Small, Unanticipated Impacts

By Julian Dierkes

[With some notes from CIRDI program manager, Marie-Luise Ermisch, PhD]

One of the challenges on attempting to apply my understanding of contemporary Mongolia through development interventions has been that it is forcing me to learn a number of bureaucratic and methodological tools that I am not familiar with.

I have come to specialize in analyses of contemporary Mongolia over the past 10 years or so. As I focus on contemporary politics as one of the elements of my analyses, there have been many moments where I’ve thought that I know how particular challenges might be overcome. Development interventions are clearly motivated by a similar sense of a recognition of an obstacle to development or identification of a potential catalyst. What is different in the context of our CIRDI activities, however, is that I am now attempting to demonstrate that these interventions make a meaningful difference, beyond instinctively knowing that this is a productive intervention. I am thus moving from “I know what needs to be done” to “Let me try to do something and think about what that activity is achieving and how”.

As we organized the first workshop under our collaboration with the International Cooperation Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on “The State’s Role in Large Resource Projects” we have been thinking hard about standard and more creative ways to measure the impact that such an activity is having. These measures go from reporting on attendance, media coverage and comments from participants, to evaluation surveys and follow-up with foreign delegates. Below I’m listing some of the small pieces of evidence that are harder to collect in a systematic fashion, but that do speak to the impact of an activity.

Impact on our Project Team

  • Quasi-kick off event for CIRDI with key stakeholders. If people had vaguely heard of CIRDI and our Mongolia activities before, the event as well as the associated press coverage gave them a better idea of what we’re pursuing at least in our collaboration with the ICF. The event also provided an opportunity for stakeholders to directly engage with CIRDI project team members.
  • Gaining experience in organizing different kind of workshops, i.e. non-academic. Not only did this experience confirm our decision to partner with the Min of Foreign Affairs’ International Cooperation Fund (they handled all the logistics of the workshop amazingly and were very pleasant and gracious hosts), but the workshop was an opportunity to gain experience in managing speakers, expectations for attendance, and ideas for how to structure such events.
  • Visit to Mongolia for project manager as important occasion to gain understanding of Mongolian context given that we’re not setting up an in-country structure. The conference offered an ideal venue for her to meet with a variety of stakeholders right at the beginning of her visit.
  • Planning for next activity. The workshop itself provoked lots of ideas and some discussions about how to follow up. The next workshop we had originally planned has already morphed significantly.
  • The engagement of UBC students in Mongolia was obvious through this workshop. UBC graduate students currently completing co-op terms in Mongolia attended the workshop and served as rapporteurs. Among the workshop volunteers was CIRDI’s first-ever scholarship winner, who is set to start her MA at UBC this fall. During their fieldtrip to Oyu Tolgoi, the international delegates also encountered a recent UBC graduate now working at OT.

Impact on Foreign Delegates

  • Opportunities to deepen pre-existing ties. One of the delegates met a former classmate, now speaker of the Mongolian parliament.
  • Distant connections. The Khazari of Afghanistan are distantly-related to contemporary Mongolians and there are a number of Khazari students in Ulaanbaatar. While they didn’t meet, our Afghan delegate was in touch with them.
  • All six foreign delegates visited Mongolia for the first time. To the extent that such mutual visits across Asia are a generic benefit (i.e. beyond the more targeted exchange about Mongolian mining governance experience), that is terrific! First-hand experience of Oyu Tolgoi, Mongolia’s largest copper mine proved a particularly valuable experience for the delegates, as was demonstrated by the excited exchange between international delegates and the OT Operations General Manager during the OT field visit.
  • One delegate reported that when the invitation for the workshop came, all colleagues said, “it can’t be done, you won’t get a passport, visa, etc.” This delegate was the first among colleagues to attend an international workshop of this kind, hopefully signalling that this kind of participation is possible to other colleagues.
  • At least one international delegate was initially taken aback by the fact that the workshop was being co-funded by a Canadian agency (CIRDI), as Canadian mining interests have a negative reputation in his home country. By the end of the workshop, however, this delegate had a better rounded insight into Canada’s role in the mining sector, and bid a friendly farewell to the Canadian organizers.
  • Access to large scale mining sites in Afghanistan is limited to women, for various reasons. The field visit to Oyu Tolgoi was therefore of particular value to our female Afghan delegate.

Impact on Mongolians

  • Opportunity to discuss taken-for-granted topics by reflecting on other country contexts.
  • Efficient form of introductory learning. As we know from an academic context, a focused workshop can be a terrific introduction to a broader topic. For many people, participating in a workshop for half a day is a more efficient way of acquiring an overview than reading a specialized book on the same subject matter. While the project team and foreign delegates participated in the workshop for the entire time, some Mongolian participants may have used this as a limited, but efficient learning opportunity.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots
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