© Zenebe Uraguchi

Results-Based Management and the Challenge of Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

FROM: Kai Schrader – 04. October 2020
© Zenebe Uraguchi

‘…learning within organizations is a precondition for successful results-based management (RBM). RBM places the measurement of results at the heart of management[1] and emphasizes the use of data, evidence, and knowledge to inform decision making.’ (AVANTI, 2019)

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) monitoring has become a powerful tool to raise awareness of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) capacity gaps. It has also become a means to recognize the relevance of results-based management. This happens in two ways. First, by highlighting the significance of inter-departmental and cross-institutional collaboration. And second, by contributing to a behavioral shift towards learning-oriented evaluations of projects/programs to improve development work.

In the rural areas, the many SDG indicators challenge long-established ways of planning and budgeting of ministries and other actors. In its Development Effectiveness Framework, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recognizes the need for bringing about a change within national partner organizations. Here’s an example:

‘Working towards achieving development effectiveness in international financial institutions doesn’t happen automatically; it must be made to happen. It requires a corporate agenda that involves, among other things: leadership and guidance to drive change; corporate frameworks to set up a structure that facilitates the use of evidence in decisions about the design and implementation of projects; and institutionalized systems that allow effective monitoring, evaluation, and assessment of interventions.’ (IFAD, 2018)

AVANTI – Advancing Knowledge for Agricultural Impact – implemented by Helvetas, together with Itad Ltd, is one of these initiatives. The main assumption of the initiative is that agriculture ministries need to lead the process of change for better assessment of results, planning, and budgeting and thus more effective rural development policies.

AVANTI engages with the ministries on a demand-driven basis. Country teams perform a context analysis to customize methods and tools and facilitate a participatory self-assessment workshop with stakeholders. The most visible outcome is an Action Plan to improve capacities for M&E of SDG. Its goal is to benefit the participating institutions from a Results and Learning Culture.  

On behavior change and learning              

An institutional Learning Culture is leveraged through tapping into the Ten Steps to Create a Results and Learning Culture’ of NORAD 2018. This is based on creating a shared vision of expected results, leaders that base their decisions on evidence, incentives such as time allocation for critical reflection, and staff capacities. Some of the institutional routines run against such preconditions, e.g. Resource allocation for assuring wins or the need for producing continuously positive results. Agriculture Ministries around the world are influential in state policies and governmental budget distribution. Decision-makers have a stake to guarantee continuity of established funding mechanisms. At an individual level, attitudes are crucial obstacles to behavior change towards learning, day-to-day work detaches from critical reflections on results and financial constraints in a context of growing demands is not really an enabling environment.

Behavior change requires the consent and promotion of decision-makers and leaders in the institutions: they need to assure that the processes, tools, and attitudes of staff contribute to learning. For this reason, AVANTI seeks deliberately senior officials in the interested ministries to lead the process of self-evaluation of results-based management capacities. They promote the process in their country, convene staff to participate in the workshop, and follow-up on the implementation of identified actions.

On the strengthening of institutional capacities

 The tool AVANTI applies for the self-assessment of institutional capacities is the AG-Scan[2] matrix that helps participants to have a closer look into the five (LEAPS) pillars for results-based management: Leadership, Evaluation and Monitoring, Accountability, Planning and Budgeting, and Statistics. For each component, they assess the institutional status quo and plan for actions to improve these capacities.

‘The AG-Scan process advocates behavior change (a shift in mindset towards a culture) that is focused on achieving results and robust evidence for decision making. This requires leadership and management for it to be effective. Additionally, the whole process is country-led and promotes local structures of accountability. Creating a result and learning culture stresses the need for the agencies in charge of the agricultural and rural development sectors to use the AG-Scan diagnostic and action plan as a basis for the improvement of their capacity in RBM and measure progress in RBM practices against the action plan.’ (AVANTI, 2019)

A recurring challenge for governments is data collection, analysis, and management, which is not surprising when looking at the sheer quantity of indicators and data sources for rural development linked to the SDGs. Staff training and sophisticated digital tools might alleviate the dilemma, but focus on the most meaningful information and inter-institutional collaboration is imperative.

Planning and budgeting challenge ministerial staff as it is closely linked to established procedures and expectations (regional allocation, prioritization, participation) that have been balanced in the past and cannot radically change without putting at risk the legitimacy for decision-making. A gradual shift towards evidence for resource allocation seems to be most likely.

Transparency and accountability are results-based management components, where governments seem to have made significant progress in the past due to technological development and pressure from society. In the rural sector, the diversity of actors – smallholders, farmer’s cooperatives, SMEs, and big corporations – and data sources allow for broad ranges of interpretation when assessing the results of rural policies and programs.

Evaluation and monitoring is characterized by a clear focus on data gathering in contrast to the interpretation and evaluation of figures, trends, and results. The collection of timely, enough, and reliable data already challenges the teams, the processing and sharing of information and learning within the ministry and with others is usually underdeveloped. To feed evidence and processed knowledge timely into decision-making procedures is the biggest defiance.

Finally, the leadership component has proven to be the main novelty in the assessment of institutional capacities for results-based management and SDG monitoring. It calls for specific facilitation and communication skills during the participatory self-assessment workshop with representatives of the ministry to agree on the level of implementation and identify and prioritize activities to improve. The understanding of the RBM concept and what it entails, the benefits and responsibilities for a behavior change within a huge organization, and the question on how to go about it have triggered reflections and discussions in the workshops, but few concrete actions have been defined.

First products

‘Improving country capacities and systems for results measurement and management will be critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’ (IFAD 2017)

Due to the Agenda 2030, AVANTI taps into the essential need for transformation of organizations – in this specific case, agriculture ministries - committed to rural development towards a result and learning culture. The matrix for capacity self-assessment allows pointing at concrete sub-components that can be analyzed further and help the identification of action items for improvement. Up to now, 11 countries (Bolivia, Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Peru, Rwanda, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tunisia, and Vietnam) have engaged in AVANTI and are motivated in different degrees to ensure resourcing of proposed Action Plans.

Experiences have been shared online (forum, newsletter, website) and f2f (FIFE, EEA) and captured in several learning products: On the methodology, on AVANTI’s potential contribution to localizing SDGs, and on Most Important Drivers for RBM.

The strategies of IFIs and Foundations (e.g. ADB, WB, Rockefeller) towards evidence-based lending and financing are forcing institutions to invest in their M&E systems, on one hand, but more importantly to adapt and change towards results and learning orientation, on the other. For large institutions, this is an immense challenge. AVANTI applies a practical methodology for taking the first step.

What’s next?

The second half of the initiative will focus on barriers and drivers for engagement in RBM and SDG monitoring. The 10 countries are still waiting to go through the self-assessment procedure and join the group of experts to discuss their lessons and proposed actions with a wider audience.


Related readings  

[1] OECD, 2017

[2] AG-Scan, derived from MfDR CAP-Scans and adapted to the Agricultural Sector