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.