10 principles for institutional development
Informing Institutional Development efforts in Ethiopia
Public institutions have a central role to play in implementing theambitious economic reform programme in Ethiopia. However, there is a widespread recognition that too often technical support to public institutions had been short-term gap-filling, at the expense of building stronger institutions for the long-term.
In response to this, in March 2020 the Ad-hoc Working Group on Institutional Development developed 10 ‘guiding principles’ for supporting long-term institutional development in Ethiopia. These were endorsed by the government and development partners.
Understand both formal and informal incentives for reforms
Many public sector reform projects fail because they underestimate the level ofopposition or apathy towards a planned reform. Successful reforms usually benefit fromone or two senior champions with the authority to support the reform and overcomeobstacles. However, these persons do not need to be in place from day one- if they arenot there you can build up awareness of the problem amongst key decision makers andslowly turn them into champions of the reform.
Ensure reforms are locally-led and any assistance is context-specific
A common criticism of donor-funded reform projects is that they impose external‘best practice’ or ‘blueprints’ on national institutions that do not fit the uniquecontext of the institution. In these cases, the leadership and staff do not fully buyinto the solution and reforms exist largely on paper only- with informal pre-reformpractices continuing unchanged.
Ensure a prioritised and sequenced approach
Another common cause of reform failure is trying to do too much at once. This leads to something called “premature load bearing” – where organisations try to do too much, fail and enter into a vicious cycle of failure- in turn leading to cynicism that anything will ever improve. Institutions are built through successfully overcoming important challenges, and it is far better to set more modest, realistic objectives at the beginning that will build up the impression that the reform is working and gather the momentum needed to tackle harder problems.
Consider different entry points and multi-actor processes
Reforms often need support from both inside and outside an organisation.
Often there are other organisations that support the objective of the reform, and these can be great sources of support, resources or expertise in the process.
Think ’behavioural change’ rather than only the technical solutions
Most public sector problems must be addressed with a combination of behaviour change and technical solutions. Yet often the focus is only on the technical solution- the new IT system or the precise wording of a new law or policy proposal. People inside an organisation need to be persuaded to adopt a new solution and supported to implement it. Therefore equal attention needs to be paid to the organisational change aspects of any
Consider whole-scale reform vs ‘pockets of effectiveness’ as objectives
Transformational reforms of whole institutions or even whole sectors can be achieved if a specific set of conditions are present. Chief amongst these are the presence of political leaders committed to driving transformative change over a sustained period, and a sense of urgency to transform- often the result of a recent crisis. However, since many of these conditions are often not present, other, more focussed approaches have emerged as more ‘pragmatic’ alternatives. These include Pockets of Effectivess and problem-driven approaches.
Avoid stand-alone trainings
In many reform programmes there is a tendency to see “more training” as the answer to all problems. Training certainly has an important place in any reform
programme, but it should be relevant to the current problems the target group is facing and should be followed up with coaching and skill reinforcement.
Go beyond technical advisers, and ensure that you decide which type of support is provided
Know-how is often provided through individual technical experts, short-term or longterm, national or international. These advisers are recruited for their technical skills and
because they can supplement local capacities. Donor-instigated project implementation units or external advisers, while getting the immediate job done, may undermine the ability of organisations to learn by doing and can also decrease the morale of civil servants whose career opportunities are blocked.
Build flexibility and adaptability into your plans
Reforms are rarely implemented exactly as planned- and although planning is crucial to think through all the issues- it is a mistake to make a plan too rigid.
Invest in ongoing monitoring, evaluation and learning
The objectives of monitoring and evaluation are to learn what works and what doesn’t work, and most importantly: why. This is as important for government
leaders to understand as it for donors, and yet monitoring and follow-up of government reforms is often not prioritised.
This means that plans or strategies are often launched with no mechanisms to follow-up on whether the activities are actually implemented or successful.
Guidance for development partners
This page provides further guidance and inspiration fordevelopment partner staff on how to operationalise these guidingprinciples, and suggestions for further reading for those that wish tolearn more.
Guidance for government partners
This page provides further guidance and inspiration forgovernment staff on how to operationalise these guiding principles,and suggestions for further reading for those that wish to learn more.