Delivery Units and Education Reform — the case of Malaysia- Delivery Units or PDIA is the better route?
Michael Barber, head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit, in his book, “How to Run A Government: So that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy” has high praise for Malaysian government’s Delivery Unit model;
“Prioritization is easy to advocate but difficult to do. It requires great discipline, not least because — by definition — establishing what the priorities are also means establishing what they are not.
The model leader in this respect in my experience is Najib Razak, who became prime minister of Malaysia in 2009 and was returned in an election in 2013. He had told me before the election that business as usual would not be good enough; he wanted transformation. Once he became prime minister, he engaged in a consultative process with his cabinet to arrive at six national priorities (or National Key Results Areas — NKRAs — as they became known). They included rural basic infrastructure, crime reduction and education — but not health. From that collective decision, through to the election in 2013, the government genuinely prioritized the six NKRAs with time, energy and commitment.
Not prioritizing something doesn’t mean not doing anything at all. As Tony Blair used to say to me, ‘There are priorities, and things you just have to do.’ This is one of the differences between government and business. A business can choose a focus and close down or sell off the parts of the business that don’t relate to that focus, but Najib Razak could not sell off his health department because that is clearly a function of modern government. In the non-priority areas, the function still needs oversight and management. There was — and still is — a health minister and budget in Malaysia, of course, and the minister was encouraged, as were all the ministers, to set departmental priorities. Twice a year the prime minister holds each minister, priority or not, to account for what they’ve done. Similarly, in Britain under Blair, while literacy and numeracy at primary level were priorities for the government, that did not mean that science or arts teaching stopped or that no one paid attention to the wider agenda….
Idris Jala and his Pemandu colleagues in Malaysia invented a variation on Delivery Chain Analysis called, memorably, the Putrajaya Inquisition. Putrajaya is Malaysia’s striking Islamic capital in the jungle, not far from Kuala Lumpur. When Pemandu identifies an official or group of officials who are the block to progress in the delivery chain, it issues those officials with an invitation to come and see the prime minister in Putrajaya about three weeks hence. Miraculously, by the time the officials arrive for the meetings, the blockage has been unblocked, the problem solved. This leaves the prime minister with the simple task of thanking them for resolving things.
Now the World Bank has published a case study of how Malaysia actually did it in the education sector.
This report is part of the World Bank’s Malaysia development experience series that strives to document the country’s approach to improving public sector performance. The report builds on the previous installment in the same series that focused on Malaysia’s experience with driving performance from the center of government through the Prime Minister’s Management Delivery Unit (PEMANDU). The more drastic overhaul of the sector was envisioned to come from the application of the DU approach to transforming sector performance. This report describes how the DU method worked in both the design and implementation stages of literacy and numeracy screening (LINUS). This includes the interface between Ministry of Education (MOE) and PEMANDU, as well as PEMANDU and Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU). The core of the document focuses on implementation details: the institutions, leadership, and incentives that contributed to the program’s success. It also describes how the implementation agencies worked together to implement LINUS.
For Discussion: The Delivery Unit Model has been popularized by institutions like the World Bank — it’s President has established a delivery unit- and other aid agencies. How practical and applicable is this model in poor developing countries? Can there be such thing as a science of delivery? What do you think of the following quote from World Bank’s Dr. Shanta Devarajan;
Furthermore, client participation — or, as we called it in the 2004 World Development Report, “client power” — can be a substitute for public-sector monitoring of the delivery of these services. No matter how well the delivery unit is performing, it is difficult for the government agency to monitor teacher or doctor presence (let alone the quality of service provision) in remote rural areas. But there is someone else who can: the student in the classroom or the patient at the clinic. In a randomized control trial, publishing information about the quality of clinics in Uganda was significantly associated with a reduction in infant mortality. Giving parents a choice of schools (and information about the schools) has been shown to improve outcomes in a variety of settings — from Bogota, Colombia to Bangladesh to Pakistan.
Deliverology assumes that the binding constraint is the behavior of the public servants. But when it comes to learning outcomes and clinical care, clients’ behavior could be just as important. And empowering clients — rather than the members of the delivery unit — could do more for changing the behavior of frontline service providers.
The World Bank President Jim Kim has said that the next frontier for the World Bank is to ‘help to advance a science of delivery’. And over on the ODI blog, the new Director Kevin Watkins praises Jim Kim for asking the right question but says the approach does not give sufficient weight to politics.
Speaking in Seattle recently I was challenged about my off-hand remark that ‘there is no science of delivery’, so I was relieved to see Kevin Watkins independently raising questions about the idea.
“We cannot address the ever-increasing, unsustainable costs of health care without getting to the foundation of how care is provided. Nor can we achieve the social and moral goals we share — care that is safe, appropriate, effective, and high quality for every patient, in every community — without rethinking and redesigning delivery. Real improvements require a multidisciplinary approach that will bring the best minds to focus on the problem. Experts in management, systems thinking and engineering, sociology, anthropology, economics, medicine, health policy, and other fields must join together to fix the delivery system.”
Michael Barber from Tony Blair’s famous public service delivery unit talks about the importance of focusing on a few things that matter, the importance of developing routines, collecting data, measuring results, learning fast, and iterating. Eric Ries, the famous start-up entrepreneur, writes about a “lean start-up method” characterized by disciplined, data-driven experimentation, iteration, a strong focus on learning, and rapid cycle times. Lant Pritchet, Michael Wolcoock, and Matt Andrews use the language of problem-based iterative adaptation to convey a similar point about experimentation, iteration, and learning from practice to solve problems.
Malcolm Gladwell describes talent as the desire to practice. Master practitioners spend no less than 10,000 hours to hone their skills. Professional athletes and musicians use coaches to continue improving and honing their skills. So how do we translate evidence, knowledge, and data into better results in the delivery of public services?
4. Deliverology and all that- Shanta Devarajan
As a student of service delivery, I was delighted to read about Sir Michael Barber’s effort to conceptualize the implementation of service delivery policies — what he calls “Deliverology” — a problem many of us have grappled with for a long time. These problems are widespread: 20 percent of 7th grade students in Tanzania couldn’t read Kiswahili (and 50 percent couldn’t read English); the latest ASER report in India shows that learning outcomes are declining while enrolment is rising;. Similarly, doctors in rural Senegal spend a total of 39 minutes a day seeing patients; in India, unqualified private-sector doctors (otherwise known as “quacks”) appear to provide better clinical care than qualified public-sector doctors.
The question is: Can Deliverology in principle help solve these problems? Conceptual approach. Deliverology is based on the notion that traditional public-sector organizations are not geared towards delivering results — such as student learning outcomes or quality clinical care — for several reasons. The organization’s goals are too many and too diffuse. Frequently, the goals cannot be quantified. For those that can be, there is very little real-time data to monitor progress towards the goals. As a result, staff and management within the organization do not work towards these goals. Rather, they may try to maximize the size of their unit or the budget under their control….
MODERATOR: And you write about that in your writing on the experience of Pakistan. You had a phrase, I think it was “Crises strike governments; routines deliver results.” Tell us what you mean by that.
MR. BARBER: Yeah, so, I mean, the government is driven by crises as the Prime Minister was saying, and unless you build some routines into the system, you just do crisis management, and many, many governments spend their whole time doing crisis management.
I quote the Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin when he finished after a couple of years in office and said, “We tried to do better, but everything turned out as usual.” What he meant was for two years, all he did was deal with the daily crisis. Unless you build routines focused on the priorities and the goals you’re trying to achieve, and you have to make an effort to do that…
MR. BLAIR: Right, just when you deal with errant cabinet members, but he said that the — conquering the world on horseback was easy. “The hard part was when I had to dismount and govern.” And that is actually the tough — you know, government is a tough job, and I think what I would say is my passion of this comes from the fact that I know what I often lacked in government and what I then was able to do something about certainly in the second half of my tenure, and this is your opportunity as World Bank people.
You know, you’re pretty smart, on the whole. You’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of expertise, and for the politicians, they’re desperate for that. I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but they are. They need help, and they need help on the technical side, because it is tough.
Now, what you can do is help build the capacity to govern so that the politics and the technical side come into alignment. And if you do that, believe me — and even in a — you know, I would say this to my presidents or prime ministers at the beginning of their term — I’d say, if you could deliver just three things that are clear and definite and no one will dispute, you will have achieved a great deal for your country, and by the way, you can do it, but the only way you do it is to govern in a different way from the traditional politics.