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Practitioner Insights: effective management through disbursement-linked indicators

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Collaborative management of disbursement-linked indicators verifications helped the BISP to become a sustainable organisation.

Fayyaz Mohammad BISP

Linking development assistance with results is an important way in which donors can ensure effective interventions, and this is often done through disbursement-linked indicators (DLIs). Instead of signing broad, unspecified budget support agreements or focusing on tightly defined projects, donors are finding it more beneficial to agree specific periodic targets with their clients – ranging from broad outputs to intermediate outcomes – for them to qualify for the release of committed funds.  

Under the Pakistan National Cash Transfers Programme (PNCTP), DFID has committed to provide approximately £100 million to support the Pakistan Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) during 2018-2020. The disbursement of these funds is linked to the achievement of 11 DLIs. As of January 2019, we have verified five DLI targets, under the Global Evaluation Framework Agreement (GEFA). Working closely with BISP, our verifications included assessing:

  • field offices’ understanding of redefined responsibilities;
  • approval and implementation of a corruption management framework;
  • re-modelling of the call centre for effective redressal of complaints lodged by beneficiaries;
  • expansion of the conditional cash transfer programme to accelerate child schooling; and
  • performance of beneficiary groups for linkages and sustainability.    

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Key lessons

In reflecting upon this project, we have gathered some conclusions and lessons that can be applied to other projects seeking to verify DLIs in other contexts.

Our key learnings based on the outline approach adopted for GEFA PNCTP project are summarised as under:      

1.) Use a human-centric approach for DLI verification.

The role of verification should not stop at checking and announcing verification results. It should incorporate working creatively with the client organisation to flag issues and respond innovatively to programme learning.

Our approach ensured developing a shared understanding of DLI protocols. It is important that both the donor and the recipient organisation are on the same page regarding the definition of DLIs, the associated targets, and the benchmark states. Through collaborative work with DFID and BISP, we ensured that:

  • definitions of DLIs and associated targets were clear to all involved; and
  • there was a shared understanding of verification methodology, sampling plan, and reporting dates.

2.) Identify key people to work with within the client organisation.

Taking away the inspector’s hat and pursuing a joint and harmonised approach, we worked with the DLI focus teams and staff within BISP wings and departments associated with specific tasks and responsibilities. This ensured greater integrity in the verification and learning processes, with clear ownership of the client organisation.

Our approach emphasised identifying and working proactively with DLI champions. Working with anybody and everybody involved with the delivery of DLIs often proved counterproductive, because of lack of sufficient interest and motivation. We identified a champion for each DLI within BISP for facilitating accurate and timely data collection and reporting, and maintained a constant liaison with them. This approach ensured that:

  • OPM was not considered an ‘outsider’, but rather recognised as supporting BISP in meeting its DLI requirements; and
  • the evidence collected, analysis undertaken, and the overall reform narrative were all consistent, and also, as a by-product, provided insights that were useful for organisational review and assessment.

3.) Ensure data comprehensiveness.

Always use authentic and reliable data sources for the DLI verification. When in doubt, verify organisational claims in the field through undertaking rapid spot checks and surveys. In the case of BISP, secondary data sources for the DLI relating to staff capacity development  were found insufficient, and we undertook a rapid survey to verify results on the ground. When gathering evidence, employ open and transparent data sources, which can also be used by other donors working with the same organisation. Integrate primary and secondary data sources and present a good blend of quantitative data and qualitative information.

We employed a mixed-method approach for DLIs’ verification. Rather than relying on a single source, we tapped into all available secondary data sources of BISP, internal organisational reviews and assessments, donor reports, and primary data collected from the field. Blending different verification approaches allowed us to confirm that:

  • secondary data claims on the DLI protocols correspond with the primary data results;
  • any data discrepancies spotted were harmonised for reliable and verifiable reporting on results; and
  • donors other than DFID (such as the World Bank) are also using our data and information for the verification of similar DLIs.

4.) Maintain an open, flexible, and adaptive approach towards DLI verification.

Even when considering specific DLIs, it is important never to lose sight of the larger impact being created for lasting and meaningful change. We made sure that we looked at the operational framework of BISP as a whole, and adapted our verification approach accordingly.

Throughout the verification process, we assisted BISP as they addressed challenges relating to lack of capacity, awareness, and motivation, which were predominant at the junior level rather than senior management. This necessitated adopting an interactive approach with focus departments and wings of BISP to help them understand DLI requirements, and help them achieve results in both letter and spirit. This yielded positive learning and results both for BISP and DFID, while OPM helped identify.  

  • We highlighted DLIs that were delayed because of the organisational bottlenecks (for example, approval of BISP’s corruption management framework). Appropriate course correction was ensured through bringing it to the notice of BISP senior management and fulfilling adherence to DLI protocols.
  • We supported the prioritising and sequencing of reforms according to the verification framework signed between BISP and DFID. Though this was not part of the contractual arrangement with DFID, we helped BISP plan staff capacity development initiatives according to the DLI requirements.       

DLI verification is very different from routine monitoring and evaluation or auditing. It requires collaborative work with the client to collect objectively verifiable evidence, comparing this with the reported progress in relation to a larger reform agenda. Linking grant aid with the DLI framework proved a useful instrument to drive the organisational reform agenda. A key takeaway is that, for a successful DLI verification process, there has to be a convergence of interests between the donor and the recipient. In the case of the GEFA PNCTP project, both parties were interested in the DLIs being met and the verification exercise then being used as an instrument of technical assistance to the recipient to enhance their organisational performance.

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Fayyaz Mohammad is a senior consultant in OPM’s Governance team, and is based in Pakistan. His recent work has focused upon DLI verification reporting to DFID based on BISP’s policy initiatives to accelerate institutional reforms and accountability to its clientele.