Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba Correspondent
MY sincere gratitude to readers for the feedback and comments received, most of which informed the writing of this instalment.
This is in line with the spirit of Results-Based Management (RBM) where information from stakeholders is one of the primary forces that guide decision and action.
Some readers intimated that they faced challenges with grasping the concept of RBM to the extent that they can never appreciate its efficacy in driving economic transformation and growth.
Others were of the opinion that there had been an attempt to unpack a derivative, the 100-day initiative, when the root concept, RBM, remained “packed”.
Consequently, this instalment will take a step back and attempt to unpack the basics of this root concept. RBM is a comprehensive, team-based, participatory management and reporting approach. The approach primarily focuses on making a desired difference in the lives of the targeted population and, consequently, stakeholders ensure that all processes, products and services contribute towards this cause.
For that reason, the approach shifts from a focus on resources and processes to a focus on benefits and achievements that are a direct consequence of the related intervention. An approach is defined as a means of attaining a goal or purpose or simply a way of doing or thinking about something.
RBM is thus a way of implementing development projects and programmes that look beyond processes, activities, products and services to focus on the actual social and economic benefits of projects and programmes at the level of end-users (sometimes called beneficiaries). In itself, RBM is not expected to bring about development or transformation, as was case with ESAP or ZIMPRREST, but is a way of executing development projects and programmes to enhance their potential for success in bringing about economic transformation. The approach can be used for implementing different types of projects in different contexts in terms of sector, field, geography or stage of execution of the related project. RBM processes focus on achieving positive effects in the lives of people, implementing performance measurement, reporting on performance, learning and adapting. The central notion of RBM is the “result”, which is a describable or measurable change that derives from a cause-and-effect chain termed a results chain.
The chain, also a central tenet of results thinking, describes development from the starting point to the desired situation.
There are three types of results namely first level results (outputs) which are produced by the project’s activities, using the project’s resources. Such outputs are ordinarily under the under the control of stakeholders involved in executing the project. Use of the first level results leads to the achievement of intermediate results or effects (often referred to as outcomes) which ordinarily take longer to materialise. They are also not completely under the control of implementers as they are often influenced by other external factors. Because of these potential influences, the effects (results) can be positive or negative as well as expected (as described in the project plan) and unexpected.
Final results or the impact is only visible in the long-term and in the broader environment rather than among the project stakeholders only. Also, like the outcome, the final result or impact can have expected or unexpected positive or negative elements. RBM entails selecting a desired destination first, then deciding on the route to take towards that destination; actions which constitute the planning phase. During this phase, resources (inputs and activities) are closely aligned with the expected results and this helps to reduce wastage and the potential for corruption.
In addition, a results-based planning process promotes transparency, while negating indifferent thinking among stakeholders. The next phase, execution, comprises project activities and continuous measurement of performance. Performance measurement involves monitoring, reporting and learning. Monitoring entails continuously reflecting on the extent to which the execution of projects will, subsequently, lead to the achievement of desired changes (outcomes). The use of this benchmark in monitoring further shows the significant departure from the traditional management of inputs and processes, under a set rules and regulations, to the assessment of interventions in terms of the extent to which these inputs and processes contribute towards the achievement of projected changes in state (results).
Stakeholders are thus obliged to continually monitor and report on performance as well as make the necessary adjustments to ensure that planned or desired outcomes or results are realised. The approach emphasises the use of information on performance and evidence on actual results to inform and improve decision making on the design, resourcing and delivery of projects and activities as well as learning.
In fact, the ultimate objective of RBM is to ensure that processes such as the definition of realistic expected results, formulation of clear objectives and decision-making are informed by accurate and relevant information. Consequently, projects that deliver tangible benefits are designed and executed, at least cost, while poor performing activities are improved on or discarded, as appropriate. Combined together, RBM processes make the approach an internal as well as external sound tool for governance, ownership, accountability and improved performance throughout the organisation.
A learning cycle where stakeholders jointly learn by doing, with best practices and lessons identified through the monitoring function, is also integrated within the approach. Such learning, together with participation, enables entities to strengthen capacities, improve the quality of projects and also effectively achieve results.
Additionally, stakeholders are empowered to the extent that they gradually appreciate the essence of their roles and are, consequently, motivated to accept increased responsibilities. Maximum participation of stakeholders, which facilitates the design of solid project with relevant objectives and the achievement of sustainable results, is a key principle of RBM that is emphasised throughout the life of a project. Such participation is vital for promoting ownership of initiatives to as many stakeholders as possible rather than compliance and meeting requirements through a few select individuals or groups.
Furthermore, meaningful participation facilitates clear definition as well as understanding of tasks and responsibilities, thus promoting the notion of accountability among stakeholders. A second group of readers, who were more familiar with the concept of RBM, expressed doubts and concern regarding the efficacy of its implementation in Zimbabwe against a background of past failures of development initiatives.
In addition, they cited several shortcomings within the environment that included poor work ethics, lack of unity of purpose, reluctance to learn and to change as well as a lack of focus which persistently led to poor implementation of development programmes. In some cases, distinctly sound projects and programmes were reportedly designed and the related documents were left on file to gather dust without ever leaving the offices.
One reader contends that Zimbabweans need to migrate from “being bookish and direct efforts towards productivity”.
Indeed, productivity is key and the primary cause of past failures was the poor execution of development projects and programmes. This shortcoming, in fact, provides a clear of the need for a whole new approach to programme implementation.
RBM is one such approach that is associated with success stories in several nations including Rwanda, Eritrea, Madagascar, Kenya, Malaysia, the United States and Canada among many others.
Literature shows that the key elements of RBM can effectively address the above-mentioned challenges within the in local environment, if the approach is implemented judiciously. Such elements include focusing dialogue on targeted results at all phases of the development process, aligning project monitoring and reporting with results and using information on results for learning and decision-making. A change of mindsets and emulating the President in his consistent effort to make a difference, rather than business as usual is vital for achieving the desired economic transformation.
Regarding the implementation of RBM, stakeholders can replicate best practices and integrate lessons learned, from the just-ended 100 day initiatives, into management decisions as well as continue to nurture a culture of results.
Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is a project/programme management consultant and researcher with a special interest in Results-Based Management (RBM). She can be contacted via email: [email protected]