In 1997 Greg Armstrong -- a governance adviser working with the Canadian International Development Agency (now Global Affairs Canada) implementing a series of constitutional reform workshops in Thailand -- was asked to evaluate one of CIDA's most successful governance activities, using a Results-Based Management framework. Those activities, the creation of conflict resolution networks in Cambodia and Thailand, had begun in 1994 before RBM was widely used in the organization, and the interventions were not originally phrased in Results-Based Management terms.
Like many development activities it was not, in fact, a single project. It was a combination of many activities funded over time, by several different Canadian and other international agencies, and by local organizations in Thailand and Cambodia. Given that it had never been planned using the RBM framework, that framework itself, particularly the RBM jargon, helped nobody in the field -- the NGOs, the universities, the participants from agricultural organizations, human rights workers or the police -- to explain what they were seeing as the very real accomplishments of the conflict resolution programming.
Achieving results is usually complex, but explaining results should be simpler. What we need is more common sense and plain language, and less jargon when we think about and analyse results. We may eventually have to use donor-specific RBM terms, but we should not let them get in the way of clarity.
Instead of being trapped by "the prison-house of language", we can use plain language to our advantage.
The bottom line for any organizational innovation is that if the ideas it promotes do not resonate with the users, do not serve them, do not make the lives and work of practitioners easier or more productive, and are not to some extent adaptable to the real needs of the users, the innovation simply will not generate support from either leaders or practitioners and will not, in the long run, be used effectively. The concepts will be ignored, or co-opted into existing practice.
But if the language and the ideas make sense to the people expected to use them, if service providers and practitioners can recognize themselves and their own work in the terms used and the methods proposed, then a concept like results-based management -- and the actions and ideas that underpin it and flow from it -- will have a fighting chance of surviving and perhaps even flourishing.
RBM is, for many of the people who are not happy using it, such an organizational innovation. For results-based management to be adopted, and more important actually used in practice by implementing agencies, it has to be framed in a less bureaucratic, more helpful context, and with language that doesn't require a PhD in performance measurement to be used.
It was clear from this experience that a more practical, field-based approach to using results-based management for planning but also for project monitoring and evaluation, was needed. This was particularly true for governance projects of the kind CIDA was funding at that time under the SEAFILD (The Southeast Asia Fund for Institutional and Legal Development) umbrella, on public service reform, democratic development, decentralization, parliamentary reform, rule of law and human rights.
Governance and democratic development projects often have difficulty in specifying concrete results using Results-Based Management terminology, not because the results are not there, but because the language commonly used for describing results in measurable terms is inadequate, as indeed it is often inadequate in other fields too.
The first study What Works? A Case Study of Successful Canadian Governance Programming in Thailand and Cambodia (PDF), was produced by SEAFILD in 1998. Working with Isabel Lloyd, the SEAFILD Director, Greg Armstrong undertook a further series of case studies over three years to illustrate how professionals working under real time and real world pressures both understood and could describe their own and others' results, using their own language, not the RBM jargon.
From these case studies, and from those derived from activities funded by other agencies including UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNESCO and a number of international and domestic NGOs, a clear, simple and workable terminology was derived to help field managers, project implementers and policy makers (from government and civil society) describe, define and then assess their results, in a simple, but effective results-based monitoring and evaluation approach.
Subsequent work on health, education, gender, agriculture, environment and rural development projects has further contributed to this clear-language RBM framework. The approach continues to evolve. In collaboration with managers, frontline fieldworkers on development projects and, increasingly, programme beneficiaries, the language and common-sense basis of this approach to RBM is regularly tested, reworked and adapted to suit different agencies' needs, application in new fields, and feedback from implementers on the ground, on what they know about their own results. The result is a common-sense framework that can be used to build simple needs assessment, rapid appraisal, planning, monitoring and evaluation systems in any development field.
The language in the user-based approach to RBM training is derived from the experience of field workers and project managers in countries and sectors throughout Asia and Africa, people funded by many different agencies. It has been translated, because the language is straight-forward and easy to understand, into many different languages during workshops, including Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Russian, and Swahili.
The emphasis is on the use of clear, easy-to-understand terms that make sense to the practitioners in their own work, but which can also be translated, eventually, into any of the RBM-specific terms used by aid agencies.
To date training in this simplified approach to Results-Based Management has been provided in
Burma/Myanmar border areas
Emphasizing simple, common-sense language for thinking about policy and practice, these RBM concepts have been used in training with professionals and practitioners from the field level to the most senior levels of host governments, coming from a wide range of government agencies
Ministry of The Interior
Ministry of Women’s Affairs
Ministry of the Environment
Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Health
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development
Ministry of Religious Affairs
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Religious Affairs
Ministry of Local Government
Ministry of Natural Resources
Auditor General Offices
Participants have come from agencies as varied as UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNESCO, IFAD, UNDP, national Administrative Courts,ethics agencies, Auditor-General offices, aid coordinating agencies, specialised planning and reform units, universities and NGOs.
Experience implementing this results-based management framework has shown it to be effective also with people actively participating in political decisions, including government Ministers, MP's, Senators and parliamentary staff, people who, at least in theory, avoid jargon when they talk to constituents. It works well in addition, with development professionals, managers and finance officers, and with service providers in a wide range of roles, from teachers, to police, health providers, community organizations and human rights workers.
Fundamentally, this is an approach that has proven successful because it starts from where participants are; applies basic concepts of adult learning, organizational change and the implementation of innovations; liberates results from jargon, and can be shared easily by, and across partners working at all levels. .