Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba Correspondent
Results-Based Management (RBM), a focus, measurement, evaluation and accountability tool, has emerged as a centrepiece of global efforts to improve efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency in public programming and service delivery.
Its key guiding principles include a focus on achieving clearly stated, expected changes in people’s lives (results), maximum stakeholder participation, with end-user or client centrality, and mutual accountability for results.
Results, in this context, refer to specific, measurable changes or improvements in the lives of a target population or their conditions caused by the implementation of an initiative.
All people and processes primarily focus on the delivery of such change while the target population is regarded the most important group of stakeholders.
Consequently, the target results dictate all resource requirements with the link between the two consistently and clearly demonstrated through the notion of accounting for results.
For successful achievement, such target results ought to be SMART, an acronym for the characteristics Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
The approach underscores continuous monitoring and reporting, primarily focused on progress towards the achievement of results, as well as learning from both success and failure. The ensuing evaluative evidence, is used to inform decision-making on the design, resourcing and delivery of initiatives.
Although the implementation of RBM has been proved to guarantee success in many entities, such success was not evident in most public services, including in Zimbabwe.
The main shortcoming, according to both literature and experiential evidence, is the inadequate or non-application of the key guiding principles, notably focus on real changes in people’s lives and maximum stakeholder participation, including client centrality.
The processes for problem identification and the definition of related results are often exclusive of most stakeholders notably the clients; the group that is best placed to provide accurate information about conditions that they find unsatisfactory and suggestions on how they can be effectively addressed.
That is, problems are ordinarily identified exclusively by policymakers, high-ranking official, funders and implementers of the initiatives.
Consequently, the clients regard the initiatives, whose deliverables may also not closely meet their needs, as foreign and therefore fail to assume the necessary ownership of the initiatives and the deliverables as well as responsibility and their portion of accountability for the achievement of results.
Such lack of buy-in and a sense of ownership of initiatives is commonly manifested, in villages, through remarks such as “chibhorani cheDDF, chaDonor” when referring to boreholes drilled for the communities by the District Development Fund (DDF) or some development agency.
There is thus reduced appreciation of the development assistance plus equally reduced care and maintenance of the facility with the perception that the boreholes belong to the organisations rather than the communities themselves.
Secondly, intentions, planned activities or vague pronouncements continue to be used to signify expected result, in line with traditional management approaches that focus on activities and deliverables.
Equally, the statements are expressed inappropriately, from the perspective of the service providers, rather than the central groups of stakeholders, the clients or end-users, further threatening the creation of a sense of ownership and buy-in of the initiative.
Activities are, therefore, spelt out as targets for initiatives, posing the danger of focussing on the same.
This introduces challenges in assessing both progress plus final achievements of initiatives and also disrupts the notion of accounting for results.
A typical example is, “We drill 15 boreholes in each province.” Both literature and experiential evidence show that it is possible to successfully complete such an activity but without sufficiently meeting the objectives of the project. In some cases, the distribution of the boreholes was significantly uneven such that access to clean water remains the same for some households, including those in areas where improved access was needed most.
In essence, results or changes need to be expressed with the desired target change clearly spelt out.
Maximum stakeholder participation helps to ensure equitable and invaluable contributions from relevant stakeholders in all processes, from problem identification to the delivery of solutions.
Clients are best placed to identify pressing problems that need priority attention, confirm or refute progress towards expected results and also to determine, at the end, whether or not a real solution has obtained.
Additionally, they readily assume their portion of accountability for results in the form of accessing deliverables (goods or services) provided so as to effect the targeted changes in their lives.
There are reports of situations where sanitation programme clients opted for sharing wells, among a number of households, instead of boreholes for larger communities.
The reasoning was that the former scenario fosters a sense of ownership of the wells and careful handling and maintenance could be readily enforced among the smaller groups.
This then ensures the sustainability of the programmed results in the form of continued changed behaviour resulting from to accessing and using clean water and subsequently improved health.
The involvement of clients in all processes is thus essential to ensure that problems are accurately identified and closely met according to their exact preferences; a situation that significantly promotes sustainability in service delivery.
In line with the basic principles of RBM, results ought to be measurable and expressed in change language and from the perspective of the client.
For example, the results statement for a water and sanitation initiative can be stated as, “To improve access to clean, safe water to within one kilometre for each household in region X by the December 2021.”
The performance of the project can be readily assessed and the achievement of results reasonably guaranteed.
However, many entities in the public sector, including in Zimbabwe, express results statements in action language and, often without adequate details, instead of change language making it difficult to assess the performance of the initiative. Statements such as “to create 100, 500 or 1 000 jobs” are a common feature in planning documents.
Inadvertently, the focus is equally on the completion of the activity, creating jobs, which may not necessarily deliver the desired change and success in people’s lives.
That is, the jobs may be created and taken up but the employees remain poor or even worse off than before employment.
Also, it would be difficult to assess change since the target population is not clearly spelt out.
Instead, the focus ought to be on a change, within a specified timeline, from the perspective of clients such as, “2000 youth in the Mashonaland province are gainfully employed by the end of year 2022.”
Indicators that reflect the gain relating to the employment are then jointly selected and used, during implementation of the initiative, to assess progress and subsequently the achievement of results.
Similarly, institutions state as targets, “to reach world class status in the next 5 or 10 years,” a target that seemingly has been convincingly achieved anywhere in the world mainly because it is not SMART thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify indicators for assessing progress or final achievement.
Furthermore, limited participation or exclusion of stakeholders, including clients, in the monitoring and reporting of procedure is a common shortcoming that leads to poor implementation of projects as well as service delivery.
For example, the quality of executing business processes is ordinarily assessed without soliciting data from the clients, the very people whose lives or conditions are the target for change.
Consequently, management decisions are informed by less than optimal evidence; invariably setting up the most initiatives for failure.
In essence, the application of key principles of RBM, encompassing a consistent focus on the desired change (results) and meaningful stakeholder participation, is essential to guarantee quality service delivery.
This is because such practice promotes continuous improvement through the optimal allocation of resources, fostering a sense of ownership of initiatives among the stakeholders, ready assumption of accountability by all stakeholders as well as the sustainability of initiatives.
The availability of quality data for both planning and monitoring, from a wide range of stakeholders helps to improve business processes and the achievement of results.
Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is an Author, development Project/ Programme Management Consultant and Researcher with a special interest in Results Based Management (RBM), Governance and Leadership. She can be contacted via e-mail: [email protected]