We need to increase our focus on results to accelerate Rwanda's development vision

The 15th annual National Leadership Retreat will be closing today at the Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo District. President Paul Kagame opened the retreat on February 26, calling on leaders to work together towards a shared vision of the country in order to accelerate the country’s development. “How can we achieve our vision without working together?” he challenged the leaders. One thorny development issue discussed on day one of the retreat is the issue of malnutrition manifested in some young children.

The 15th annual National Leadership Retreat will be closing today at the Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo District. President Paul Kagame opened the retreat on February 26, calling on leaders to work together towards a shared vision of the country in order to accelerate the country’s development. “How can we achieve our vision without working together?” he challenged the leaders. One thorny development issue discussed on day one of the retreat is the issue of malnutrition manifested in some young children.

President Kagame wondered why the issue has always been discussed in previous leadership retreats without being fixed, and demanded explanations from the leaders.

This article is by no means an attempt to provide answers to the President’s questions, but rather is aimed to arouse an intellectual debate on the assumption that a framework of managing for development results could provide solutions. Not that the concept is new. The cabinet meeting of September 9, 2015 approved a Results-Based Management (RBM) Policy and its implementation plan, although the practice had been in existence for a while. According to the policy, “RBM is a modern management strategy which compels actors in an institutional context to direct their efforts towards achieving a common set of results” to “maximise the value of services delivered by the public service to citizens.”Imihigo, or performance contracts, which has been implemented since 2006 is one good example of Rwanda’s homegrown performance-based management and accountability mechanism or tool that operationalizes RBM.

So, what is this concept of managing for development results and why is it important for Rwanda? Managing for Development Results (MfDR) is a strategy that focuses on using performance information to improve decision-making. It means focusing on concrete impacts at all phases of the national development process. The MfDR approach embodies generally accepted tenets of good governance – setting clear objectives, evidence-based decision making, transparency, and continuous adaptation and improvement. World over, tight budgets and new scarcities are casting their shadows within a changing international environment. This, combined with an increasingly demanding public, is putting governments under growing pressure to show that they are providing good value for money. More and more, they are challenged to be transparent and to demonstrate results.

The key question for MfDR is, “Have policies, programmes and projects led to the desired results? Today, what counts is not so much how many health centres have been built, but whether the health of Rwandans has improved; not how many schools have been constructed, but how many girls and boys are receiving quality education; not how much money we receive from development partners, but whether poverty and hunger are reducing. Clearly, MfDR focuses not on processes but on outcome results. Are we achieving the desired impact? Put differently, are malnutrition levels declining in Rwanda?

MfDR is a way of thinking and involves using practical tools for strategic planning, risk management, progress monitoring, and outcome evaluation. It centers on gearing all human, financial, technological, and natural resources – domestic and external – to achieve desired development results. It shifts the focus from inputs, i.e, how much money will I get, how much money can I spend?” to measurable results such as “what can I achieve with the money that I have?” at all phases of the development process. At the same time, MfDR focuses on providing sound information to improve decision-making. It implies that goals are clear, measurable, limited in number and concrete, with time-bound targets. At the same time, they must be expressed in human terms (i.e. as development outcomes).

The “MfDR cycle” involves five core components or stages: setting goals and agreeing on targets and strategies; allocating the available resources to activities that will contribute to the achievement of the desired results; monitoring and evaluating whether the resources allocated are making the intended difference; reporting on performance to the public; and finally but not least, feeding back information into decision-making. In today’s world, it is essential to provide evidence-based information about public sector performance so as to meet the public’s need to know, to create political transparency and to enable governments and politicians to guide their performance and learn ways to improve it. The provision of meaningful and timely information on performance also encourages greater emphasis on planning and offers good indications of what is working in government and what is not.

MfDR heavily relies on country-based monitoring and evaluation systems, and the underlying statistical capacity, which are all essential to make the systems strong and in the end permit reliable performance monitoring frameworks and accountability. During the 2017 national dialogue, after presentation of imihigo evaluation report by IPAR, President Kagame emphasised collaborations with the national statistics body to improve on information quality. Listening to the President demanding explanations from leaders as to why the malnutrition issue has dragged on, a couple of complimentary questions came to my mind. Has the malnutrition problem been clearly defined? What data are available? How have the data helped in policy decisions about development interventions? Have the concerned stakeholders directly (positively or negatively) engaged and agreed on a common approach? Has a theory of change indicating short term, medium to long term results been developed? Can we demonstrate cause and effect relationships? As
the President stated, it is not that leaders are unaware of the issue or lack of resources.

As I said, the article was not meant to provide answers, but to contribute to a critical thinking that enables us to dig deep into the development theories and practices and examine what can work for us.

In 2015, the Government, through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, requested to be part of the Africa for results (Afrika4R), an initiative of the African Development Bank, which was granted. In 2017, the ministry designated the role of coordinating activities of MfDR to the Capacity Development and Employment Services Board (CESB). Last year in September, a community of practice (CoP) for Managing for Development Results was established championed by members of the Rwanda Monitoring and Evaluation Society which is currently in its formative stages. Ideally, the CoP will bring together government officials, members from the private sector, civil society, think tanks, academia, the media, etc to chat a way forward on a results culture.

MfDR CoPs have been established elsewhere in the world to provide a forum to exchange ideas, and increase evidence-based decision and policy making for effective delivery of development results.

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