In this post we compare the Output-Based Aid (OBA) experience of independent verification with that of the WASH Results Programme.
Earlier this year the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid (GPOBA) produced a short paper called ‘Getting Results: Independent Verification in Output-Based Aid‘. Although the paper focusses on Output-Based Aid, while our work as independent verification agents on the WASH Results Programme also encompasses verification of outcomes, many of the findings were relevant to our work.
We agree about the fundamental importance of getting the right indicators, that they match the intended purpose of the programme and are clear and unambiguous. And we too recognise the tricky balance between optimum frequency of verification rounds and the need for suppliers to have regular cash-flow. One of our previous blog posts shares some of our learning in this area.
The most thought-provoking aspect of the paper was the case studies describing innovative approaches to verification.
Building national government capacity for verification
The first case study explores the World Bank’s Local Government and Decentralization Project in Indonesia— a pilot approach in which government auditors have been supported to take on the independent verification role. Capacity building and financial support are provided through a grant, presumably outside the OBA funding mechanism. This need for strengthening government capacity in monitoring results is something we touch on in a previous post about alignment under Payment by Results in which we mention DFID’s work in this area in Tanzania. It’s good to see more examples of it happening.
The verification agent’s role in baseline surveys is controversial in our programme
The second set of examples talk positively of the role of verification agents in undertaking baseline surveys and how this can help project design. Our experience of this differs. At a learning event, earlier this year, the WASH Results Suppliers argued strongly that they wanted to undertake data collection themselves. Some of the arguments given included:
- Collecting reliable and meaningful data requires a strong understanding of the realities and dynamics of the field.
- Data collection requires relationships with local implementers who are key to providing information needed for verification. This requires a lot of goodwill and coordination, which would be unlikely if an independent third party monitor was used.
- Keeping data collection in-house avoids the huge risk inherent in de-linking the supplier (responsible for achieving the results, and getting paid for them) from the monitoring of the results.
On the other hand, the WASH Results Monitoring and Verification (MV) team has sometimes raised concerns about whether baseline surveys conducted by suppliers are rigorous enough for verification purposes. One way forward seems to be for MV teams to approve the design of baseline surveys before they are carried out and ideally for this to be hard-wired into programme design. For more about this discussion, see the report from the learning event.
Technological innovation in monitoring is good but getting paid is vital
The final box in the GPOBA note talks about technological innovation in verification. It shares some interesting examples such as low cost sensors and combining use of images and GPS. We too have found that the demands of verification have prompted technological innovation in monitoring, in particular using mobile-based technology. However, because the WASH Results Programme relies primarily on supplier-generated data, most of the innovation in this area has been undertaken by the suppliers.
Again, what is striking about the innovation in monitoring described in the paper is that it appears to have been funded outside the OBA funding mechanism e.g. through an Innovation Grant. Presumably, these methods were tested before being implemented in an OBA context. This resonates with a comment made during a debate within WASH Results about creative ways of monitoring outcomes “Do we want to be creative, or do we want to get paid?”. At its heart, verification is about finding the most efficient way of providing confidence to donors that suppliers have done what they have said in order that they can be paid. Creativity is good, but in a 100% PBR context in which suppliers pre-finance all their activities, getting paid is better.
Finally, it is worth noting that the paper does not reflect on the impacts (intended or otherwise) and value of independent verification of OBA, that we have been exploring. It would be a much longer paper if it did!
Catherine Fisher, Learning Advisor, WASH Results MVE Team
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