Bridging the Capacity Gap in Burundi

written by Salimah Samji

The knee jerk reaction to building capacity is to organize more training workshops. These are taught by experts and held in fancy locations, with free-flowing food and refreshments. The attendees often do not include the front line workers who are ultimately responsible for implementation. In some cases attendees do learn new skills and are inspired to try them out, but they return to the same old organizations and systems – they are the only ones who changed. Then there is the case of technical advisors/assistants being parachuted into ministries to help build capacity. The reality however is that the job of these advisors is to perform functions and deliver results leaving no time to transfer skills or to build capability.

In a recent paper entitled, “Escaping the capability trap: turning “small” development into “big” development,” authors Campos, Randrianarivelo and Winning discuss the process used to build capacity in Burundi from 2006-2012. The World Bank Institute in collaboration with the government decided to launch a program whereby small initiatives would be launched to demonstrate quick and meaningful results that would in turn be showcased and used to generate political buy-in at cabinet retreats, ultimately expanding the program and sustaining a process of capacity building. They used Rapid Results Initiatives (RRIs) where small projects are created with measurable results in around 100 days. They began with a pilot of 2 RRIs in 2006 and had completed 246 RRIs by 2012. The authors consider Burundi’s experience as a “preliminary test” of the PDIA approach.

Initially the government was skeptical but agreed to conduct two small RRI pilots one in education and one in health. This process involved the entire chain of implementation actors and enabled these teams to learn what works and what does not. Team building and collaborative skills were necessary to ensure success.

  • Education: The problem was that it took one year to deliver textbooks to village schools. The goal of the RRI pilot was to reduce this delay in a province to within 100 days. They delivered 25,000 textbooks within 60 days.
  • Health: The problem was that there were few HIV/AIDS screenings of pregnant women in health care centers. The goal was to increase the number of screenings. They increased from an average of 71 per month to 482 in the first month, more than a six-fold increase.

The results of the pilots, as well as results from other African countries that had engaged in similar programs, were shared at a cabinet retreat. This helped create a shift in the mindset which allowed the methodology to be replicated in other ministries. In each retreat (4 in total) successful RRI experiences were shared, thus helping to build and sustain the authorizing environment. The results were impressive and include the suspension of payment to 728 ‘ghost’ individuals which saved the Ministry of Civil Service 60,000,000 Burundi Francs (US$ 470,000).

The authors quote the Ministry of Agriculture “leadership engagement from the top [the minister] right down to the base [even in decentralized provinces] encouraged a ‘spirit of results’ and mobilized people from all areas [the government administration as well as the local citizens] to work together to achieve what they wanted.” This is what Matt Andrews calls multi-agent leadership in his paper who really leads development?

Our recent untying development workshop had a session entitled new practice in action, which featured AGI’s work in Liberia, the Rapid Results Institute and the Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton. You can watch the video here.

Bottom line: An RRI is one of many tools in the toolkit that espouses PDIA principles.

Happy Holidays!

One thought on “Bridging the Capacity Gap in Burundi

  1. Pingback: Busting Myths about Governance and Development | Building State Capability

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