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FEATURE STORY December 3, 2019

Learning Beyond Borders: The Southeast Asia Planning Community of Practice


The second workshop of the Southeast Asia Planning Community of Practice in Manila.


  • Communities of Practice (CoPs) are effective means to build capacities for development planning, providing venues for sharing best practices and learning from experiences of other countries.
  • The Southeast Asia Planning Community of Practice is the first member-driven peer-learning network for national development planning practitioners.
  • Evidence of the impact of national development planning can be seen in the economic and social progress achieved across East Asia.

Bringing people together in an environment that encourages and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas provides valuable opportunities for learning. Finance and budget officials in government tend to have regular occasions for meeting and exchanging ideas. Planning practitioners in East Asia  needed a dedicated space to convene and learn from each other’s experience as well as from international perspectives on what works and what doesn’t in different contexts.

In 2017, the World Bank Group Malaysia Knowledge and Research Hub, in partnership with Malaysia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (formerly the  Economic Planning Unit) launched the Southeast Asia Planning Community of Practice (PCoP) and began engaging planning officials in the region. At the first PCoP technical workshop, Johan Merican, Budget Director from the Malaysian Ministry of Finance said, “PCoP is an excellent initiative. Very often, we’re all aware of what needs to be done from best practices, but nothing beats being able to compare notes with fellow planning practitioners.”

A Community of Practice is both a learning opportunity and an effective capacity-building tool.  It is an informal network of practitioners where knowledge and experiences can be shared to help build a better understanding of complex problems and formulate solutions. These networks provide alternative and innovative modes of engagement to complement institutional and individual capacity building initiatives.  Communities of Practice are used in business, health care, education, technology, and even in law enforcement.

The Bank’s experience with Communities of Practices include the Public Expenditure Management Network in Asia (PEMNA) in East Asia and the Pacific, a network for public financial management, and the African Community of Practice on Managing for Development Results in Africa, a Community of Practice of governments and practitioners to share their experiences and best practices in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and in managing for development results.

"The Community of Practice is a major milestone in strengthening national development planning and policy formulation in the Southeast Asian region."
Ernesto Pernia
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary, National Economic and Development Authority, Philippines


Delegates from Cambodia and the Philippines shared and discussed their experiences and processes.

This year, PCoP is co-chaired by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) of the Philippines. “The Community of Practice is a major milestone in strengthening national development planning and policy formulation in the Southeast Asian region. National development planning has long been a significant feature of a country’s development. It enables governments to come up with clear strategies and priorities towards attaining growth and uplifting the quality of life of its people,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary of the Philippines, Ernesto Pernia, at the second PCoP Technical Workshop in Manila last May 2019.

Planning has played an important role in national development along with the attainment of economic and social progress across East Asia. The rapid growth of high- and middle-income economies collectively account for nearly one-third of global GDP. Shares of extreme and moderate poor have also dropped from over half in 2002 to less an 12% in 2015.

In the 1970s and 80s, planning fell out of fashion around the world, but not in East Asia. Given the evidence of its impact in the region, it is important to continue improving and keep the relevance of national development planning.

“The countries assembled in this room have a long and rich history of national development planning which is the envy of many countries around the world,” said Mara K. Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. “There is, in fact, a school of thought that would claim that the so-called ‘East Asian Miracle’ was the result of development planning.”

Planning officials from seven countries joined the launch of PCoP in 2017—Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Within the year, representatives from eight countries, including Brunei and Myanmar, participated in the first PCoP Technical Workshop to identify the values of the community of practice and planned the direction for future technical workshops.

A second technical workshop was organized in October 2018 on the theme of ‘Operationalizing Planning’, going deeper into the challenges that the planners typically experience in translating their plans into action and results. The third workshop was held in Manila in May 2019 on the ‘Alignment and Coordination of National and Sub-National Planning’. It  featured discussions and exchanges on spatial planning as a tool for addressing the challenges of national planning but local action or implementation.

Participants shared their thoughts:

“This Community of Practice enabled us to share our experiences, ideas, and different perspectives that broadened our vision and enabled us to think of new and more effective approaches to planning,” said Dr. Athipong Hirunraengchack, Economic and Social Monitoring and Evaluating Expert from the National Economic and Social Development Council of Thailand.

Ms. Sipaphaphone Chounramany, Deputy Director General of Planning Development Division of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Lao People’s Democratic Republic   thinks that, “As a sub-regional community, it is important that we help each other through learning and exchanging experiences on activities such as the implementation of the Global Agenda for 2030 through national planning frameworks.”

The next workshop will be held in Bohol, Philippines in December 2019 with NEDA as host. The workshop will drill deeper into the policy instruments and institutional aspects of national and sub-national planning. As the community finds a sustainable footing, it is hoped that the Southeast Asia Planning Community of Practice will become a solid platform for peer learning and knowledge exchange as the region progresses in its development journey.