I work with the Governance and Rural Infrastructure team of Engineers Without Borders Canada – that, I’m sure most of you readers know. This is my attempt at sharing with you what exactly our team is doing, our theory of change for improved service delivery in Ghana and best of all, why I think it is unbelievably important and exciting.
Our (always draft) team vision is:
Responsive local governments, equipped with strong leadership and processes, that deliver quality services to citizens in Ghana.
First, let’s define service delivery: any service provided by the government ex. water, waste disposal, health, education, revenue generation, social welfare [this list is really long] etc. In Canada, many of the services delivered by government are split out into one of a national, provincial or municipal responsibility – for example most health and education is a provincial responsibility, while waste removal would be municipal. In Ghana, the structure is quite different. Through decentralization,service delivery is all housed at the district level (national, regional, district) – with the theory being that each district will know the specific needs of its citizens better and therefore be able to provide more targeted and better services. The decentralization process– money and decision making power moving from national-level to district-level – is slowly progressing in Ghana; some big departments like health and education are still highly centralized, while others like water and sanitation are completely decentralized – but progress is being made.
A highly decentralized department might look like this – where money, reporting, planning etc. falls within the ‘line’ ministry. Any connection to the District Assembly is fairly superficial.
In a decentralized case, the various departments are all a part of the district assembly umbrella. Plans are made for the development of the district and prioritized between the various departments. Accountability, funding and performance evaluation are done at the district level.
Okay great – so what about G&RI? G&RI works within District Assemblies (typically within the District Planning and Coordinating Unit) to support the district in its service delivery goals. We recognize that we’re not experts in actual service delivery – but we are experts at facilitating behaviour change, analyzing existing processes, identifying and building improvements in efficiency, and building staff capacity.
We know that District Assemblies have a lot of pressures on them; their time is controlled by the number of donor partner workshops they’re invited to, their ability to implement projects depends on how efficiently the Ministry of Finance decides to release funds (often a quarter or more late), their accountability dictated by sources of funding instead of communities etc. The district ‘sphere of control’ is small. Too small. And that is exactly where G&RI is targeting its efforts. We believe that that sphere has to get bigger for lasting service delivery and we believe that by working on and improving what the district DOES have control over will not only improve service delivery but also increase the size of that sphere.
These are some of the core beliefs that the team holds:
- Districts have the capacity to effectively deliver services to the people; there is a lot of untapped potential
- Productive (reciprocal) relationships at all levels are important in the governance system
- Leadership and individual initiative are foundational to success
- Internal and external forces affect the ability of the districts to function effectively
- Decentralization leads to effective and efficient service delivery
Our principles are a summary of how we work:
- Participatory Consulting – Working with district leaders and officers to: co-diagnose key issues to work on; co-develop an action plan alongside district officers and utilize existing district resources to implement.
- Focus on Behaviour Change – Ensuring sustainability of change by focusing on changing the behaviours of key stakeholders.
- In-depth Understanding of District Realities through Action Research – Testing hypotheses through targeted activities on the ground, and synthesizing lessons from districts.
- Building local leadership and management capacity – Supporting the development of leadership and management at all levels throughout the government system.
- Process over tools – We know that just creating a tool itself won’t create a sustainable change. Working on the processes: a focus on defining the roles, skills, behaviours and attitudes necessary at the district for the change will be what will determine success.
- Rigorous evaluation processes – Working with government partners to co-develop monitoring and evaluation plans to assess impact of change projects.
Why this is AWESOME
G&RI is different. We believe in district staff. The government is a permanent institution in Ghana – it is accountable to its citizens and is responsible for the long-term development of Ghana. We are working to support at the district level – where the planning, prioritizing, decision making and implementation is happening. We recognize that all district offices, staff and contexts are different – we embed, learn and customize our approach based on the specific office. We work with district staff (who we know are the experts in all things districts) to co-diagnose issues and co-develop solutions leveraging existing district assets. We are always learning. And often we get it wrong (replace ‘it’ with most things). We’re adapting and consulting with partners, building our internal learning systems and expertise, talking about our mistakes and always falling back on our core beliefs. I believe we can play an important role in local government in the Northern Region, one that will definitely diminish over time as Ghanaian government becomes an effective and efficient service delivery provider.