Alignment, aid effectiveness and Payment by Results

To what extent does the Payment by Results approach of the WASH Results Programme follow the aid effectiveness principle of alignment?
One argument for Payment by Results (PBR) is that it can promote “alignment”, which is also an important principle in aid effectiveness. So that’s good, right? But, a closer look at how this slippery term is used reveals differences in understanding that are particularly relevant to the use of PBR in International Development.

According to some PBR commentators, PBR can bring advantages in situations where there is misalignment between the objectives of donors and implementers, but there is some debate about this argument, (see, for example, CGD’s commentary on principle 5 of Clist & Dercon’s 12 principles of PBR).  Either way, the alignment in question here is between the objectives of donor and implementer (or Suppliers as we call them in WASH Results; in our case either individual – SNV, or consortia of, non-governmental organisations – SAWRP and SWIFT).

Compare this with the understanding in the Paris Declaration in which alignment is one of the five principles of Aid Effectiveness. The first principle of Ownership states: “Developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.”. The second principle, Alignment, builds on this: “Donor countries align behind these objectives and use local systems.”. In this case, the alignment is that of donors behind national strategies and objectives.

The PBR funding mechanism for the WASH Results Programme is the type that DFID calls Results Based Finance. Under this approach, the contract is between a donor and a service provider, not recipient governments (DFID calls the latter Results Based Aid*). In this context, the term “alignment” as used in the PBR literature may be at odds with the concept of alignment in the Paris Declaration for Aid Effectiveness as it encourages alignment between service provider and donor rather than donor with national stakeholders and priorities. This has led some people to claim that PBR promotes upwards accountability to donors at the expense of accountability to national and local stakeholders.

Experience of alignment with national government stakeholders under the WASH Results Programme

At a WASH Results learning workshop held earlier this year, participants shared their views on alignment in the context of the WASH Results Programme. Over the last year of implementation, some concerns were raised that the PBR modality was a barrier to alignment with national priorities and stakeholders in the countries in which the WASH Results is being implemented. During the learning workshop a nuanced picture emerged of the programme’s experience to date as this extract from the workshop report demonstrates:


Alignment is happening, whether incentivised by PBR or not:  All of the Suppliers work with local stakeholders as a matter of course. However differences in programme design affected to what extent this was incentivised or recognised in payment packages. All of the Suppliers had experienced positive reactions from local stakeholders to the principle of PBR – with one Supplier being asked by local government officials for support in rolling out PBR in one of their programmes. 

Value of building alignment into results packages: There was some sense that the focus on outputs in the first phase of WASH Results had taken attention away from areas such as alignment that are not so easily linked to milestones and so opportunities for alignment had been missed. However, SNV took a different approach to other suppliers by building concrete items into their results packages to reflect their work with local partners, e.g. district plans in each of 60 districts in which they work. While this was felt to be a “smart” approach – SNV warned that there are also disadvantages: “We think we have found some meaningful ways to address elements of alignment, but let’s not be too optimistic about these instruments; they focus attention on direct deliverables” (Jan Ubels, SNV).

Flexibility supports alignment: Suppliers value being allowed to change their approach without going through a contract amendment process. In one case a Supplier was able to change definitions of results to better align with national government definitions.  However, there are potential risks in this approach: “Alignment to what? If the government has a much lower CLTS standard than the SDGs – is that still the alignment we are trying to encourage?” (Louise Medland, SAWRP) 

 Challenge of timelines:  WASH Results has tight deadlines and an emphasis on deliverables while partners, e.g. water authorities, are working to a different longer timeline and may not deliver at the pace required. There is a limit to how much risk can be transferred to partners in this context.

PBR risks limiting Suppliers to existing relationships: participants agreed that PBR can only be introduced where there is existing relationships and social capital and it would be risky to try to implement PBR in places where there was no established relationship.

Additional demands of monitoring for PBR: One Supplier felt that the kind of monitoring carried out for WASH Results could never be the same as that carried out at a local level; it would always be additional to, rather than aligned with, that of the government, although it might stimulate M&E at a local level.

Ways in which alignment could be promoted in future Results Based Finance forms of PBR

To support alignment within a PBR mechanism, participants in the workshop suggested:

  • Valuing alignment at tendering and contracting stage:   Alignment should be considered when costing at the tendering and contracting stage so that prospective Suppliers are competing on an equal basis, given the additional cost (and value) alignment brings.
  • Defining specific hard deliverables, perhaps during a pre-inception phase, that were somewhere between output and outcome phase e.g. district plans.
  • Including specific rewards or incentives in the programme aimed at government to encourage their buy-in to the programme
See especially pages 9 – 10 of DFID WASH Results Programme: Learning Event. e-Pact Consortium, Hove, UK (2016)

Conclusions and looking forward

For PBR to be accepted as an effective form of aid financing it will need to follow all the principles of aid effectiveness, including alignment. The experience of WASH Results so far suggests that this is possible but requires careful consideration of how alignment can be promoted during the design of programmes, contracting and tendering processes,  definition of results and design of verification systems.

Another, more macro, way of supporting alignment using PBR, is for the Independent Verifiers to work much more closely with the national government monitoring systems to verify results. In this model, significant support is given by the donor to improve the national systems and then recipient countries themselves can do the verification. In this case, the use of PBR to fund service delivery would act as a catalyst for strengthening monitoring systems at a national level (although the PBR programmes would need to be of significant scale to be an effective catalyst). This sector-strengthening approach requires long-term investment and a multi-pronged approach, within which PBR projects may only be one element, albeit a potentially catalytic one.

We have not seen much focus on this area so far in the debates around PBR (please alert us to it if we are wrong!). We hope that the experience of our programme will help contribute to that understanding. We will continue to share ongoing lessons learned from implementation as well as findings from the evaluation.

Catherine Fisher, Learning Advisor, WASH Results MVE Team

* For an example of a Payment By Results programme in WASH that uses Results Based Aid (where payment goes from the donor to a recipient government), we suggest readers take a look at DFID’s Support to Rural Water Supply, Sanitation & Hygiene in Tanzania.

The report from the WASH Results learning workshop is available to download from DFID’s Research for Development website. 

As always, if you have any ideas or observations about this topic, we encourage you to Leave A Reply (below), or email us.

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