Tag Archives: risk

Hard work pays off: access and service delivery results under a Payment by Results programme

In 2014, the ‘new kid on the block’ for WASH sector funding was introduced through DFID’s WASH Results Programme’s Payment by Results. The fund was designed to give impetus to meet the MDG goals on WASH, found to be lagging behind in many countries. The targets were ambitious, the model risky. SNV’s Anne Mutta shares SSH4A RP’s experience in implementing PbR.

The Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All Results Programme (SSH4A RP) of SNV, financed by UKAID, was among the first organisations to engage in PBR programming in 2014. By end of December 2017, our four-year experience in implementing SSH4A RP in 62 districts across nine countries in Africa and Asia successfully engaged 7 million people. Independently verified results of the programme found that at least 2.7 million people have gained access to and are using new and improved sanitation facilities. Beyond meeting our pre-defined results at household level, SNV’s payment was tied to so-called ‘Sustainability Results’, measuring progress towards sustainable service delivery systems in each district.

Stephen Covey says ‘begin with the end in mind’, under a PBR system this translates to having a definite goal to work towards (the results) and constantly reviewing what you are doing (process) to see if it is getting you where you want to go!

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SNV staff and government officials dialogue with kebele female sanitation group

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Kebele residents count days before flag turns green signifying ODF achievement

Under a PBR contract, programme targets are fixed and underachievement is ‘penalised’. Because overly-optimistic targets are considered financial risks, organisations are challenged to be more realistic at the start of programme design. Building on and ‘growing’ our years of SSH4A work (developed in 2008) had helped us offer ambitious but realistic targets that can be delivered within a given time frame. Similarly, because we’ve been physically present in our SSH4A RP countries for years (for example, we’ve been present in Kenya since 1969) our knowledge base and partnership with local government and CSOs allowed us to prepare for potential risks and unforeseen events. The number of countries and districts, helped to balance out the effect of those unforeseen events, as there are many factors beyond our control, in particular affecting sustainability indicators.

Although targets are fixed under DFID’s WASH Results Programme (WRP), there is flexibility in implementation: programme activities may be changed to respond to evolving contexts. A lot of time savings were realised because there was no need for us to engage in a protracted consultation process with UKAID when funds had to be shifted. The WRP’s PbR gave us more control on how things can be done and allowed us to swiftly respond to shifting needs or priorities. Our country teams –  who had a better handle of the contexts they were working in – were able to adjust their interventions and search for those most suitable in supporting households to gain access to sanitation facilities. Experience and engagements on the ground guided our interventions, and facilitated actual ‘learning and doing’.

PbR increased attention on the need for sound monitoring systems within project designs. A defining characteristic of the WRP is the integration of an independent third party verification process, which is conducted prior to ‘pay out’. With quality monitoring and evaluation (M&E) becoming an integral part of programme conversations, we introduced robust M&E tools, our country teams became involved in conducting household surveys, and they organised regular stakeholder review/ reflection meetings on sustainability indicators. Constantly questioning whether progress had been made, why and how things can be done better and sustainably have helped us reach optimal results. This reflection process served as the main driver behind our achievements, and the results that we all take pride in.

By embracing this new working modality, and with hard work, we managed to surpass at least 95% of our SSH4A RP pre-defined targets. Without a reflective, evidence-based process of target setting and progress monitoring, it is foolhardy to imagine that we are able to get the same desired results.

About the Author: Anne Mutta is multi-country programme manager of SNV’s largest Payment by Results (PbR) programme to date – a multi-million programme that is being implemented across eight countries in Africa and Nepal. Anne, based in Kenya, has 20 solid years of experience leading action-oriented and evidence-based WASH programmes.

Photo credit: Anjani Abella/SNV

This post was originally published on the SNV website and is one of a series leading up to World Water Week 2018.

Going to #WWWeek? Come to the WASH Results session on Sunday morning and find out more about the realities of Payment by Results.

Beyond a burden: what value does verification offer?

Police officers, auditors, teachers marking homework and giving out detentions – just some of the unfavourable analogies we have heard applied to the role of the independent verification team in the WASH Results Programme. Catherine Fisher highlights the positive roles missing from these comparisons.

Our job is to verify that the achievements reported by Suppliers delivering the programme are accurate and reliable in order that DFID can make payment. It’s easy to see why the relationship between Verifier and Supplier can be an uncomfortable one, but in this post we look at the value of verification and what, if any, benefits it brings to Suppliers.

Why does the WASH Results Programme have a verification team?

Payment by Results (PbR) guru, Russell Webster, concluded from his review of PbR literature :

“When commissioners devise a contract where payment is mainly contingent on providers meeting outcome measures, they need to be confident in the data relating to whether these measures are achieved. There are two main issues:

  • Is the provider working with the right people (i.e. not cherry picking those who will achieve the specified outcomes most easily)?
  • Are the data reliable?”

Let’s take each of these in turn.

All the Suppliers in the WASH Results Programme are international NGOS who have continued to pursue their commitment to values such as equity and inclusiveness even if it has not been incentivised by the PbR mechanism. A central theme in our peer learning workshops has been the ongoing puzzle of how to place value (both in commercial/financial and Value for Money terms) on intangible aspirations and benefits, such as reaching the most vulnerable and investing in the processes and social capital that underpin effective programming. Suppliers and the Verification Team have been exploring how PbR can enable alignment with national systems and promote downward, as well as upward accountability.

There has been no evidence of gaming in the WASH Results Programme. That is not to say that it might never be an issue for other PbR contracts and the higher the risk of gaming, the greater emphasis there needs to be on verification. So if verification has not identified any gaming, what value has it brought?

Are the data reliable?
Because the WASH Results Programme relies largely on Supplier’s own monitoring data, the benefits of verification stem from the question of whether Suppliers’ data about their achievements are reliable. This has been a matter of great debate.

We have found that in some cases it is right not to rely unquestioningly on data that comes from Suppliers’ monitoring systems – those systems are not always as robust as Suppliers themselves thought. Verification has identified several situations where Suppliers could have gone on to inadvertently over-report results, which would have led to DFID paying for results that had not been achieved. Verification ensured DFID only paid for genuine results and helped Suppliers improve their monitoring. We explore the value to Suppliers of improved monitoring, later.

One of our Country Verifiers (members of the Verification Team based where the implementation is taking place) recently observed: “From my experience, the WASH Results programme is quite different from the traditional way of doing implementation – having someone who is independent, who checks the Suppliers’ results before they are paid for, makes it quite a good tool to hold Suppliers to account.”

So far, the obvious value that verification in the WASH Results Programme has brought to DFID is confidence in results, through third party information about those results, and a reduced risk of paying for results that were not achieved. But there are more, less apparent, benefits and we describe towards the end of this post.

Can verification bring value to Suppliers?

Having explored the value of verification to the donor, we now turn to the value for Suppliers.

The same Country Verifier commented that while he felt some Suppliers were initially scared that the verifier was there to spot their mistakes, “I think with time they realise that the role of independent verification is just to check that what they’re reporting is what the reality is when the verifier goes out to sites where they’ve been working. You’re only checking.”

Although Suppliers often view verification as a “burden”, our team identified a set of potential returns for the Suppliers on the effort and investment they put into participating in the process (effects, we suspect, that donors would appreciate). We acknowledge that it can be hard to unpick the value of verification from the value of investing in better monitoring per se, but without overstating our role, we feel we have contributed to:

  • Identifying areas for improvement – verification has revealed flaws in a system thought by the Supplier to be strong and introduced tests that were not previously used. In one example, verification revealed problems with third party enumerators’ work and this prompted greater scrutiny of their data by the Supplier and changes to training processes.
  • Strengthening Quality Assurance – We have seen how the expectation of verifiers checking data can prompt Suppliers to improve their own Quality Assurance (QA) processes, for example, carrying out internal checks prior to submitting data for verification and introducing QA protocols.
  • Increasing the value of data – the process of verification counters the commonly-held belief that “no-one looks at this data anyway”, which, unchecked, can reduce the effort put into data collection and the usability of the data systems.
  • Reducing risk of failure (and withholding of payment) – The requirement to have more and better data can pre-empt some problems. For example, knowing that they would need to demonstrate to verifiers that they had met their water systems targets, prompted one Supplier to check in advance if the declared yield of sources would be enough to reach the population they were planning to reach.
  • Forcing deeper reflection – linking PbR to the achievement of WASH outcomes has forced Suppliers to think about WASH outcomes and how they can be measured and be clearer on definitions to a greater degree than in other, non-PbR, programmes. Verification has by no means driven that process but has contributed to it.

We acknowledge that these may not always have felt like benefits to the Suppliers! In particular, some Suppliers have pointed out the trade-off between data collection and learning, and suggested that the burden of verification has stifled innovation and inhibited adaptive programming. Others, however claim the opposite, which implies there may be other factors at play.

In spite of concerns, there is broad consensus that the PbR modality, of which verification is a part, has driven higher investment in and attention to programme M&E systems. PbR requires Suppliers to be clear about what they are trying to achieve, to collect good quality data to monitor their progress and to use that data to report on their progress regularly. Verification has helped to build confidence in the strength of systems and data on which those processes are based. There is an emerging sense that effective use of reliable M&E data by Suppliers has enabled rapid course correction and so contributed to high achievements across the WASH Results Programme.

And if that is not enough, we think there are benefits for other stakeholders in countries in which WASH Results is operating. We have seen some benefits from capacity spillover– skills and knowledge acquired through working in or observing the data collection, analysis and verification in the WASH Results Programme are available to other programmes e.g. among enumerators, Country Verifiers, programme staff, even Government agencies.  Again, this is by no means all attributable to verification but verification has contributed.

Value and the limits of verification

It can be hard to unpick the benefits of verification from benefits that stem from the greater emphasis on data collection inherent to PbR. In some contexts PbR is being used without third party verification. But, in contexts where reassurance is needed about the reliability of the data on outputs and outcomes, we believe verification offers value to the donor, to the Suppliers and, potentially to others in the country in which the programme is operating.

While we have argued for the benefits of verification, there are weaknesses in PbR that verification cannot solve. Verifiers, like police officers, don’t make the rules, they just enforce them. They verify results that have been agreed between the donor and the supplier. As one of our team observed recently “Payment by Results makes sure you do what you said you would. It doesn’t make you do the right thing….”

However, if verification helps drive a “race to the top” in terms of quality of monitoring systems, the sector will begin to have better data on which to base decisions. Better data about what kinds of programmes produce what kinds of outcomes in which contexts could help donors to fund, and programmers to implement, more of the “the right thing”. And the police officers will feel their job has been worthwhile.


Catherine Fisher, Learning Advisor, Monitoring and Verification Team for the WASH Results Programme. This post draws on a reflection process involving members of the Monitoring and Verification team for the WASH Results Programme (Alison Barrett, Amy Weaving, Andy Robinson, Ben Harris, Cheryl Brown, Don Brown, Joe Gomme and Kathi Welle).


Want to learn more about the experience of the WASH Results Programme? Join us in Stockholm during World Water Week for ‘The Rewards and Realities of Payment by Results in WASH’

Truly exceptional? Handling misfortune within Payment by Results

An exceptional event or a predictable adversity? The difference matters more in a Payment by Results (PbR) setting, as this blog post explores.

Conflict, political upheaval, epidemic, drought, flooding and earthquake; the WASH Results Programme has been hit by a wide range of disasters across the 12 countries in which it operates. All these adversities had an impact on the populations involved: some hit the programme’s implementation, some the sustainability of its achievements and others have affected the ability to monitor and verify those achievements.

Discussions on how to deal with these events have involved considering what is within the reasonable expectation of a Supplier to anticipate and deal with, and what is a truly exceptional event for which there should be flexibility around what Suppliers are expected to deliver – whether in the quantity, scope or timing of results.

The challenge of responding to exceptional events is not new for development programmers, but like many challenges, it takes a different shape in the context of a PbR programme. In such programmes, payment is linked to achieving and verifying results, and an impact on results ultimately leads to a financial impact for one or more of the parties. This is particularly challenging in the second phase of WASH Results, where Suppliers are paid for sustaining results achieved in the first “Outputs” phase. The passage of time means that programme achievements (whether physical infrastructure or behaviour change) are more likely to be affected by exceptional events, and suppliers may not have the resources (such as programme field staff) in place to undertake substantial mitigating actions.

Members of our team (Monitoring and Verification for the WASH Results Programme) recently met to discuss their experience of exceptional events in the programme and how these were tackled. Here are three of the examples they discussed followed by the team’s reflections on the issues they raise:

1) The moving population In this example a conflict-affected community relocated out of the proposed project area. In response, the Supplier closed the project in that area but thanks to overachievement of results in other locations, the overall outputs of the programme (in terms of beneficiaries reached) were not reduced and the Supplier did not suffer financially. In this case, the flexibility of PbR meant the risk to Supplier, Donor and Verifier could be effectively mitigated, although some of the original intended beneficiaries were not reached.

2) Destroyed infrastructure, different decisions In one instance, WASH infrastructure built in the first (output) phase of the WASH Results Programme was destroyed when a river eroded part of a village.  Although there was a known risk of erosion, the timing of erosion could not be foreseen nor the risk mitigated. The people living in this area were some of the poorest and most vulnerable whom the Supplier did not want to exclude from the programme.  The erosion was considered extreme, as evidenced by newspaper reports and other local data and it was agreed the area with the destroyed infrastructure would not be included in the sample frame for outcome surveys and so would not affect outcome results.

Meanwhile, in the same country, infrastructure was damaged by flooding, but this was considered expected, not extreme. In contexts where flooding can be expected, the demand for sustained outcomes (in which payment is linked to the sustained use of infrastructure) requires that infrastructure is built in such a way that it can withstand expected levels of flooding, or that plans for reconstruction or repair in the case of damage should be integral to programming. Consequently, areas in which infrastructure was affected by flooding were to be included in the sample frame for the outcome survey, which was amended to include questions about flood damage and beneficiary priorities for reconstruction.

3) When verification is too risky  When conflict erupted in one project location, the programme was able to implement activities regardless and continued to achieve results. However, the security situation on the ground made it too risky (for programme staff and the verification team) for the results to be independently verified through a field visit. In this case, alternative and less representative forms of verification were accepted. In this example, there was no adverse impact on the results achieved, or reduction in payment to the Supplier, but there was increased risk around the confidence that could be placed in the results.

Making decisions about risk

In exceptional circumstances, decisions need to be made about who bears the risk (Donor, Supplier, Verifier, Beneficiaries) and what kind of risk (physical, financial, reputational). If financial risk falls exclusively on Suppliers, they need to factor that into their “price per beneficiary” across the programme. Alternatively, Suppliers may choose not to operate in riskier areas, with potential negative consequences for the equity of programme interventions. If donors accept all risk, there is little incentive for Suppliers to programme in ways that account for predictable risks, such as flooding, particularly over the longer term.

Reflections and suggestions emerging from the discussion of these cases included the following:

  • There are different types of impact to consider: effect on population, effect on ability to deliver activities, effect on achievement of results, and effect on ability to verify results. Being clear on the type of impact might aid decisions about who bears the risk and the mitigation strategy.
  • Discussions about risk need to happen during the design phase; one approach is to use a risk matrix that explores what level of risk each party is going to absorb (and so design into the programme) and what would be considered ‘exceptional’.
  • Programmes need to include within their design plans for responding to anticipated events e.g. in areas at risk of flood, include help for villages to cope with normal levels of flooding.
  • Suppliers can minimise their financial and operational risk by balancing their work across a range of fragile and more secure areas, so enabling them to pull out of more hazardous areas in extreme circumstances and achieve results elsewhere. However, if the Supplier commits to working with specific communities in conflict-affected areas, then incentives will need to be set up differently within the results framework.
  • In fragile contexts, a compromise may need to be made on rigour of verification and plans made for reliance on remote verification from the start, e.g. analysis of systems, remote data collection through phone or satellite, and beneficiary monitoring.

Our conclusions about exceptional events in the context of a PbR programme in WASH echo those in many of our previous blog posts. PbR throws a spotlight on an issue, raises questions of how risk is shared between stakeholders, and highlights the importance of planning at design phase and of flexibility, should the unforeseen occur.

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