funding agency will have its own individual character and particular spheres of interest and experience.

A list of basic conditions that project proposals should fulfil is given below. These address the structural and material content of proposals and do not consider any of the important social issues that can undermine the success of any technically feasible project. Project proposals should take into account:

Clearly defined aims and objectives

These should explain precisely the long and short term goals that the project seeks. They should be agreed upon and documented prior to any implementation. In some cases they may be limited to the stages of technical implementation and their results, in other cases it may be necessary to include the socio-economic effects that are expected and the development of the activities of the project, in the light of these effects.

Institutional framework

This will identify the interested parties and clarify the position that the project occupies between them. The responsibilities of the organisations involved and the financial, staffing and logistical support that a project receives, should be explained in detail.

Lines of communication between Project, Donor, Recipient Organisation and Participants

These are often complex, but vital to the success of a project. Misunderstandings may lead to a lack of amicable cooperation. They provide essential conduits for reporting, review procedures and information, and keep everyone involved aware of the progress of work and need for revision.

Reporting Procedures

Strong lines of communication are useless without defined reporting procedures. If these are well established within project proposals, it is not easy to neglect them, even when a project is running and day to day tasks have a more immediate attraction.

Evaluations and Reviews, both internal and external

Project proposals (and activities) are not immutable and a flexible approach is essential. Conditions change continually and it is not possible to design, implement and complete a project without considering improvement as experience is gained. Review procedures are important to ensure that sensible assessments of progress are made and to initiate discussions on alternative courses that may be followed. Both internal and external reviews should be timetabled, with at least one major review allocated to a project at the most suitable stage of development. The difficulty here is to balance the timing; it should be neither too late to be of use, nor be too premature to review sufficient material. Short term reviews, perhaps annual internal reviews, can be made available and help in selecting appropriate timing, but much will depend on the nature of the project and its duration. The nature of the review bodies should be stated, as should to whom they will report and their constituent members.


Funding may sometimes be contentious, sometimes easily agreed upon. In terms of project success, it is often the distribution of funding that causes problems rather than (within reason) the amount. It is usually most convenient for funding agencies to disburse an evenly spread level of funding. This allows consistent administrative procedures and easier future budget planning, but it is rarely appropriate for the efficient running of projects. Project capital investment expenditure is relatively high at first, gradually decreasing over the project life. Conversely, funds for employing local staff, equipment repair, vehicle maintenance and fieldwork will become greater as the project grows. Funds for training tend to peak during the mid and final term when staff have sufficient experience to require enhanced expertise and suitable courses have been identified. Problems can arise not only from the varied levels of funding needed in each case, but also because each may be obtained from different areas of fiscal responsibility within the funding organisation. It is clearly to everyone's advantage to assess realistic levels of funding in detail, relate them to the stages of the project's life and identify remedial procedures, should these be necessary. The responsibilities of all organisations concerned with supporting the project, should be clearly stated.

Long-term Obligations

The project proposals should place the role of the project clearly within the framework of past activity and where long term obligations are planned, agreements on these should not be postponed nor over looked. The manner in which the results of the project fit into the social and institutional framework of the host country and whether or not they can be maintained, should be assessed. Projects usually become self funding over a timetabled period, but it is easy to overestimate local sources of support where attention is distracted from problems of future funding by the overall appeal of the project.


Project proposals should be clear and concise, but comprehensive. Different funding agencies use different formats of presentation and it is sensible to adopt these formats as early as possible. The process of preparation is sufficiently time consuming without additional unnecessary delays, especially where projects have a defined season of implementation.

Basic Questions

There are several basic questions that have to be asked when a project proposal is being developed. The list below is not necessarily exhaustive.

a. What are the genuine needs to be served ?
b. Can they and have they been identified ?
c. What objectives can the project actually achieve ?
d. Are the technologies appropriate and economically feasible?
e. What constraints, technical, social and economic are to be overcome ?
f. What are the long term implications ?

When these questions are answered it is important to present the basis of each answer and provide a summary of the research material. For example the answer to questions 'a' and 'b' may be based on extensive questionnaires; government economic or agricultural statistics; discussions with research organisations or workers already in the field. Questions 'c', 'd' and 'e' demand recourse to previous experience from other projects, noting advances made and failures due to identifiable causes. Sensible answers to question 'f' show that the long term development of a project has been well thought through. They indicate a familiarity with the host country and recipients and an understanding of what can and cannot reasonably be expected. Negative answers do not necessarily prove that a project is totally unsuitable, the long term implications may be simply too optimistic. Modification of the proposals may overcome any long term difficulties that come to light.

Background Information

The type of information needed will obviously be determined by the kind of project that is proposed. Consideration should be given the following:

a. National, regional and socio-economic information.

In general, bi-partite projects will have fewer problems in obtaining this information than ones involving various groups. However, such information is not always easy to get; it may even not be available, it may be seriously outdated and governments are sometimes reluctant to give it. Previous reviews and surveys provide a good indication of the width and availability of researchable material.

b. Previous, current and future projects.

These can often be a very valuable source of information, in addition to background research, technical data and research conclusions may be available. Learning from previous mistakes is an opportunity to be taken. Areas of cooperation can be explored, sometimes to the general benefit of all, but these areas should be clearly decided upon and defined.

c. Host government policies.

It is essential that projects be concordant to the policies of the host government. Any that are not are bound to fail and any long terms benefits will be lost. The opportunity to gain familiarity with organisations and individuals within government should be taken to the full.

Reporting and Evaluation

Reporting on project achievements should be undertaken in a systematic manner. Agreed arrangements should be made, which specify the details of reporting methods:

- From whom / to whom
- How often and at what length
- Whether technical or financial or both

Evaluations should include:

- Against what objectives any achievements should be assessed
- Details of the use of funds
- What dissemination of information has been undertaken
- Technical evaluations

Project Support

Project support can take many forms and should come from both inside and outside government. It may be through the cooperation with complementary projects which saves costs and provides a wider range of inputs. It may take the form of organised seminars and discussions which give a wider audience to the aims and achievements of project work. It may include the dissemination of information through government departments. The involvement of local institutions and experts is beneficial to both project and participants. Where a considerable financial burden may fall on participants (for example travel fares and housing of conference delegates), it is important that the responsibility for these costs to be identified and budgeted for.


One of the greatest benefits a project can leave behind is well trained staff There are however several conditions to this statement that must be given serious thought:

-The correct type of staff must selected and the level of suitable training must be clearly identified. This may be vocational or institutional. If the latter, the correct course must be sought and places obtained. A careful timetable is necessary.

- Host government obligations. Funding may be the responsibility of the project or government, or both. It may not be to the advantage of host governments to pay for training for local project staff who later return expecting an enhanced position and better career prospects. The details of such matters should be settled well before training is arranged.

- The training must be appropriate for re-deployment when the project is finished. Any training must be in the long term interests of the host government, especially where counterpart staff are concerned.

- Project obligations. It should be ascertained that the project budget provides funding for training, as some may not.

- International Centres. Some international centres will sponsor candidates for training, but early enquiries should be made, because such sponsorship is eagerly sought.

Practical Problems

The collection of good quality field data is frequently very difficult and many problems will be peculiar to individual projects. However, the two most general but almost universal problems that must be faced by research and field staff are:

- Collecting adequate information during the limited lifetime of a project
- Balancing resources between the amount and quality of data that can be collected.

These are problems that face almost every project as a whole and a cooperative effort is needed from all staff to overcome them, but below is a discussion of common difficulties that will probably be encountered by individual field workers in the attempt to obtain good data.

Limited Project resources: Projects in developing countries often succumb to the temptation of over-stretching their resources. In areas where little data is available and there is much to collect, the relative merits of few sites with intensive data collection and many sites collecting fewer data, must be carefully weighed.

Difficult access to sites: This is especially true of wet seasons when bad roads often become impassable. In such situations sites cannot be visited, equipment repaired, conditions observed nor site staff consulted. Sites should be carefully selected so as not to impose an intolerable burden on the data-collection routine.

Restrictions on transport to cover sufficient sites: The availability of transport and the means by which it is kept in good repair often pose some of the most serious logistic/resource problems that projects face in developing countries. Roads are usually bad, vehicle maintenance standards low and shortages of spare parts common. There is an understandable temptation for vehicles to be put to non-project uses in countries with rudimentary public transport facilities. This situation is not helped by the status which is conferred upon drivers, where the private ownership of vehicles is a great luxury.

Hostile physical environment: Equipment has a hard life. Rough and inexperienced handling, transportation in difficult conditions often leads to early breakdown. High humidity and large ranges of both seasonal and diurnal temperatures frequently take their toll. Given the difficulties of repair and replacement, equipment should be treated carefully and be well maintained. An adequate provision of spare parts should be made.

Inappropriate equipment: Very often equipment must be ordered from overseas. It is essential that the correct equipment be selected in the first instance. Replacement may be impossible or may take many months.

Inexperienced staff: It must be recognised that educational and training levels in developing countries are commonly lower than those in developed countries. This puts a great responsibility on professional project members to give as wide a range of relevant training as possible to technicians and field staff. Ideally, initial planning should place training as a core component of project activities, but this is by no means always so and in some instances research budgets actually preclude the use of project funds for training purposes. Initial project proposals should seriously consider the role of training in the future of any project. There is little more dispiriting to all concerned than a project which leaves no continuing activity behind at the end of its life.

Under-motivated staff: It may seem to project professionals working abroad, that local staff do not always give what they can toward the success of a project. When this is true, it is usually for very good reasons. Local staff almost always have very poor pay and conditions compared to expatriates. Often they are seconded from other areas of activity, sometimes on a temporary basis, with little hope of an enhanced career or improved personal prospects. They are often not trained nor aware of the opportunities that a project may offer. In developing countries, as in developed countries, technical personnel are undervalued in general; an administrative post in a ministry is far more likely to lead to promotion than supervising a field team. It is essential that local technical and field staff are shown that the success of any project lies very much in their hands. Without reliable, accurate information collected at the correct time, projects in the area of agrohydrology are little more than an exercise in redistributing a given amount of money.

These difficulties can never be totally overcome, but the careful selection, siting, installation and maintenance of equipment allied with good staff training can keep damage and disappointment to a minimum.