Final Evaluation of The Irrigation Support Project for Asia and The Near East (ISPAN)
Final evaluation of the Irrigation Support Project for Asia and the Near East (ISPAN), which provided TA and training to the Asia and Near East Bureau and Missions in support of irrigation projects. The evaluation covers the period 9/86-11/93. The project has met all of its original objectives, and, as a result of the broadening of ISPAN's agenda per a mid-term evaluation to include water resource activities other than irrigation -- issues of water quality, water rights, flood control, water treatment, etc. -- has had even more impact than expected; since 11/91, the project has worked on 21 activities for A.I.D. Bureaus, supported 6 regional activities, and assisted 12 Missions in implementing 75 assignments. ISPAN has proven a flexible and responsive technical support mechanism; its performance in servicing the needs of Missions has been truly outstanding. Senior management in all Missions visited were satisfied with ISPAN buy-ins; however, there were some complaints. Missions in Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan were dissatisfied with the timing or quality of ISPAN reports, while USAID/Nepal and to a lesser extent USAID/Philippines were less than positive about ISPAN's ability to improve the irrigation and water sectors. At the Bureau level, officials interviewed were unanimously enthusiastic as to the value of ISPAN and, in particular, the ISPAN Technical Support Center. Throughout its life, the project operated under funding limitations and endured frequent changes in the prime contractor's senior management. The main casualty of the funding limitations was the project's capacity to capture A.I.D.'s experiences in the water resources sector, to synthesize valuable experiences, and to disseminate these to a broad audience; in fact, only one paper was produced under the applied studies/lessons learned component. Although the regional institutions component was largely eliminated as a formal project element, ISPAN, through its work with local groups in almost every target country, helped build local institutional capacities in a manner which was consistent with the spirit of that component; in fact, the actual arrangements produced may have been more appropriate. The evaluators do not support the general premise that only large and relatively long-term buy-ins are appropriate for centrally funded projects, pointing out that Missions frequently have a need for more flexibility than such arrangements provide. Also, ISPAN's activity in the Flood Action Plan activity in Bangladesh proved a creative exception to the normal rules for Mission buy-ins. If USAID/B had been forced to go through the normal design or contracting processes, the needed technical support would have arrived too late to be effective. Given A.I.D.'s continuing involvement in water resource activities, the evaluators unequivocally support the development of another ISPAN-type project. An important question is whether such a project should be regional or global. The evaluators present arguments for both approaches but eventually recommend a global approach. Lessons learned included the following. (1) The broadening of ISPAN's agenda to include all aspects of water resources development and conservation increased the project's utility. (2) If an ISPAN-like mechanism is to perform optimally, A.I.D. management and contracts personnel must prepared to support new approaches to novel TA situations. (3) Field experience is more valuable than purely technical and/or general knowledge in implementing water resource projects. (4) The ISPAN experience suggests that universities may be better suited to core-funded applied research and synthesis activities, rather than short-term consultancies, because of teaching and other contractual obligations that can limit flexibility of university scientists. Conversely, consulting firms are more appropriate for short-term consultancies.