Listening project: Field visit report - Angola


Background on the Listening Project

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, with a number of colleagues in international NGOs, donors and other humanitarian and development agencies, initiated the Listening Project to undertake 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. The Listening Project seeks the reflections of experienced and thoughtful people who occupy a range of positions within recipient societies to assess the impact of aid efforts by international actors. Those of us who work across borders in humanitarian aid, development assistance, environmental conservation, human rights and/or peace-building efforts can learn a great deal by listening to the analyses and judgments of local people as they reflect on the cumulative and long-term impacts of such international efforts.

The Listening Teams did not work from pre-established questionnaires or a rigid interview protocol. Rather, we told people that, as individuals engaged in international assistance work, we were interested to hear from them how they perceived these efforts. We asked if they would be willing to spend some time with us, telling us their opinions and ideas. In this way, we conversed about their issues of concern without pre-determining specific topics.

Many conversations were held with one or two individuals, but in other cases, larger groups formed and what began as small-group dialogues became, in effect, free-flowing group discussions. In many cases, conversations were not pre-arranged, and a Listening Team would travel to a community and strike up a conversation with whomever was available and willing to talk, including those who had and had not received international assistance. Appointments were also made with government officials and other local leaders.

Over a period of two years, the Listening Project will visit up to twenty countries, with Angola being the fifth. The project will gather what we hear from people in all of these locations in order to integrate these insights into future aid work and, thereby, to improve its effectiveness. A collaborative learning process such as the Listening Project depends entirely on the involvement and significant contributions of all the participating agencies. Those who were involved in Angola deserve great appreciation for their generous logistical support and the insights and dedication of all the staff that participated in and supported the effort.

The Listening Project in Angola

The Listening Project (LP) organized a two-week field visit to Angola in November 2006. Catholic Relief Services, Development Workshop, and CARE International collaborated with CDA in arranging for, and carrying out, the field visit of the Listening Project in Angola. Each of these agencies provided funds, staff and other in-kind support (hospitality, transport, etc.) to the effort, and CDA sent three facilitators to Angola to work with the staff of the agencies.

Five teams of 'listeners,' some composed of an Angolan with an expatriate, and others with only Angolan staff from the participating agencies, conducted over eighty conversations with more than two hundred individuals in four Angolan provinces that were affected to varying degrees by the war: Luanda, Benguela, Bié, and Huambo. The Listening Teams held conversations with returned refugees, IDPs, and a wide range of residentes, people who did not flee their home territories during the war, but in many cases spent months, if not years, living in the bush. Conversations were held in a variety of settings, including but not limited to: peoples' homes and fields; outdoor markets; IDP and refugee resettlement camps; demobilized UNITA soldier settlements and vocational training facilities; churches and NGO offices, and outdoor common spaces in a number of cities, towns and villages.

In order to expand the range of people to whom we listened, we made appointments to talk with local government officials, NGOs, business people, and religious leaders. In most places, especially in rural communities, the Listening Teams began with a visit to the 'Soba', or traditional village chief, and/or with the local administrator or other government officials. We also made an effort to speak with people who did not present themselves for discussion, such as elderly villagers and women working in the fields.

Our conversations included people from some of Angola's major ethnic and racial groups; older people and youth; government officials and private citizens; men and women; people in urban areas and in rural areas; people who had received a great deal of assistance and people who had not; people who were disabled; people who held leadership positions and those who were socially marginalized. Despite our efforts to reach as broad a range of people as possible, we are aware that what we heard represents only a small fraction of the opinions and judgments of all Angolans.

Over the coming months, as we listen in many more countries, we will look for common themes, attitudes, conclusions and judgments that may be helpful to improve the effectiveness of futureinternational aid efforts. At  the end of each section below, we reflect on some of the issues raised in the conversations that we feel deserve more listening and analysis.