Is your design ready? What can be achieved in 6 months?

By Tamara Haig
4 min. read

A scaffolding and architecture for designs? New Colombo Plan Architecture students. Image: DFAT Flickr CC


It is the start of a crucial up to 6 month window before a likely Federal Election (latest May 2019), as well as the preceding caretaker conventions that will apply (let alone EOFY and AidWorks closing). As a DFAT staffer, is your design ready? Perhaps it is one of the 15 currently listed on the DFAT Procurement Pipeline (here), estimated to go to market by March 2019? What can you get started on now?

From our work on over 10 DFAT-funded designs, role on the DFAT Design Panel since 2007 and work in 12 countries in Indo-Pacific, here are some of our ideas on this topic and what you may be facing:

‘My biggest headache on my design? Finding the best design team.’

Let’s imagine: The Investment Design Document (IDD) is overdue. The current program concludes soon. You haven’t yet contracted a design team. Where can you start? Finding and securing the time of busy Design Team Leaders means you may end up with a second best team if you don’t plan ahead. Maximise the likelihood of getting a design product you’re happy with so you don’t need to then expend extra effort and wasted time internally afterwards in re-working it.

At least until end December 2018, the AAS Design Panels (both Type A organisations and Type B individuals) are an option for you (see blog note re Registers/other avenues), with short RFQ windows, you could have several suitable, available contractors to consider and a design process underway within probably 4-6 weeks, if you’re efficient at your end, too.

‘We’re behind time. How long is a realistic design window?’

So, you need a draft workplan and scope for the design. Well, 18 months is too long, even if offices don’t know exactly what they want. Typically if you’re focused – say, on a DevDAS rule of 3s basis – you should be able to contract say, a 3 person design team with inputs averaging around 30 input days, over a 3 month window. That would factor in desk review and design plan, in-country and other consultations, a draft (by say, end Month 2) then a final IDD. Then, allow a window for RFTs, SoRs, BoP etc internally.

Alternatively, your design document is not just overdue, but your current program (to which the IDD is the ‘successor’ program) concludes soon. 6 month extensions on scope of services aren’t uncommon, with provisions under contracts to enable you to do this, through negotiation with your existing service provider and talking with DFAT Procurement.

‘We don’t have the budget. How do we design for uncertainty?’

The overall aid budget is an ongoing issue for consistency of programming in-country, per initiative, as well as providing certainty for in-country partners and stakeholders on forward commitments. Budget uncertainty impacts on designs and initiatives, so it is best to design in these times for more flexible programs or initiatives.

Why not think through different options? This could include doing the heavy-lifting such as re-designs at Mid Term Review stage, considering when a ‘design and implement’ might be the right approach, or a ‘design update’, or a 2 stage tender and/or concept followed by full design (if time permits). Meanwhile, an ODE review of funding and investments through multilaterals may down the track, trigger some additional release of budget funds back to bilateral program areas and initiatives.

An overall read on this?

While the questions around best team, realistic timing and available budgets for the design of initiatives aren’t new, a looming election in 6 months does does bring with it a heightened element of focus. And, as with every change of government (whether the same, or new persuasion), there are likely 3-6 month delays post election too, while in-coming briefs, papers take precedence, policies are designed, re-framed or re-badged, and initiatives and budgets are agreed before you can pursue a design agenda once more. In short, it’s worth putting in the effort now on design to leverage the goodwill of work to date.

Tips for your 6 month window?

To DFAT staff needing to design an IDD/re-scope an existing initiative, talk to the Investment Design area in DFAT if you’re not already on their radar re your options. Also talk to DFAT Procurement re both possible program extensions, but also utilizing the AAS Design Panels (A and B) for some quick turn-around team and timelines to get started. You can also draw on, or time-permitting, set up your own Registers (ala the MSD Register noted in this blog) from which to seek inputs to a design or even Quality Assurance to fix up a design potentially and/or take forward work from Concept Stage.

Whether your initiative is in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia or a smaller country program, or on topics ranging from governance, health, education, to twinning initiatives, you can access the specialised skill set of design of aid initiatives to help you.


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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