Challenges of Funding

Andrea Strimling

Commissioner, International ADR, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; also a founder of ACRON (the Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network)

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: This won't be a surprise that one of the real serious obstacles is funding. Not just the lack of funding, but the nature of funding, the requirements of getting funding and sustaining funding. I have actually at this point advised two funding organizations on how to allocate resources and it just reinforced, the way it's structured, just reinforces the ad hocness of the field. Here's a good project, this looks promising, good people, let's invest in this, here's another good project somewhere else, this looks promising, let's invest in this; without creating mechanisms to ensure that these things feed into one another. I think that one next stage in the evolution of this field is actually for funders to get together and figure out how they can promote and support synergistic positive impacts and promote and support serious rigorous evaluation. The funders generally do not fund long-term follow-up and evaluation that is focused on learning. They fund some degree of evaluation and that needs to be used by the grantees to get to secure more funds. It seriously distorts or undermines the learning possibilities of evaluation. I think one of the most common obstacles is how funding is structured right now.

It is very often the case that wonderful projects get started, energy and momentum get built, expectations get raised, the project is very, very promising, the need is clearly established, and then the funder pulls out the funding. This happened to us in Indonesia with the US Aide mission. It was because there was a conflict within the US Aide mission between two of their different offices and we fell between the cracks and our project was you know, lost as one of the consequences of this conflict. This is one story among thousands of stories of really promising projects that have not yet been completed and the funding is withdrawn. I can't think of a more significant obstacle actually, and it's something that funders have to really get serious about addressing. I think one way that we, in the field, people that are not funders, can help to do this, is by creating opportunities for funders to get together and talk with us in settings that are not about fundraising. Actually the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution intends to do this exact kind of thing. Another obstacle is in the way the field itself is structured that works against cooperation.

Q: By that you mean competition for funding?

A: Part of it is competition for funding. So there's the financial structure from the field. (Here's another idea that relates to the structure in a sense. We have never articulated as a field, norms that we will adhere to, related to how we interface with one another. To some extent there are some practices that are acceptable because of the micro-level, in terms of individual projects, we may be having a very good impact. But we haven't clearly established or articulated a shared norm of insuring that the positive impact of individual projects yields synergistic, positive impacts across organizations and projects. There are other structural things that could be changed.

Q: Right.

A: Yeah. I sort of see our field as poised to jump to the next level of effectiveness and some of these issues of cooperation related to funding, related to norms, related to organizational cooperation, joint analysis, impact evaluation, I see as very important in this jump.