Listening Project: Field visit report Ethiopia


Background on the Listening Project

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, with a number of colleagues in international NGOs, donors and other humanitarian and development agencies, has started 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 insights 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 and/or peacebuilding efforts can learn a great deal by listening to the analyses and judgments of local people as they reflect on the immediate effects and long-term outcomes of such international efforts.

Over a period of two years, the Listening Project will visit up to twenty countries, with Ethiopia being the third so far. The project will gather what we hear from people in all of these locations in order to integrate these insights into future work and, thereby, to improve its effectiveness.

The Listening Project in Ethiopia

The Listening Project (LP) organized a two-week field effort in Ethiopia in October 2006. CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, CHF International, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America and Save the Children/USA collaborated with CDA in arranging for and carrying out the field visit of the Listening Project in Ethiopia. Each of these agencies provided funds, staff and other in-kind support (hospitality, transport, etc.) to the effort, and CDA sent three facilitators to Ethiopia to work with the agencies. 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 Ethiopia deserve great appreciation for their generous logistical support and the insights and dedication of all the staff who participated.

The LP teams did not work from pre-set questions or an interview protocol. Rather we told people that, as individuals engaged in international aid work, we were interested to hear from them about how they saw 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 opened conversations on their issues of concern, without pre-judging the exact topics and directions. We wanted people with whom we spoke to take the lead in raising the issues that most concern them.

Eight teams of 'listeners,' each composed of one or two Ethiopian staff from the participating agencies and one international staff from the agencies or from CDA, visited districts (woredas) in four regions of Ethiopia - Addis Ababa, Borana (in and around Negelle woreda), West Hararghe (in and around Daro Labu, Doba, Miesso, and Chiro woredas), and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (in and around Butajira, Meskan, Shashemene, Alaba, and Dalocha woredas). Some conversations involved one or two individuals; others were with larger groups (from three to twelve people) who gathered around to talk as our conversations proceeded.

In most cases, conversations were not pre-arranged and the LP teams usually began with a visit to the head of the district (woreda) administration and/or the village leaders (kebele), both to engage them in conversations about their involvement in and opinions on the impact of international assistance and to ask permission to talk with other people in their areas. In order to expand the range of people to whom we listened, several teams also spoke to agricultural development officers, businesspeople, health workers, school principals, teachers and students. In each location, teams talked to a range of mostly randomly selected people, some of whom had been direct recipients of international aid and some of whom had not. In general, the teams found people willing to talk with us and open in reflecting on their observations.

In the four regions and over the course of five days, the listening teams held over 100 conversations of varying length and depth with over 350 people. The conversations included people from various ethnic and religious groups; adult men and women; the elderly and youth; a great number of farmers and pastoralists; several district and village officials and community leaders; people in urban and rural areas; and people who held leadership positions and those who felt marginalized.

We were fortunate to have opportunities to listen to so many people with a range of perspectives. Nonetheless, we are aware that what we heard represents only a small fraction of the opinions and judgments of all Ethiopians. We therefore do not draw broad conclusions from this visit. Instead, we have captured a valuable snapshot of some perspectives and some opinions of some people. Over the coming months, as we listen in many more locations, we will continually look for common themes, attitudes, conclusions and judgments. At the end of each section below, we reflect on some of the questions that are raised by what we heard that seem to deserve more listening and analysis.