People working on international development projects know what they are doing, and what they want to happen. They want an easy way to explain their results clearly to other people: to their colleagues, to political leaders, to government officials, donors, to professionals in other fields and to the people they are trying to help, in villages or cities around the world. A Results-Based Management framework can, if it is done right, provide a way to plan for, and report on our results.
Results-Based Management is not the only planning, monitoring or evaluation tool available but, if it works, RBM should make development practitioners' lives easier, not more difficult. The fact is, however, that many people find RBM a bureaucratic nightmare. For it to be useful, we need a simpler RBM framework and Results-Based Management terminology based in reality.
Where competition for limited resources is high, both national governments and donor agencies want to get maximum value for money spent on development projects. And for that matter, everybody working on development, in NGOs, government or the private sector wants to achieve results, and wants to be able to explain them. People such as Michael Fullan, and Michael Barber are perhaps the two best-known experts on turning policy ideas into results, but all of us, at whatever level we work, want to be effective.
Most bilateral donors, and virtually all multilateral agencies, including most notably UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, UN Women, FAO, IFAD and the World Bank group are now focusing on results. Or, to be more precise, they say they are focusing on results, even though some of them have serious problems using RBM in practice.
Some agencies still call the process results-based management, some "managing for development results", and approaches such as outcome mapping and can be incorporated in the process, or used as alternatives. But whatever they call it, most national governments in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are expressing interest in using some form of results-based management and evaluation themselves. These governments are establishing results-based monitoring and evaluation systems because they want to get control of the programmes they are running, and because, in many cases, they are responding to pressure from international agencies.
Governments, donors and programming partners can learn useful lessons by focusing on results, not activities. There are at least six major benefits of focusing on results:
1. Better implementation
Thinking in terms of problems and opportunities, explicit and shared understanding of “expected results” can strengthen needs assessment, rapid appraisals, planning and monitoring and reveal early in the process misunderstandings or disagreements about goals among stakeholders and implementing partners, which can undermine effective implementation if they are ignored. Getting results clear at the start is the best choice, but clarifying them later can still help remove implementation roadblocks.
2. Better communication
Clarifying what we mean by results lets us deal with differences of understanding before a project begins, and helps implementing agencies communicate results to funders -- national governments, donor agencies, communities and taxpayers -- in a clear, unambiguous manner.
3. Stronger capacity development
Identifying intended results in a clear, workable and realistic way, helps us build capacity, because it clarifies for us what we need to concentrate on, what resources we need to bring to the job, and what our real assumptions are about cause and effect.
Understanding results as part of an incremental “results chain” can help identify where interventions to build capacity are necessary, and likely to work.
4. More realistic project schedules
Clear results-based planning produces more realistic schedules, forcing us to think through the preconditions and sequence for actions, and the resources they require.
5. More Useful evaluation results
Clarifying results during planning and internal monitoring prepares projects for effective evaluations. Any organization that knows where its results are, and how to document them, is in a much stronger position to make its case effectively when external evaluations occur. More important, such an organization is also well positioned to learn lessons from its own internal monitoring.
Evidence-based management replaces vague hopes about what works, with real understanding of how things can be improved. Implementers can themselves monitor progressive change as they work, looking at whether and how they are incrementally making a difference to the situation - in other words, realizing results. They can then either continue with greater assurance or take corrective action as needed.
Implementers can also identify unplanned results, as they occur, and assess if these are desirable, or problematic, requiring support or coping strategies.
6.Reducing opportunities and pressures for corruption
Focusing clearly on results, and making the links between inputs, funded activities and the results they should be leading to, reduces the potential for corruption -- or simply indifferent thinking and wasted resources in decision-making and project implementation. When we are planning for results we don't fund just any activity that comes along. Nor do we continue to fund activities just because they have been done before. We fund what clearly contributes to the results we have identified as priorities.
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©Greg Armstrong 2012 All rights reserved.