Better Policies = Happier Citizens

April 20, 2012

  • There is a growing demand for accountability in public service programs
  • Governments are sharing best practices
  • Changing management cultures can be hard

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2012 – Out: Public programs that don’t deliver results in education, health and other critical areas.

In: Monitoring and evaluation systems that hold agencies accountable and ensure public services reach those most in need.

Since the late 1990s, there has been a growing demand in many countries for strong and institutionalized monitoring and evaluation systems that help root out inefficiencies and poor performance.

The 2008 global financial crisis gave additional impetus to such efforts as many governments faced tighter budgets along with rising demands for social services. Could public programs become more effective and do more with less?

The purpose of monitoring and evaluation systems, World Bank Managing Director Mahmoud Mohieldin told a packed conference room in Washington on April 18, is “to understand what works and what doesn’t work, what needs to be kept and what needs to be changed – and what [programs] need to be eliminated.”

Mohieldin was flanked by government officials from Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa. They visited the World Bank’s headquarters to discuss the progress and challenges they face as they seek to streamline and strengthen performance assessments of public programs in their nations.

South Africa hotline receives 1,000 service delivery complaints daily

In South Africa, for example, the government began to focus more closely on performance after protests erupted in townships across the nation in 2009 over poor housing, schools and other public services. This prompted a debate about shortcomings in service delivery and the 2010 creation of a new executive agency, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation.

 The department, with a staff of 200, is now working with provincial and municipal governments to determine, through direct contact with citizens, whether service delivery has improved, Sean Phillips, the department’s director-general, told the panel.

A presidential hotline was also created which now receives some 1,000 citizen service complaints daily, Phillips reported. “We have a resolution rate of 80 percent, although we’re often slow to respond,” he said.

" The purpose is to understand what works and what doesn't work, what needs to be kept and what needs to be changed.  "

The Mexican government, meanwhile, has managed to transform its once-disjoined monitoring and evaluation efforts into a single system modeled after successful programs in other countries. The new system, managed by the Evaluation and Transparency Unit within the Mexican Ministry of Finance, is now changing the way programs are run throughout the federal government.

Several important national reforms helped pave way for the system.  Perhaps most importantly, the Mexican system is designed to feed performance information directly to the finance ministry’s Budgeting Policy and Control Unit. This lets the government use performance information in budgeting decisions.

“But it’s not about giving more pesos to well-performing programs and less to poorly performing programs,” noted Nicolas Kubli, head of the Budgeting Policy and Control Unit. “We tend to look at the program and to make more detailed evaluations so we can allocate the resources that it needs. There are cases where programs have poor results because they don’t have the resources they need.”

Cultural change takes time

South Korea’s Total Project Cost Management System, on the other hand, uses an agency self-evaluation program to control cost overruns as well as performance. Programs found to be ineffective face a 10-percent budget cut.

This has led to some problems because agencies had a disincentive to not report problems, said Yong-seong Kim, an expert advisor on performance for South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

Management cultures within large bureaucracies tend to be another challenge for nations trying to provide better services to its citizens.

In the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, the government is evaluating what impact its programs are having on public health, education, and poverty reduction. For the next few years, the focus is on citizen-centric programs and transparency, which will include a user-friendly website where all results will be disseminated to the public.

While such efforts are well under way, the “culture…of evaluation is still under construction,” said Tadeu Barreto, director-president of Minas Gerais’s Office of Strategic Priorities.