- Brokering and convening change can provide effective assistance
- Institutional reform processes need to work with the organisational constraints of donor agencies
- Complementary long-term, flexible and ‘hands-on’ aid modalities and instruments have been required to address institutional blockages.
Working with leaders and constituency building
Unsworth (2010) finds that donors have tended to rely on individual champions of reform. Given the transience of individuals’ influence, Unsworth suggests considering instead the structures and institutions that shape the interests of influential individuals and groups (p. 10). Andrews (2013, pp. 89-90) recommends that reformers cultivate the broad set of leaders who are ‘mobilisers’ – who motivate, convene and connect people (p. 211). Such leaders need to be involved early in the reform process as designers, not just implementers. Moreover Andrews argues that to provoke change, agents who do not regularly engage in institution-building work should analyse and reflect on the problem. Such engagement can be encouraged by establishing awareness of deficiencies.
Constituency-building for change complements work with senior leaders. High-level political leaders have driven coalitions for change: Wilson (2013) highlights the role of senior leaders in education reform in Punjab, and another case is supported by the Africa Governance Foundation for reform of Rwanda’s senior leadership strategy formation process (Iyer, 2012). Some authors argue, however, that political support for reform will often be, at best, lukewarm or non-obstructive. In such contexts, they suggest that technocratic champions of change might suffice (Diamond, 2011).
School reform in the Punjab, Pakistan
One third of primary age children in Punjab are not in school at all, while 35% of those children who do attend school and make it to grade 3 cannot do single digit subtraction. A multi-donor budget support programme, the Punjab Education Sector Reforms Programme, has made significant progress in improving access to education in just 18 months, with approximately one million additional children now enrolled.
In a case study for DFID, Wilson (2013) finds that no one factor is solely responsible for this success. Rather, a crisis persuading a political leader to take action, well-judged external assistance, and well-designed accountability and capacity-building measures created a virtuous circle.
The programme demonstrates the necessity of strong political leadership to mobilise resources and public opinion. Wilson (2013) identifies the role of the Chief Minister as crucial. The Chief Minister was motivated to invest time and political capital by factors including: pressure to deliver results in an area seen to be failing; prestige from association with a successful programme and an international expert; and a credible plan that could deliver. The Chief Minister built a cross-departmental coalition for change at senior levels of government. His personal involvement in bi-monthly reviews ensured ongoing accountability. Wilson (2013) notes that more needs to be done regarding pressure from the community.
Source: Wilson, 2013
Convening and brokering change
Recent studies have found that by facilitating and brokering interactions among stakeholders, donors can help local actors negotiate and implement locally appropriate institutions (Leftwich & Sen, 2010, p. 10). Donors can play an important role in bearing the transaction costs of bringing actors together (Tavakoli et al., 2013). They can also play a more direct role in calling meetings, helping identify relevant stakeholders within and outside the state, and using their ‘neutral status’ to facilitate discussions on collective action problems and contentious issues.
Booth (2013, p. 4) finds that international and local NGOs have already been ‘working with some success as brokers of collective action or facilitators of change on either or both sides of a service relationship’. He highlights that this is often despite programme designs that focus on downward accountability of providers to users or rights-based stimulation of client demand. Examples include preliminary evidence from social contracts between health staff and communities used to improve service delivery in Sierra Leone (Hall, 2013); and public-service community scorecards used in Malawi to facilitate collective problem-solving by supply- and demand-side actors (Wild & Harris, 2012).
This has implications for the skill set required of donor staff or their implementing partners. Booth (2012, p. xi) says it calls for ‘exceptional local knowledge and learning capabilities’. The World Bank (2012, p. 19) highlights the need for skills in leadership and in bringing people together as well as technical knowledge, particularly in fragile states.
Organisational constraints in donor agencies
Experts, including those within donor agencies, have concluded that there are at times serious mismatches between the type of support required for effective institutional reform and what donors have been set up to provide. These mismatches include:
- Donors’ funding is volatile, often short-term and unsustained; complex reforms require long-term, steady commitment (Scott, 2011). Donors’ increasing focus on results could risk prioritising short-term gains over complex, less measurable, transformational and long-term reform (Eyben, 2013, p 10).
- Donor staff members are on short-term placements, often lacking knowledge of local languages or cultures; facilitating institutional reform requires in-depth local knowledge and more continuous contact with local stakeholders (Booth, 2013, p. 5).
- Donors’ organisational structures tend to lead to a disconnect between upstream and downstream interventions. Upstream reforms can fail to address constraints on improvements in sector outputs, while sector reforms developed without consideration of the public sector enabling environment could lack sustainability (World Bank, 2012, p. 7).
- Donors are set up to disburse funding, but support to institutional reform may require more focus on skilful facilitation (Booth, 2013, p. 4).
Aid modalities and instruments
A number of experts call for donors to reassess traditional ‘donor-recipient’ relationships (Unsworth, 2010; Andrews, 2013; Booth, 2012; Tavakoli et al., 2013). This involves assessing when direct funding of development initiatives risks being ineffective and/or harmful (Booth, 2012, p. xi; Unsworth, 2010), and adopting a strategic and operational framework that supports long-term engagement with incremental change. The World Bank (2012) notes that approaches to reform based on experimentation and learning-by-doing require long-term commitment and more flexible instruments. The following aid modalities and instruments are thought to offer advantages when supporting institutional reform:
- Evidence is accumulating that financial aid for public service delivery objectives is ‘often best delivered through budget support-style modalities’. The 2012 independent evaluation of UK budget support operations concludes that they have led to increased expenditure on poverty reduction and basic services (ICAI, 2012). However, recent research finds that political and institutional bottlenecks may require a complementary, ‘more hands-on’, approach (ICAI, 2012, p. 1; 2013, p. 13).
- Cash on Delivery (COD) Aid may strengthen public institutions by giving recipient governments ‘full flexibility to try interventions or address policy issues’ (Birdsall et al., 2010, p. v). In fragile and conflict affected states with weak public institutions, COD aid might be ideal because ‘it effectively controls the use of funds by verifying the progress it achieves rather than the inputs it buys’ (Birdsall et al., 2010, p. vi). A growing number of programmes are experimenting with results-based approaches (e.g. DFID and the World Bank – see World Bank, 2012, p. 16), many of them influenced by the concept of COD aid.
- A recent review by Commins et al. (2013) finds that pooled funds can play a critical role in supporting institutional reform through facilitating donor engagement with government and spreading donors’ risk and transaction costs. However the review finds that performance of pooled funds frequently falls short of expectations: compromises (such as speed of service delivery versus capacity building) need to be understood, and good design needs to be accompanied by realistic expectations and sustained donor support (Commins et al., 2013, p. iv): ‘Working with government, and if possible through government systems, should be the “default” approach when supporting service delivery’ (Commins et al., 2013, p iii).
- Looking at health systems reform, the World Bank finds that sector-wide approaches (SWAps) have contributed to ‘greater government leadership, capacity, coordination, and harmonization, but not necessarily to improved efficiency or better results’ (World Bank, 2011c, p. 42).
- Booth (2013) suggests greater use of ‘arm’s length’ forms of development cooperation, delivered by semi-autonomous organisations that can facilitate institutional change by working in more adaptive and locally relevant ways than donors. These could be ‘private non-profit companies, self-governing implementing agencies, development projects or NGOs’ (Booth, 2013, p. 5). Booth identifies three examples: The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), the Overseas Development Institute’s Budget Strengthening Initiative and TradeMark East Africa (p. 6). These organisations share core features: they lack a pre-established influencing agenda, find solutions to problems and facilitate change; they monitor performance in a way that rewards learning and adjustment, and are answerable to local stakeholders (p. 9).
- Historically, the 20 fastest-moving countries took 20 years to achieve functioning bureaucracies (World Bank, 2011a, p 108).
- COD Aid goes beyond other forms of results-based aid because it aims to change the behaviour of both funders and recipients, transferring ‘full ownership and responsibility over strategies to the recipient country’ (Birdsall et al., 2010, p. v).
- Andrews, M. (2013). The limits of institutional reform in development. New York: Cambridge University Press. See document online
- Birdsall, N., Savedoff, W., Mahoub, A. & Vyborny, K. (2010). Cash on delivery: A new approach to aid. Washington D.C: Center for Global Development. See document online
- Booth, D. (2012). Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance (Synthesis report of the Africa Power and Politics Programme). London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Booth, D. (2013). Facilitating development: An arm’s length approach to aid. London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Commins, S., Davies, F., Gordon, A., Hodson, E., Hughes, J., & Lister, S. (2013). Pooled funding to support service delivery: Lessons of experience from fragile and conflict-affected states. London: Department for International Development. See document online
- Eyben, R. (2013). Uncovering the politics of ‘evidence’ and ‘results’: A framing paper for development practitioners. See document online
- Hall, M. (2013). Peeling the mango: Community dynamics and social accountability efforts in Sierra Leone. Governance For Development. blog. World Bank. See document online
- Independent Commission for Aid Impact. (2012). The Management of UK Budget Support Operations (Report 9). See document online
- Iyer, D. (2012). Improving coordination and prioritization: Streamlining Rwanda’s national leadership retreat, 2008-2011. Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University. See document online
- Leftwich, A. & Sen, K. (2010). Beyond institutions: Institutions and organisations in the politics and economics of poverty reduction – a thematic synthesis of research evidence. DFID-funded Research Programme Consortium on Improving Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth (IPPG), September 2010. University of Manchester. See document online
- Scott, Z. (2011). Evaluation of public sector governance reforms 2001-2011. Literature Review. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management. See document online
- Tavakoli, H., Simson, R., Tilley, H., & Booth, D. (2013). Unblocking results: Using aid to address governance constraints in public service delivery. London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Unsworth, S. (2010). An upside-down view of governance. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. See document online
- Wild, L. & Harris, D. (2012). More than just ‘demand’: Malawi’s public service community scorecard (Project Briefing 69). London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Wilson, D. (2013). Education reform in Pakistan: Case study of school reform in the Punjab. (Draft v4). Unpublished.
- World Bank. (2011c). IEG annual report 2011: Results and performance of the World Bank Group. Independent Evaluation Group. Washington D.C.: World Bank. See document online
- World Bank. (2012). The World Bank’s approach to public sector management 2011-2020: ‘Better results from public sector institutions’. Public Sector & Governance Board, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management. See document online