Suggestions to donors commissioning Payment by Results programmes

Reflections by DFID WASH Results’ suppliers on the programme’s design and commissioning, summarised into six suggestions for commissioners.

Payment by Results (PbR) is a technically challenging form of contracting and one that is new for DFID and many of its partners (NAO 2015, p8, DFID, 2015 p18).   The WASH Results Programme was designed using the PbR financing mechanism, and therefore has great potential for learning about the impact of PbR on programming.

One year into the programme, the WASH Results suppliers met to share experiences so far, particularly how the programme was designed and commissioned and the effects PbR had. This discussion has been distilled into a set of suggestions for people commissioning PbR programmes in development.

Six suggestions for commissioners of Payment By Results programmes

The discussions reflected the participants’ experiences as people leading supplier consortia, rather than those directly implementing the programme or its beneficiaries and although DFID staff were present their role was largely that of observer. Discussions built on the early findings shared by the Oxford Policy Management team leading the formal evaluation of the programme for the e-Pact consortium. The suggestions that emerged are inevitably not as rigorous as the final findings that will come from this formal evaluation nor from others’ extensive reviews drawing on multiple programmes and experience. However, our suggestions add support to some of the National Audit Office (NAO) recommendations on PbR that were published a month after our workshop, in particular the “Payment by Results: analytical framework for decision-makers” (NAO, 2015).

1. Consider what type of PbR is the right mechanism for achieving the desired outcomes.

There are multiple ways in which PbR programmes can be designed and the selection made will influence who applies, how suppliers devise and manage their programmes and the subsequent results. An important difference between PbR programmes is the proportion of payment that is “pure PbR”. WASH Results is designed as a 100% PbR programme and this prompted some suppliers to take steps to minimise the risk of not achieving targets. Some set disbursement milestones early in the impact pathway to aid cashflow, rather than set exclusively outcome-based milestones. Some rethought the areas they were working in, shifting away from work in the most challenging areas, and there is some indication that suppliers relied on tried and trusted methods rather than trying new approaches.

The workshop participants suggested that pre-financing may be necessary to achieve genuine emphasis on outcomes, particularly in risky contexts or if innovation is important so that risks are not born solely by suppliers. Echoing other discussions on PbR (BOND p13) , participants discussed how the PbR mechanism may not be appropriate for programmes that are intended to target the most vulnerable and/or operate in fragile contexts, however, the success of the WASH Results Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrates that it should not be ruled out. These issues need careful consideration when selecting the design of a PbR programme and the NAO report provides an analytical framework for doing so.

2. Create spaces for learning about PbR within the commissioning process.

As the PbR modality is new to many organisations (suppliers and commissioners) it is important for commissioners and suppliers to explore options and learn from experience in order to design the most effective model. Ideally this will happen in an interactive way that will help to build relationships between stakeholders. Workshop participants stressed the importance of learning from the private sector about approaches to PbR, for example in areas such as how to assess and price risk. They also advocated a longer inception phase in programmes using multiple suppliers, to enable suppliers to talk to each other about the approaches they are considering adopting.

The NAO’s analytical framework for decision-makers advocates a learning approach to commissioning PbR programmes and it encourages commissioners to engage in dialogue with potential providers from the outset. However it does not explicitly recommend creating spaces for learning and relationship-building between stakeholders within the commissioning process; we think this would be a useful addition to the framework.

3. The tender documents need to be clear about what is meant by PbR, from the outset.

This includes providing the rationale for using PbR and sufficient detail about matters such as disbursement, results, and the processes and conditions around force majeure, particularly but not exclusively in fragile contexts. There should be clear guidance on how to define minimum standards: in sanitation, for example, does the minimum criteria for improved latrines allow for shared use?  The NAO framework helps commissioners to think through high-level issues, however the detail of sector specific standards may need to be determined in pre-tendering discussions with potential suppliers and/or monitoring and verification providers.

4. Set up Monitoring, Verification and Evaluation (MVE) frameworks before implementation starts.

The MVE team for a PbR programme needs to be appointed before the suppliers and the MVE framework needs to be created before implementation starts. This would enable standardisation of approaches across suppliers and enable suppliers to create their monitoring and evaluation frameworks according to the requirements of verification processes. This is perhaps the clearest suggestion to emerge from the workshop and once again accords with the NAO framework which asks “Is there an agreed system for measuring provider performance? Will this system be in place at the start of the scheme?” The WRP suppliers’ experience suggests that it should be!

5. Consider what impact the contracting process will have on opportunities for collaboration and learning.

The workshop participants felt that the tendering process for the WASH Results Programme made international non-governmental organisations into competitors rather than collaborators and this can lead to lack of transparency and learning between organisations. Given the broader move within aid commissioning from grants towards more competitively tendered contracts, this is an example of where it is difficult to attribute effects purely to the PbR mechanism.

As an alternative to a competitive tender, the WASH Results suppliers suggested commissioners pursue a “negotiated” procurement procedure during which the commissioner enters into contract negotiations with one or more suppliers.

6. Allow extra time to commission PbR programmes than for more familiar contracting processes.

The complexity of PbR contracts and their relative unfamiliarity in the development sector imply the need to allow more time for commissioning than usual. How to use that extra time? The previous suggestions from our workshop indicate that this lengthier commissioning process should comprise the following phases:

  • Pre-bidding phase: in which the donor’s understanding of PbR is clearly laid out, and in which potential suppliers are able to access insights into the different models of PbR financing and the requirements and risks of implementing a PbR programme.
  • Bidding/contracting phase: recognising that this is a resource-intensive process for suppliers; possibly conducted as a negotiated process rather than a competitive tender.
  • Inception phase: with space for suppliers to share approaches and refine their programme design, in which a standardised MVE framework is shared and refined and means of verification agreed; milestones and payment schedules are agreed; programme expectations are agreed with partners; and consortia develop common understanding, language and approaches.
  • Implementation phase: implementation with appropriate verification cycles and disbursement points, ongoing learning and review.
  • Closing phase: for end-of-term evaluation, especially to draw out lessons learnt and find ways of furthering work beyond the project period of implementation.

Have you tendered for, or commissioned a PbR programme?

Do our suggestions and observations reflect your experience?

What suggestions would you add to our list?

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