7. Project Phase Out/ Transition/ Sustainability

"He who fails to plan is planning to fail."

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)


Creating lasting (sustainable) change is the main objective of many development projects. However, in most of the projects there is a considerable uncertainty on what is going to happen after withdrawal of externally provided project resources and how changes initiated by development project will be self-sustaining. Frequently, the decision on how project activities will become sustainable and external support will be phased out is put off into the far future. Failing to plan for sustainability and transition means that inputs are provided forever and development gains are quickly eroding when the project decides to exit.

Picture 36: When and how to say goodbye – an unanswered question in many development projects
Picture 36: When and how to say goodbye – an unanswered question in many development projects

The key to a successful phase out and transition lies in the project design and implementation from the very start of the project. Therefore, clear and explicit Sustainability & Transition plans have to be formulated during the design process to become an integral part of the project design document. Emphasis must be placed on ensuring that Sustainability & Transition planning will be seen as an ongoing process and plans will be reviewed and updated as part of the annual planning process, mid-term reviews and evaluations to reflect on changed circumstances and lessons learned from experience.

Critical steps in the sustainability and transition planning process involve identifying:

1. Benefits, positive changes to be sustained

2. Sustainability & Transition approaches to be used

3. Criteria for exiting (Transition Targets) and measurable benchmarks of progress in meeting sustainability criteria (Sustainability Indicators)

4. Specific action steps for the Transition Phase and responsible parties

As part of the Sustainability and Transition planning process, projects will set out management roles and responsibilities for different activities and define how responsibilities of communities and partners should increase and responsibilities of project staff are phased out over the length of the project. Sustainability and Transition plans will identify specific steps needed for systematically addressing capacity gaps for a successful handover.