Introducing the BSC Video series

written by Salimah Samji

Since the inception of the Building State Capability (BSC) program, the team has made over 50 presentations around the globe at places like the World Bank, IDB, ODI, SIDA, DANIDA, OECD, DFID, UNDP, USAID, and at several think tanks and universities. The positive feedback that we have received has encouraged us to conceive of a new way of sharing our approach with a wider and more diverse audience.

Today we are proud to launch the BSC video series – a set of short 2-5 minute videos highlighting the key elements of our approach, which we will release over the next few weeks.

We hope you enjoy the videos!

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!

PDIA in Cameroon

written by Salimah Samji

In a recent paper entitled, Behavioral Economics and Public Sector Reform: An Accidental Experiment and Lessons from Cameroon, Gael Raballand and Anand Rajaram compare two World Bank projects in Cameroon: a $15 million, 5 year, Transparency and Accountability Capacity Development Project (TACD), and a $300,000, low-profile technical assistance project to improve performance in Cameroon customs.

The TACD story is all too familiar. It became effective one year later than expected, had only disbursed 10% after two years of implementation, and despite high level management attention and discussions with the country leadership, little changed. A mutual decision was taken to close the TACD one year prior to its close date citing poor coordination, lack of organization skills, systems in need of upgrading, and a lack of political commitment among the reasons.

The second is a ‘pockets’ of effectiveness story. The Director General of Customs requested assistance from the World Bank, to help improve performance management. The project was funded by a grant and was limited to knowledge transfer and technical assistance. In order to design the project, the team used the Bank’s in-house expertise coupled with that of a customs officer who had institutional knowledge of customs issues and understood the context as he had been an adviser to Cameroon. The pilot began with performance contracts in 2 offices for 6 months. It was focused on non-financial incentives. For good performance, congratulatory letters were placed in the files and publicly disseminated for wider recognition, and for bad behavior, team interviews, warnings, possible disciplinary action as well as removal from their position. In less than 2 months the clearance process was much faster, the attitude of the customs officers improved and revenues increased. An additional $16.5 million in revenue had been collected over the 6 months.

The second story is also a great example of PDIA principles in action.

  • Problem Driven: The problem was identified and nominated by the country. The focus was on solving problems as opposed to retro-fitting solutions. This also helps build ownership.
  • Crawl the Design Space: They carefully planned the pilot keeping the context in mind.
  • Try, Learn, Iterate, Adapt: The size and flexibility of the pilot allowed them to experiment. The tight feedback loops built-in to track the pilot allowed them to learn and adapt. They also built trust and credibility by imposing sanctions and rewarding performance.
  • Create/Maintain Authorizing Environment: The gradual buy-in of a key number of agents below the head of customs helped keep the pilot on track. This idea of multi-agent leadership is discussed in Matt Andrew’s recent paper Who Really Leads Development?

The authors conclude “the experience suggests that with institutional reforms, implementing a series of small well-designed changes may hold more hope for behavioral change than a large but ineffective reform that presumes the capacity for internal leadership of a complex reform.’ In reality, development projects involve people, who are the ultimate complex phenomena, embedded in organizations, which are complex, and organizations are embedded in rules systems (e.g. institutions, cultures, norms), which are themselves complex.

Aid and Fragility: PDIA at the UN

Earlier today, Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, and Frauke de Weijer were on a panel for the Fragility and Aid: What Works? event held by the UNU-WIDER at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN. They discussed how even well-meaning attempts to “build capacity” could serve as techniques of persistent failure because of isomorphic mimicry (emphasis on form over function) which allows for continued dysfunction, and premature load bearing (too much too soon) which builds mistrust and cynicism whereby the donor decides on what needs to be done, but the country gets blamed for the failure, setting off a vicious cycle of bad institutions. They also discussed how PDIA might be used in fragile states.

Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock
Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock

Untying Development

Yesterday, we hosted a one-day workshop entitled, Untying Development: Promoting Governance and Government with Impact. The day brought together different voices to discuss the challenge of creating a governance agenda that focuses on solving country-specific problems, involves local people through flexible and context-fitted processes, and emphasizes learning in the reform process.

In the first session, Francis Fukuyama highlighted the need for public administration programs to shift the focus from management back to implementation. He stressed the need for more granular governance indicators and better ways to measure the implementation of government public services. The second and third sessions were focused on unleashing local agents for change, and on new practice in action. In the fourth and final session on useful evaluation, Bob Klitgaard spoke about kindling creative problem solving by using a combination of theory and examples that are Specific, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories (the acronym SUCCES in Made to Stick). The agenda as well as the videos of the sessions can be found here.

This builds on work emerging in our Building State Capability program (including the recent book by Matt Andrews).