Burundi Government Leadership Retreat: A Process, Not an Event
The Government of Burundi has recently developed and finalized its Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) and donors are preparing for a Round Table to consider contributions to the country’s new development agenda. Many cabinet members and senior decision makers are new and the capacity of existing institutions to absorb and generate outcomes has been a matter of concern for all stakeholders – most of all the Burundians.
A Leadership Program was developed that aims to help leaders to tackle PRSP implementation challenges. The President-appointed steering committee leads the process, supported by the World Bank Institute (WBI). Leaders include the head of state, his deputies and cabinet, as well as key leaders in the private sector and civil society. The methodology involves prioritizing critical outcomes, unbundling and analyzing the implementation constraints, and piloting actions using new techniques. The methodology – a combination of peer knowledge sharing and rapid results pilots - is designed to encourage innovations in problem solving and sharing accountability for visible outcomes that make a difference to beneficiaries.
Background Studies & Rapid Results Pilots
The Program’s initial analysis included three background studies focusing on implementation constraints in the government’s agreed priority sectors of health and education, and an overview of the relationships between the multiple results frameworks (including the PRSP) for which the government is accountable.
Practical pilot initiatives using the Rapid Results Methodology (RRM) were identified to test the conclusions of the background studies and to experiment with innovative solutions to the implementation constraints. The implementation of pilot initiatives using the new methodology generated some remarkable achievements – far beyond what was anticipated in some areas. In the education sector, for example, the long-standing problem of distribution of text books to primary schools was solved initially in one locality and then scaled up in a matter of weeks to cover the entire country.
In addition to improving the situation for beneficiaries, the improved distribution of text books increased the confidence of the authorities. It also overcame long-lasting bottlenecks, such as lack of transport resources for local level education staff. Ministries shared transport at the local level and involved parents and students in local distribution as part of mandatory weekly community service. The experience also underlined to all concerned the power of using measurable results to mobilize action.
The Leadership Retreat
At the end of this pilot phase, a high-level Leadership Retreat for the entire cabinet and civil society leadership was held on May 3 and 4, 2007 to share lessons and reflect on the value-added of this methodology and the insights it imparted to national leaders collectively accountable for achieving results. The retreat was part of a process, not just an event, designed to strengthen leaders’ understanding of the role they can play in getting results.
The retreat helped consolidate the learning gains from the analyses and the pilots and engaged the top leaders in a broader effort to prioritize and mobilize around key development challenges prior to the donors’ Round Table, during which much attention would be on the implementing capacity and accountability of the government.
Participants included the President of Burundi and a group of political and civil society leaders from his team, including his cabinet, as well as heads of representative civil society organizations (30 percent of participants.) This was the first time they all met together in a government retreat. Burundi’s two Vice Presidents actively chaired working groups. The President, in addition to opening and closing the event, participated actively in several working sessions during the two days. A synthesis was delivered at the end of the second day to the President, participants, special guests, and the whole donor community, who had been invited to hear the results of the workshop.
The retreat was structured to underscore and reinforce national ownership of the process. Peer perspectives were provided by H.E. Haja Nirina Razafinjatovo, Minister of National Education and Scientific Research in Madagascar; Ambassador Tertius Zongo from Burkina Faso; and Joseph Foumbi, who provided expert input as UNICEF representative in Rwanda.
The facilitator and consultant on Rapid Results, Benjamina Randrianarivelo from Madagascar and WBI advisor in Morocco and Madagascar, reinforced the participatory dimension with hands-on work during which participants were given the task of prioritizing specific difficulties confronted in the ongoing pilots, analyzing them, and brainstorming on “out of the box” solutions to well-known and longstanding constraints.
Reaching decisions was facilitated by brainstorming, prioritization of challenges within sectors, application of the methodology, and problem-solving in cross-stakeholder teams as the basis for moving forward. There were highly participatory working groups, and strong and early appreciation for the role that results can play as incentives for driving implementation – especially new ways of implementing.
Innovations: What Worked
Ownership: From the beginning, emphasis was placed on a process owned and led by the Burundians. While facilitated by WBI and supported by the Rapid Results consultant from Madagascar, who provided mentoring and technical support, it was clear that the local team had pulled the Leadership Retreat together, taken the risks, and shared the positive response with the retreat participants.
Process: The concerns prioritized by the leadership team related to systemic weaknesses in the implementation capacity of the existing government institutions to deliver expected results from national and donor-funded service delivery and reform programs. The areas originally identified were health and education. Reform of the coffee sector and successful management of the Round Table process were added to the list at a later stage.
The methodology involved bringing together key actors in each sector and selecting a representative result or outcome for which resources were available but organizational and institutional capacity was weak. An action plan with benchmarks and measurable outcomes was agreed upon, initially in health and education, to be achieved in 100 days.
Multi-Media: Technology has played an important role throughout the program as well as during the retreat. Documentation was uploaded on the PRSP website on the first day of the retreat. Videotaped presentations from former President Abdou Diouf of Senegal and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia were presented by video clips. The key stakeholders and resource persons were interviewed on video to facilitate capturing of attitudes and perceptions at this point in the program and allow for sharing of the experience with other colleagues and countries.
Evaluation: An evaluation expert was able to engage with a local counterpart before, during, and after the event, in order to conceptualize and introduce to the participants the idea of evaluating not only the Leadership Seminar but also the impact of this program on the attitudes, processes, and systems used by leaders.
Outcomes: A set of recommended priority actions for deepening and broadening the application of the approach in existing initiatives and branching out to other issues post-Round Table was generated by the working groups and reported in a formal synthesis presented at the end of the retreat. There was strong and early appreciation for the role that results can play as incentives for driving innovative types of solutions to implementation challenges.
Three working groups of ministers and non-government participants agreed upon a set of follow-up actions or a new wave of Rapid Results Initiatives (RRI’s) based on priority needs and constraints emerging from the pilot phase. Additional RRI’s in other sectors could be initiated in cases where the key responsible parties clearly demonstrate their commitment to engage in such initiatives, are able to identify concrete actions that are likely to generate visible results within 100 days, and are ready to allocate the resources necessary for this work.
The President, in his closing statement, communicated an unanticipated enthusiasm for extending the approach in sector ministries such as agriculture and in cross-cutting areas such as anticorruption and employment generation. He also encouraged the extension of the hands-on, accompanied learning to the parliament and introduced the idea of scaling up through the training of more leaders.