What it takes to help a government transform implementation

08Nov 2018
Steve Kisakye
Financial Times
What it takes to help a government transform implementation

Most governments across Africa recognize that to transform various sectors in their countries, more is needed than developing good policies – they need to deliver concrete results need to be delivered.

But the realities of scarce resources, talent and an overwhelming number of competing priorities often leave governments ill-equipped to translate policy into action. Conscious of these challenges, many development partners are looking for new ways to help governments transform their ability to execute.

In response to this, a new ‘delivery’ approach has gained traction, bringing good management practices from the private sector into government including clear target setting, rigorous planning and routine tracking of progress.

Such approaches are often delivered through large, flagship delivery programs that crowd in sizeable sums of development partner funding and inject catalytic outside talent into government to drive momentum. Tanzania has set the pace by implementing one of these big programs in the past.

But it can be difficult for governments to sustain these large programs because they rely on significant external funding and the parallel institutions that run them can be vulnerable to being dissolved once funds dry up.

While often effective for delivering a fixed set of clear, time-bound goals, these programs rarely focus on strengthening the government’s capacity to continue delivering results in the future. This all creates a risk of the catalytic impact dissipating after the program finishes, the funding ends and the talent sometimes leaves.

Looking for new ways of applying the delivery mindset in the agriculture sector so that lasting government capacity would be left behind, the Government of Tanzania partnered with Dalberg 3D, the implementation arm of the Dalberg Group.

With Government’s strong and visionary leadership, together, we’re transforming agriculture implementation by working through existing government structures, rather than setting up parallel ones, and by applying a delivery mindset to the Government’s existing activities instead of new programs that rely on new funding.

Our team are piloting this approach in Tanzania’s Mwanza and Dodoma regions, embedded in seven institutions across local, regional and national government. This work has generated several lessons which may help other development partners as they design their own government support programs.

Embed dynamic problem solvers with the skills to influence change

Supporting governments to drive change requires not only a technical grounding but also the ability to understand the political landscape and find ways to influence the system.

So, we embed teams of top talent, drawn from the local public and private sector, recruited for both their technical capabilities and their ability to build relationships, solve problems, coach government peers, and remain adaptable to drive change.

For example, when helping district governments improve data quality, these teams needed to not only understand the gaps in technical knowledge among data collectors, but also the underlying reasons why they were underperforming.

They then needed to influence the district leadership to assert greater accountability for poor performance.

As a result, data quality has improved dramatically, with a reduction of more than 85% in the number of errors being made by data collectors across the district governments supported through the project.

Enable governments to see what can be achieved within their current constraints

When there are no big donor-funded programs in place, funding and technical assistance to district governments are often sparse. This contributes to them being under-resourced and lacking capacity to implement national policies.

By applying new delivery techniques, the district governments have been experimenting with different ways to improve implementation in these challenging contexts.

Through focusing on a few high-impact activities that can be achieved with minimal resources, doing smarter coordination to increase the efficiency of money spent, and forming judicious partnerships to make the most of others’ resources and expertise, they are starting to deliver tangible results even in the absence of big donor funding.

For instance, cattle dips are crucial to controlling cattle diseases which can prevent farmers selling their beef at good prices.

However, in select districts in Mwanza, an assessment found that 96 out of 103 cattle dips had stopped operating. Previously, district governments thought that to revive these dips, they had to pay for expensive physical repairs and inputs, neither of which they had funds for.

But through using new approaches to identify root causes, they found most dips had in fact stopped working due to poor operational and financial management by dip operators; issues that could be addressed at little cost.

They have now revived 37 dips, resulting in a nearly five-fold increase in the number of cattle being dipped monthly from 12,000 to 53,000.

Give government the tools to solve their own problems.

The Dalberg 3D embedded teams don’t come with a fixed set of solutions; their job is to help district governments find solutions to whichever problems they face in the sector. Taking the basic principles of good problem-solving, the teams get on the ground and work together with the government to design solutions which apply in the Tanzania context. Through this, the district governments can develop the skills for solving their problems long after the embedded teams have left.

For example, Misungwi District Council worked with their embedded advisor to design a new system to boost performance of extension services to farmers. Instead of rolling out complex best practice in performance management, which would be unrealistic for the context, they did a step-by-step diagnosis of the challenges, adjusting the solution as they went along. This resulted in a locally-led solution which took local political dynamics and resource constraints into account.

Looking forward

Delivering lasting change in government takes time, adaptability and a good deal of trial and error. It’s only now, in the third year of this Tanzania program, and after a big upfront investment in building relationships and demonstrating value to government, that sustainable results are emerging.

Replicating these approaches in Tanzania and beyond cannot be achieved by only one organization. It will require a concerted effort from several development partners that are willing to be in it for the long haul and be comfortable with non-linear progress, false starts and learning by doing. But it is through this approach that we can all support government to deliver change that lasts.

Steve Kisakye, is a Director at Dalberg Tanzania Ltd, a part of the Dalberg Group. The Dalberg Group is a collection of impact driven businesses that seek to champion inclusive and sustainable growth around the world