December 8, 1999

CIDA as an Organization

A Private Opinion

By David Steinberg


A. Characteristics of CIDA as an Organization

1 Lack of Vision - As SECOR stated "CIDA's strategic orientation greatly depends upon its management's vision of the future context. This vision will be a key element in management's evaluation of CIDA’s state of preparedness for its future challenges and thus a crucial basis for the definition of the adequate strategy."  It is clear that CIDA lacks, and has lacked for many years, any shared vision in CIDA re.:


2 Multiplicity of objectives = no objectives


The Economist (Leviathan re-engineered, Oct. 19, 1996) stated -

“any organization which boasts one Statement of Purpose, one Vision, five Values, six goals, seven Strategic priorities and eight Key performance Indicators, without any clear correlation between them, is producing a recipe for confusion."

CIDA has:

a. 3 Foreign Policy Objectives

b. a mandate statement (also called a purpose) which is really a combination of a strategy “to support sustainable development” with two objectives.

c.  6  Priorities which are not clearly subordinated to the mandate

d.  Branch Objectives

Some key points:

The Priorities are not really priorities to carry out the mandate.  This is clear from the fact that there is no requirement to meet the economic, cultural, social, political and environmental sustainability as a precondition for any activity being classed under any of the Priorities.

The Priorities cover almost everything that the Agency has done on any scale over the last twenty years except support for structural adjustment and regional integration which can either be shoehorned into one of the Priorities or added as branch objectives.  Thus the priorities are not priorities - I.e. they do not eliminate large groups of potential activities whose general developmental merit would have led to their funding in the absence of the priorities

There is clearly a 7th Priority i.e. economic benefit and job creation in Canada which relates back to the Foreign Policy Objectives but not to the mandate or the formal ODA Priorities

CIDA discussion and guidance generally ignores the Mandate and concentrates on the Priorities.  One measure of this is that Policy Branch long ago abandoned work on social , political and cultural sustainability while concentrating on putting out a policy paper for each Priority.

3 CIDA not a "policy driven" organization

4  CIDA "managing from the inside out"

i.e. the impact of external development related reality is so weak that the primary concern is to view that reality, and CIDA programming, through the prism of CIDA's structure rather than seeking to determine the actual structure of the reality and modifying the CIDA structure, if necessary, to better analyze and address the problem. Many examples can be given.  Probably the failure of country focus fits in here.

5 Destruction of the challenge function. 

End of Professional Services Branch was supposedly to support "accountability". Who is called to account for developmental results??. There is a dread of publishing or otherwise opening CIDA's activities to critical challenge. End of PRC and SEPO


6 Function of Analysis and the Implications of Its Absence


 Analysis has two main functions

The identification of opportunities for high-leverage investments is critically dependant on analysis.


7 CIDA as a Knowledge-learning Organization?


8  Leadership Training - Senior Management Passes the Buck

Institution of leadership training in an organization of dysfunctional design, unsupportive of risk taking and which has eliminated all organized challenge functions represents Sr. management giving up on reforming the organization or providing leadership.


9 Risk tolerance - low in a high-risk business


10 CIDA's Lack of Openness to Outside Criticism, Lack of Publication (other than PR) and Reluctance to Participate in the Development Dialogue

A report[1], a few years ago, found that communications with outside people is so attenuated that the authors called CIDA a "self-referential organization" .  It found that 90% of the surveyed e-mail traffic originated from within CIDA.  This, together with the  absence of any mention of 'beneficiaries'  by interviewees, suggested to the authors  that CIDA's involvement in dialogue about development issues is both isolated from outside influences and self-referential. It also suggested that the primary source of opinion about development issues in a particular country is not grounded in the realities of that country at all, but rather self-reinforces from within. Yet, the authors noted,  the 'transparency' of communications provided by the Internet means that those who are affected by the socio-economic impact of development activities, the beneficiaries, will eventually participate in that dialogue.  The authors go on to say " almost all respondents have a negative expectation of senior management's role in decisions about Internet use. The picture that emerges is of a substantial climate of opinion about management isolation and indifference. The world in which senior management exists appears largely unknown and unknowable to most of these respondents."


11 Who is the Client, What Does it Mean and What are the Implications?

The client is immediately the one to whom the services are provided.  However, if client needs are to drive an organization (1) the client's views on the organization and its products (including services) must be known; and, (2) the client's buying decisions, expressed opinion etc.. must be decisive for the future of the organization and its staff.  By that measure, the real; clients of CIDA are:

CIDA's incentive structure is based on

This is reflected in:


How the Incorrect Identification of  the Client Disempowered CIDA and its Staff

The Massé mission statement declared the people of the developing countries to be CIDA's clients.  The staff of CIDA wanted this to be true but knew, that if they acted on that assumption, they would be in trouble.  Thus the identification of the "client" and the Mission Statement which, in theory, was supposed to "empower" staff in fact painfully disempowered them.


B. First Steps Toward a Future for CIDA


CIDA policy papers, "strategies" etc. were rarely determinative of real motivations, choices or decisions made. As the staff used to say - "if you want to know our policy, watch what our hands are doing."


1. Finding CIDA's Role

2. Some Issues That We Must Address Before a Strategy is Possible

i. Lack of Vision

ii. Need for Leverage

Some points:

We are living with increasing fiscal pressure as are virtually all other governments.  This will result in falling ODA/GNP ratios and, probably, absolutely less ODA world-wide.

The capital requirements of LDCs are increasingly rapidly.  The more economically successful LDCs will be able to meet their needs through a combination of  private flows, IFI lending and increased domestic savings.  Those LDCs not able to attract large amounts of private capital, including most LLDCs will be seeking greater ODA flows.

These factors point to the need to do more with less through leveraging our resources i.e. getting more that a dollar's development out of a dollar's ODA.  This implies:

 Knowledge-Learning Organization

The need is for a knowledge-learning organization  which will recognize in word and deed that the knowledge, skills and initiative of CIDA's staff are its primary asset. 


a. Planned Process of  Transformation of the CIDA Corporate Culture

If CIDA is to change from an uncohesive,  process driven organization into a knowledge-learning organization  there must be a well thought out process of transformation fully subscribed to by senior management and staff.  To date CIDA's attempts to engineer cultural change have not been successful. There has been an overwhelming tendency to declare victory and quit (e.g.. SECOR process, establishment and abandonment of networks of "change agents", Management Renewal).  To date, CIDA has all too well illustrated the saying that "cultural change occurs only in the cemetery."

b. Core Competencies and Training/Recruitment

Based on the areas of activity selected for a focused program, to develop a clear notion of the core competencies required and a relevant training program .  This will certainly require a redirection of our policy work and an increase in the quality and quantity of analytical work as well as the valuing of analysis.

Given that many CIDA staff will be leaving in the next few years, it would be good for morale and hence CIDA's effectiveness, if a serious effort were made to help staff plan for second careers and to try to enable them to use their remaining years at CIDA in a way that would be good for the Agency and a preparation for a second career.

c. Information Management Strategy

CIDA has been called "a knowledge-based business without the knowledge".  I.e.. we make decisions which should be based on far better knowledge and information than is, in fact, brought to bear.  We clearly need  to deal seriously with the issue of information management in support of the knowledge-learning organization.  Information technology is only one of the instruments needed to actualize an effective information management policy.  Far more fundamental are the corporate cultural changes required.

With many staff due to retire soon, CIDA may find that their knowledge and contacts will leave with them.  This adds urgency to the need for real IM/KM.


d. Approach to Transparency and  "Publication" on the Internet

Unlike the North-South Institute or IDRC, CIDA is not primarily a producer of knowledge.  However,  we do produce a great deal of knowledge much of which resides in the heads of CIDA consultants and staff  but a great deal takes the form of analytical, policy and programming papers and project reports of various kinds whether prepared by staff or consultants.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these documents these achieve very little circulation even inside CIDA, are filed inaccessibly if at all,  and are usually forgotten within a few months. 

The CIDA electronic publications guidelines nowhere mention the public's right to know.  There is a general perception in CIDA that if  you publish and there is no adverse reaction you will get no credit.  If, on the other hand, you publish and draw criticism the consequences can be serious. The very use of the metaphor of "publication" as opposed, say to "bull-session" or "information sharing", as well as having Communications Branch take the lead in web "publication" tends to emphasize sensitivity and "prudence" over openness and transparency.

Proposal: that CIDA's basic approach to Internet "publishing" be that "the Canadian people have a right to the information they paid for unless the is a demonstrable reason for confidentiality".  Based on this approach, I would suggest that:

1. incentives be given for Web "publishing" of documents in the original language with a summary in the other official language.  (Of course, most documents carrying adequate disclaimers that they are not CIDA policy);

2. acceptance, in the words of our former president (Maggie Catley-Carlson), that development is a high risk business and mistakes will be made;

3. that the vice presidents be asked to provide a list of all substantive reports prepared by or for CIDA in the last  say four years with each categorized as:

- being of no interest to the development community  (with reasons - subject to challenge)

- being too sensitive to publish (with reasons - subject to challenge)

- requiring some "sanitation" (with reasons - subject to challenge)

- publishable as is.

e. Communications With the Outside

CIDA as a Participant in the Development Process - the division of our approach to Internet into three streams (publication, staff access and Internet as a development tool) suggests that development is something that we do to them (recipients) or, more frequently, that we pay others to do to them.  The idea of peer-to-peer participation in the development dialogue with a great deal of informal, non-hierarchical, networking seems foreign to CIDA's culture. 


i) that CIDA establish CIDA fellowships allowing outstanding figures in the development world (LDC residents, aid agencies, universities, private sector people) to come to CIDA for say six months with a mandate to attend any meetings they wish (including Executive Committee), involve themselves in any analytical activities and with a special mandate to meet with staff one-on-one or in small groups.  The same could be done on the branch levels with emphasis on nationals of their geographical regions (geographic branches) or key figures in their institutions of interest (CPB, Multilateral).  Opportunities should be sought for CIDA staff to undertake similar assignments in outside agencies .

ii) that networking outside CIDA, particularly with contacts in LDCs, be recognized as an integral part of the jobs of analysts and others and that this activity be reflected in performance appraisals.

f. Use of Plain Language

Do we use language to obfuscate and manipulate others or to communicate?  Communication is risky in that it  renders the speaker or writer to some extent vulnerable. 

CIDA frequently uses terms (e.g.. sustainable development, partnership, thematic programming) to cover up a lack of agreement on what to do and a refusal to have corporate coherence.  This leads to (a) cutting off true dialogue (we've signed on/agreed right?) and (b) leads to different branches using the same word (e.g. partnership) with different meanings.  We also use common words in ways quite different from their normal meaning thus making true communication with the outside world difficult. Finally, we use many obscure terms e.g.. knowledge-driven development which are unlikely to be understood even inside CIDA.

Proposals: that all CIDA speeches and policy documents be reviewed (by editors?) to ensure that they are in plain French or English such that (1) they can be truly comprehended by ordinary literate people not knowledgeable about development or foreign policy; and, (2) that they not leave room for everyone to pay lip service to a policy while often going off to do their own thing.

g. Intellectual Honesty and Challenge - Intellectual rigor is a precondition for opening ourselves to both internal and external criticism.  Internally, CIDA must affirm that senior staff are not necessarily wiser than more junior staff i.e. EXs will have to be open to criticism from lower ranks. We must learn to accept criticism and be our own critics.

Proposals: that CIDA establish a system of critical peer review which will demand high standards of  honesty and transparency in CIDA official documents, speeches responses to criticism etc.

h. be prepared to become a focused, policy driven institution reforming, as necessary, the institution and its management to support this end.


[1]GATE KEEPERS AND GATE OPENERS: CIDA'S EVOLVING USE OF THE INTERNET by Garth Graham and Richard Labelle, August 30, 1996.