The Listening Project

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Date Published:
October 1, 2005
Community Contribution

The Listening Project is a comprehensive and systematic exploration of the ideas and insights of people who live in societies that have been on the recipient side of international assistance (humanitarian aid, development cooperation, peace-building activities, human rights work, environmental conservation, etc.) It is motivated by our sense that if we could ask for and listen carefully to recipients' judgments of what has been useful (and not useful) and why, over the years of their experience, then assistance providers and donors could learn a great deal about how to improve the effectiveness of their efforts.

The Listening Project has organized more than 20 Listening Exercises between late 2005 to 2009. Field Visits include: in Aceh (Indonesia), Afghanistan, Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma/Myanmar Cambodia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, Mindanao (Philippines), Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thai-Burma border, Thailand, Timor-Leste, US Gulf Coast, and Zimbabwe. Small teams composed of staff from international and local NGOs in addition to CDA facilitators visited several regions in each of these countries to engage people in open-ended conversations about their experiences and recommendations about how to improve the effectiveness of outside assistance. Listening conversations have included people who have directly received assistance, people who have not received assistance but who are close enough to the process to have valid and interesting insights about its impacts, and local people and expats who have been a part of the chain of delivery and implementation of aid programs.

The conversations have included grass roots community members, government official, religious and traditional leaders, teachers, health workers, business people, staff of local organizations, youth and children, women and men, etc. In each setting, the teams of "listeners" determine, in collaboration with local colleagues, how to reach the appropriate range of people for listening.

The Listening Teams report on each conversation in either written or oral form, with the intention of accumulating the ideas and insights across experiences, locations and types of people. A report from each listening exercise summarizes the issues and the analysis done by the participants and is shared broadly with those involved in providing assistance in each country. Through repeating this process in many places, and finding common and different themes in each, and then by comparing these across many contexts, we can discover patterns and learn lessons about how to improve the effectiveness of international assistance efforts. To foster more collaborative analysis and learning, CDA also arranges periodic consultations and feedback workshops in which a range of people involved in international assistance can, together, reflect on the findings and analyze their import and directions.

For more information on the Listening Project, or to access its affiliated resources, click here.