7 Questions for Concepts and Designs: Aid and Development (Part 2)

By Tamara Haig
5 min. read












Building Back Better – a community mural in Indonesia that helps people in disaster-prone communities learn what to do to keep safe during times of disaster. What would a mural of key design questions look like, we wonder? Image: DFAT Flickr CC


Have you read Part 1 of this blog about the first few design questions of Who? What? Where? When? (it’s only 5 minutes long and this one will make much more sense in that context – this is a sequel and rounding off to that piece). You can find it here.

For those of you re-joining having read Part 1, thanks. So, about Part 2 – the Why? How? How Much?

5. Why? The rationale for undertaking an initiative (and its design) speaks volumes.

Working backwards, imagine you have your Investment Design Document at the table, being reviewed by 10 others at a Peer Review session. Making the case, well-substantiated, for why you are planning to tackle a particular issue or demographic or opportunity will be front and centre.

Often within a design document, this would feature first. It is framed and articulated with clear reference to guiding policy and agreements (bilateral or otherwise) between country governments with funding commitments attached.

Exploring this in the concept or design needs a good radar for the sectoral, country and problem analysis, to who or what donors or others are working in this space (or rather, not) and within your client/DFAT’s mandate why this is a good fit (now and in that location).

Detailed analysis in annexure can sometimes accompany this response to ‘why’. In addition to desk review of literature, in person and phone/other forms of consultation will need to build up a progressively well-informed view of the topic and I suppose, where this initiative fits in, by way of its value proposition or offering (using non aid, more business terms). The rationale should also resonate with a broader audience, could this pass a ‘how do I explain this to the taxpayer’ test?

6. How? ‘Approach and method’ is a brief way to think-through the ‘how’.

It is also the big question of aid and sometimes the most disputed. Most Request For Tender (RFT) documents also focus on this, and can attribute 30% plus of scoring weighting on this technical criteria (in addition to say, organisational capacity/capability, and team/personnel).

How will you – with all other design questions explored or perhaps with those still in mind – critically achieve your sought end outcome, or even intermediate outcomes. Could the component parts of activities and your deliverables and responsibilities enable you to achieve the impact you are seeking? How will you navigate through the stakeholder engagement, training, delivery of services etc?

Clearly so much effort can be placed on approach and method (more topics in those). In short, through your design questioning, you should feel reasonable confident that the approach and model being used to prosecute the initiative will work, as will the methods (who does what, and when).

Sometimes early indications of useful approaches or methods that have worked in context (or could be brought in from other contexts) can be sufficient in the design (as much as this will need to be matched/validated by available budget). It can also be particularly constructive for the implementing entity to posit their preferred approach and method, whether in consultation or via tendering means.

As always, these should be adaptive and flexible, responsive to the changing environment (though within say minimum / instructive parameters for governance, e.g. regular steering committee meetings).

7. How Much? The budget envelope is a significant part of the design puzzle.

This can be driven by the available donor’s country budget, informed by preceding commitments, as well as actual spend needed to derive certain gains in a certain sector and country. There are often costings available to inform this, but at the top level, it could be a matter of $Xmillion over 3 years (or of a 10 year commitment).

Budgets span so many factors – operational, resourcing and staffing, activity-based. Regional are different to country budgets. There could also be in-kind funding or resource contributions and staffing or exchange from partners or Whole Of Government partners. The budget should also seek to reflect and align to as much as possible the other aspects inherent in the design, ensuring enough is required for a multi-province approach or different office locations and so on.

There could be flexibility and appetite to have some competitive grants mechanism or Innovation/similar Funds available to trial and learn from new practices, in-built to the program that can match a pursuit of more innovative practices. Depending on budget (un)certainty, it may be necessary to think through ways the initiative to be scaled up or down, too.

Although the ‘How Much’ question happens to be at the end of this list it is very much at the forefront of most design endeavours. Knowing how much is being committed, enables you to define realistic scope and predetermines a range of other design decisions along the way.

Tips for your 7 guiding Design Questions?

While no panacea for design, these 7 key questions focus us: usefully aligning to many donor structures and expectations for end design outputs (including DFAT, OECD) and providing the scaffolding within which we can build in good process, tools and personal design enquiry (a whole other topic or more). Are there some ideas in here that you’d find useful too, in thinking through your design or initiative? Or could this help to identify some design gaps, providing a mini stocktake on where you want to be with your design and where to next?

What if you needed a 1 minute elevator pitch to your FAS, client or other senior representative about your initiative? Can you clearly articulate your initiative or design with say, 7 sentences… one per question? If you had longer, you can dive into certain aspects that are particularly of interest to your audience. Perhaps it is an unusual group of stakeholders through whom you’ll be advancing this work, or a topic that has been rarely tackled and too-long overlooked, or optimal timing on a sectoral or country front…

We hope this has provided some useful food for thought, and you feel better equipped to tackle or articulate your initiative design.


A note from DevDAS: Do you need to develop a DFAT Investment Design Document? Or do you need to re-scope an existing initiative? Please get in touch.


Tamara Haig

Tamara Haig is CEO and Principal of DevDAS. She has 15 years experience across 12 countries in the Indo-Pacific region for clients including DFAT, WBG, private sector and NGOs. She has designed, worked on or managed 80+ aid initiatives and is on several donor panels (for design, gender and ICT). She speaks English and Melanesian Pidgin.

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