Can Payment by Results raise the bar for downward accountability?

Payment by Results (PBR) could encourage downward accountability if verification included beneficiary feedback that was linked to payment.

One of the criticisms levelled at PBR is that it promotes upward accountability to donors rather than downward accountability to beneficiaries. Members of the Monitoring and Verification (MV) team for the WASH Results Programme recently discussed whether this reflects their experience and what role there is for beneficiary feedback in verification processes and in this post we summarise those discussions.

The MV team agreed that upward accountability is not necessarily any worse in PBR programmes than in other funding modalities. In fact, the feeling was that the scale of verification is likely to provide a more accurate picture of what is happening across programmes than the not necessarily representative glossy human interest pieces that often emerge from grant funded programmes. Indeed, if verification was designed to include beneficiary feedback and this was linked to payment, PBR could actually generate more downward accountability than other funding modalities.

However it is this link between beneficiary feedback and payment that is challenging. Data needs to be unambiguously verifiable which limits the kinds of areas that can be explored. If payment is only made against very specific (technology-focused) outcomes, then there is a fair chance that some, if not all, of the qualitative and governance issues will be missed or under-emphasized. But it is difficult to come up with effective “soft” indicators that can be linked to payments, as these tend to be more subjective, with less certain targets, that are more easily affected by the facilitation/enumeration of the survey/measuring process, and more variable by context. So far, in the WASH Results Programme, this has generally limited beneficiary feedback within verification to confirming that something happened when the supplier reported it (e.g. that a toilet was built in September 2014), not whether the beneficiary liked the toilet or even wanted it.

Opportunities to include beneficiary feedback in data collection

There is scope for using approaches such as satisfaction surveys or including questions about beneficiary satisfaction in household surveys, where results are triangulated with other methods. In addition, a lot of work is currently being undertaken on scorecard and feedback approaches in a wide range of sectors, including the WASH sector. The use of any of these approaches in a PBR context would require both donor and supplier to be very clear on what is being paid for (e.g. infrastructure development, service provision or behaviour change) and what the triggers are for payment or non-payment.

Including more qualitative approaches in verification, such as focus group discussions or individuals’ stories is also achievable. The challenge is ensuring they are representative of the programme as a whole, requiring them to be randomly sampled.  This, of course, requires more resources.

Managing the resource implications of beneficiary feedback

The question of resourcing is key – it is possible to verify almost anything with unlimited resources, but in the real world, different priorities need to be weighed up against each other. In practice, the demands of verification for large scale, representative, quantitative information on which to base payment decisions may leave less time, money and inclination to undertake more qualitative work with beneficiaries.

A resource effective approach to upholding downwards accountability through verification would be to include payment for the existence and effective functioning of a beneficiary feedback system (rather than the results of that system). Payment would be made on verification of the effectiveness of the system in promoting downwards accountability.

This would only work in a systems-based approach to verification such as that used in the WASH Results Programme where verification is based on data generated by suppliers with the MV team assessing the strength of the systems that generate that data through ‘systems appraisals’.  In this scenario, assessment of any beneficiary feedback system would be an extension of the systems appraisal currently undertaken by the MV team; payments could be linked to the results of that appraisal, which is not currently the case.

Finally, it is worth highlighting that the results based reporting requirements, on which the PBR system relies, generate reports that are different from the more qualitative and narrative reports associated with other forms of aid modalities, such as grants.  If donors require human interest stories to communicate a programme’s results to the public, they will need to include this requirement within suppliers’ contracts and Terms of Reference.

In conclusion, our experience suggest that the PBR approach does not inherently promote upward accountability at the expense of downward accountability; it depends on how the contract is designed. We believe that including a requirement for beneficiary feedback as part of verification of results could help to promote downward accountability. We encourage donors to consider this when designing and negotiating PBR programmes.

* This blog post is based on a summary by Catherine Fisher of an online discussion held in June 2016 among members of the Monitoring and Verification team for the WASH Results Programme (Andy Robinson, Joe Gomme, Rachel Norman, Alison Barrett, Amy Weaving, Jennifer Williams and Don Brown).


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