Driving along the national highway to the east, we come across beautiful bridges, which have been reconstructed through the Japanese Grant Aid. We are used to hearing many Bhutanese admiring the Japanese infrastructures and other grants like the KR2 for providing power tillers to our country that has immensely benefitted our farmers of rural Bhutan, or the ambulances which has helped improve accessibility to medical services. However, there are many other assistances of equal importance that have been provided by the Government of Japan, that are less visible than the others. My colleagues and I at the National Land Commission were fortunate enough to have been a part of one of such endeavors, and would like to reflect on some of the lessons learnt from the experience.
The project on digital topographic mapping started in February 2015 with the objective to prepare new digital topographic maps covering the southern part of Bhutan at the scale of 1:25,000. The focus was on the aspect of technology transfer in areas of control point survey, field identification, aerial triangulation, digital plotting, editing and GIS data analysis. I don’t want to elaborate on the technicalities of each component of technical transfer, but the overall process that helped us to successfully achieve the project outputs. It is something that needs to be highlighted as it makes you realize that some of the lessons learned were lessons for life, be it in professional or personal aspects.
I had always heard that the Japanese were particular when it comes to managing time. Through the course of implementing the project I realized that it was one of the most important etiquettes in our lives. The Japanese experts made me realize that there were two aspects of observing time. First, it means disciplining yourself to efficiently manage your tasks so that you can be on time for preplanned appointments. Second, being on time also means that you are showing respect for the time of the other person. Towards the end of the project, as a result of our close interaction and consultations we were careful to manage our appointments, whether we were in the middle of jungle seeking survey control points, or in a meeting hall in an urban setting.
My friends working in other ministries had told me that when the Japanese plan to construct a bridge, they take almost a year to complete the detailed design, whereas we usually do not pay heed to such detailed planning routine. The experience from the project helped me realize that meticulous planning helps utilize the resources most efficiently and systematically, which always results in timely implementation of the planned projects. Initially when I was made to plan some of the project activities by the experts, I couldn’t foresee and plan the details beyond a few months. I was then advised by the experts to refrain from last minute planning, and to factor in the minutest details, which may not seem important, but could later significantly impact the implementation of the activity. Such insights and practice have definitely helped me develop our planning and implementing capabilities in our work.
My profession requires a lot of time to be spent in the field for activities related to surveying, and many a times the living conditions are not very comfortable in certain survey sites. I remember the hot summer days with the Japanese experts in the southern belt, where they would work relentlessly not even bothered about climatic conditions or the physical accessibility to tough mountain ridges, until satisfactory observations were obtained for the control point survey. Their dedication and commitment to their work was simply admirable, and since we were the counterparts to the project, we were also required to provide equal if not more inputs during such activities. One of the factors that highly motivated me while working in such tough conditions was thinking of the Japanese experts, who could adjust to such tough working conditions as compared to Japan.
Towards the end of the project, we realized that our unit had become accustomed to a disciplined working culture, where we set targets for every working day for each person in the unit, and we would work to achieve those targets by the end of the day. This not only gave us a sense of fulfillment, but also let us develop an efficient and systematic methodology through organized work distribution, which also led to increased accountability of our respective responsibilities. When the project was nearing its completion, we had already begun to feel the excitement not only with regards to the achievement and ownership of the achieved outputs, but also for the fact the we would have updated digital topographic maps providing highly reliable geo spatial information in the country which is crucial for analysis, planning and implementation of any investments relating to sectors ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, disaster prevention, land management to the environment.
Although the visibility of the outputs may not be comparable with the scale of the larger physical infrastructure projects, projects like ours form the backbone for planning and implementation of any projects. The underlying processes that were undertaken while working towards the achievement of project outputs are something that cannot be measured in the evaluation matrix, but the outcome of such processes are life changing experience for those like me.
Based on the success of the past project and considering the necessity of geo spatial information, it is also heartening for us to know that the government of Japan has already considered further cooperation to enhance our technical capacity through the development of national spatial data infrastructure and topographic maps in the northern and central parts of Bhutan. We are already eager thinking about the endless possibilities such future cooperation could render to complement our activities, and help us achieve our long-term goals, in the next five-year plan and beyond.
I remember the words of the JICA Chief Representative during the closing seminar of the project in August 2016 where he stated that “Projects such as these aim to achieve holistic objectives focusing on long term impacts, allowing for better strategizing and planning of future development cooperation for Bhutan in a much efficient manner. Projects with holistic outlook will offer to positively impact broader sectors over a longer period of time.” I believe the Chief Representative has clearly emphasized the underlying importance of projects such as these, which are highly cross sectoral in nature and that it could be one of the key instruments in mapping out our own future.