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Results Based Management: does it pay off?

Reinier van Hoffen | 29 May 2013

As a result of increasing complexity and absence of strong leadership it has become difficult for policy makers to ensure accountability in the aid chain. This has resulted in the popularization of Results Based Management (RBM). Instigated by the Paris Declaration (2005) and Accra Agenda for Action (2008), a number of donor agencies, starting with USAID and followed by a number of European agencies, copied RBM from the business sector, fitting in with the new deal with the private sector attempted in Busan (2011). Norway was amongst the earliest countries to adopt RBM. The UK Department for International Development issued guidance on Results Based Management as recently as March this year. Will Results Based Management deliver?

As a result of increasing complexity and absence of strong leadership it has become difficult for policy makers to ensure accountability in the aid chain. This has resulted in the popularization of Results Based Management (RBM). Instigated by the Paris Declaration (2005) and Accra Agenda for Action (2008), a number of donor agencies, starting with USAID and followed by a number of European agencies, copied RBM from the business sector, fitting in with the new deal with the private sector attempted in Busan (2011). Norway was amongst the earliest countries to adopt RBM. The UK Department for International Development issued guidance on Results Based Management as recently as March this year. Will Results Based Management deliver?

Dwindling support for international development cooperation and increasing emancipation of aid recipients is challenging the traditional poverty alleviation paradigm. It has tilted development from the complicated to the complex domain (Snowden). On top of that the ever increasing number of development actors is blurring the picture even further. In order to continue to keep track of its own contribution, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has introduced a tracking system that limits monitoring and evaluation to a number of key performance indicators aligned with strategic priorities, a system that the Dutch are likely to follow.

IATI as a cover for inabilities in problem solving

The DFID documents also mentions the need to “monitor the results achieved through all development resources, not just our own.” This makes sense from a complexity perspective. Looking at aid reality through these glasses one can appreciate ongoing efforts to arrive at a common set of standards in results reporting through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Many governments have already signed up to the IATI and make use of this joint data set.

However, what is lost in the process is ownership over the data. There is a big pond in which many fish are swimming. The pond is becoming more and more polluted. Rather than changing the water, we keep measuring its quality and sharing the data amongst all the stakeholders. Donors are not able to identify their own contribution to water quality or their ‘own’ polluters. However, everyone remains very concerned about the water quality in terms of achieving the MDGs.  

It is clear from DFID’s reorientation of development aid, that it has become a lot more focused and creates an impression of ‘running’ development like a business, losing sight on the integrated whole. It is yet unclear how this surge for results will impact aid delivery mechanisms and possibly discontinue longer-term commitments made in the past.

The Norwegian change trajectory

One of the early adopters of Results Based management was the Norwegian Aid agency Norad, which already issued a Result Measurement Guide for its operations in June 2008. However, the path chosen was a humble one, focusing on risk reduction. Secondly the careful consideration of the role of expertise paid off in formulating the Norwegian strategy till 2015, as recently reflected upon on this website by David Sogge. “Norad addresses complex development issues where many different factors must be considered in an overall context. Ensuring high quality and relevant advice requires knowledge-sharing, good information flows and demand for colleagues’ expertise across specialized fields and departments”.

The role of experts was valued across the document, acknowledging the wealth of knowledge in the system and the need to operationalize it to the benefit of improved intervention strategies, especially in fragile settings. One of the Norwegian strategic objectives is “tobe an instigator of public debate on development assistance and development, showing high regard of reflection and learning capacity in the system.” Norad continuously invested in “developing expertise, working methods and leadership that enable Norad to solve complex tasks effectively”. This currently translates into an effective link between expertise knowledge and policy development resulting in, e.g., the publication of a Sustainability Guideline in 2011 that gives Norwegian agencies pole position in the development pack. In my next post I will try to analyze how recent developments in the European political landscape may soon dramatically change the picture.

Photo credit main picture: Solo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/60648084@N00/3029452838