Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Payment by Results - the conversation continues

The Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU) is a key partner in the sanitation program run by Thrive Networks (ex East Meets West). Keen to understand how the program operates on the ground, and especially to understand more about the Payment by Results approach under with the program operates, we travelled to Ninh Binh province to meet those involved in the programme. We first met members of a Commune People’s Committee, who briefed us on the progress in their locality. After visiting project sites, we  spent several hours with officials from the provincial office of VWU in Ninh Binh.

As part of the conversation I asked Ms Tinh from the VWU, who was briefing us thoroughly about the programme, just how significant had been the OBA approach. MS Tinh, a qualified doctor, had already explained how pressured the work had been. Ambitious targets had been set by the National Office, which had initially concerned Ms Tinh, especially given their limited resources. However, targets were met and Ms Tinh believes the OBA approach played a significant role in that success.

However OBA continues to polarise opinion within the development sector. And when someone as widely respected as Robert Chambers lambasts UK DfID for promoting the approach it’s obviously important to address his and others critiques. In this extract, Minh Chau Nguyen of Thrive Networks comments on concerns about the impact of PbR or OBA on the motivation of those working in Development projects, on their reporting from those schemes and on the narrowness of OBA/PbR as an instrument to address complexity

My own reflections are based on very limited exposure, a project visit and conversations with Thrive Networks staff in Vietnam. Initially uneasy, I came away very impressed by what the CHOBA project has achieved. The staff and partners have been under enormous pressure, as was described in the previous blog interview, and have succeeded in scaling up the program to an impressive level. To some extent that has to be attributed to the passion, the commitment, the experience skill and learning from among the project team and partners. Like most successful projects, at the core is a phenomenal team, well led, and committed to achieving change. And it’s important too, I think, to acknowledge the impact of working in a country like Vietnam with fully functioning local Government apparatus reaching down to village level, supported by effective institutions like the Women’s Union. All that being said, it’s clear to me that the PbR approach shaped the programme and the institutions quite fundamentally and was an integral part of the complex mix that has delivered success. I would attribute part of that success to the way the project was led by a team knowledgeable about and convinced of the value of the approach – Minh Chau Nguyen, worked for many years at the World Bank during which time OBA evolved as an approach to funding Development. I remain uneasy about whether it can work as effectively in other contexts, especially in situations where it may be presented as the only funding option.