Lessons learnt and recommendations for the way forward
November 30, 2016
Our journey to deliver over 70 projects over the past nine years of operations has yielded a rich vein of learning experiences for ICF and our partners and we feel strongly that we have a responsibility not just to report on what we’ve delivered but also to reflect on how we have delivered it.
Some initiatives have been an unmitigated success, surpassing even our own ambitions, whilst others have been extremely challenging to implement. We believe that we can scale up the impact of our work – and the impact of other initiatives in this field beyond ICF –by sharing our experiences candidly and stimulating a conversation into how best to engage on these critical issues.
In this way, we hope to accelerate the pace and scale of successful investment climate initiatives and enable others to save critical time and resource that may currently be directed into areas where we have already ventured and prepared the ground for reform. In this spirit of open exchange and collaborative learning, ICF has documented various aspects of project implementation that serve as lessons to inform future project design, implementation and completion. These are as follows:
National budget cycles should be taken into consideration during the project development stage. Project Agreements that are signed after approval of the National Budget may experience challenges in sourcing funds for government contributions during implementation, causing delays in implementation.
Projects which are approved during general election periods are also likely to experience delayed implementation. Prior to approval, the adoption of relevant regulations, decrees, or laws by the beneficiary government and approval of ICF Procurement Guidelines by national procurement authorities, help reduce the risk of delays in implementation.
Project Management Team
Leadership matters. Projects with strong leadership, ownership and a dedicated, full time team are usually successfully implemented. Project Directors in particular must be assigned as full time staff.
Management capacity is often limited in post-conflict countries so all projects should be initiated with the creation of a project management team, whose members may well benefit from technical assistance or skills transfer provided by partner institutions.
Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly articulated in order to maintain clear accountability in delivery (i.e. through performance based contracts) and clear lines of communication should be maintained between all parties in order to promote ownership.
Disbursement schedules for government contributions in the Project Agreement should be adhered to during implementation in order to ensure projects are delivered on schedule and on budget. Projects also need to account for donor and Government contributions. Financial management should adhere to basic financial governance principles such as segregation of duties, reconciliation of the bank account, keeping comprehensive and accurate records about expenditures and maintaining appropriate checks and balances.
ICF Procurement Guidelines should be shared and understood by the Project Procurement Officer as well as the national procurement agency in order to facilitate shared understanding of and realistic planning for procurement activities, particularly regarding timelines for procurement. In cases where there is a preferred supplier/consultant to provide goods/render services under the single sourcing method, this should be stipulated in the Project Agreement in order to avoid delays in the procurement process.
For larger and/or more complex projects, a change management specialist is required to sensitize users to the new systems. Resistance to reform can be a major barrier to successful implementation so in addition to training, appointing a change management specialist strengthens the project management team’s ability to foster ownership of the system and/or reforms by all stakeholders.
Communication campaigns geared towards building awareness of the changes being implemented through the project need to be adequately budgeted for and implemented at various levels throughout the project life.
Campaigns that only take place when the product is launched do not provide adequate time for users to be sensitized and if key stakeholder groups are not aware of the reforms which have been delivered, and therefore do not engage with the new systems, the value of the reform will be limited. Consultant contracts should be deliverable-based in order to boost accountability by ensuring that payments are made against verifiable outputs.
A Project Operations Manual allows both the project management team and the funder to establish a clear and shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of that team and the Steering Committee, the stages of seeking non-objection from ICF in the procurement process and establishing financial management procedures. Decision-making and implementation often moves more quickly when there is ICF presence at the project sites. Regular site visits allow ICF to gain a contextual understanding of the environment in which the project is being implemented and to adapt the approach as required.
Steering Committees (SCs) should have fewer than 8 members in order to facilitate regular, well-attended meetings. SC members should have sufficient levels of authority to make decisions on behalf of the institution they represent. The SC should also meet quarterly to ensure the project management team is committed and that project implementation is on schedule and benefits from their support.
When designing investment climate reforms that save time, reduce bureaucracy and simplify procedures, administrations and institutions need to be virtually connected. This requires governments to have the right infrastructure for communication (i.e. high speed broadband connectivity) to accelerate the flow of information between those institutions, particularly where large volumes of data are involved.
Effective implementation of investment climate reforms requires high calibre leadership skills, a detailed technical understanding of the specific reforms and exposure to countries applying best practice standards.
Countries with a higher skills base are more likely to succeed in implementing end-to-end investment climate reforms than those with limited skills so South-South learning platforms can be invaluable. In order for end users to maximize the value and benefits they derive from investment climate reforms, basic IT skills are necessary to enable them to adequately use new systems. There is a need for broader reform programs in education systems across Africa to produce entry level administrators with the necessary skills in areas such as ICT, management and leadership.
Since ICF was established nine years ago, we have witnessed an extraordinary shift in the investment climate across the continent. Economies that were relatively closed, with complex bureaucratic systems and limited accountability between government and citizens are opening up, becoming more regionally and globally competitive and as a result, the inflows of capital have been transformative for many societies.
The investment climate shapes people’s trust and confidence in doing business in countries. It is the foundation upon which jobs are created, businesses are established and grown, and governments raise tax revenue to fund vital social services, leading to sustainable development and ultimately poverty alleviation.
Therefore, it is critical not only to analyse and address all sources of inefficiency and friction, but it is also vitally important to communicate proactively and widely about the reforms being undertaken to build trust in the reform process and its outcomes. In this way, the diverse stakeholders for any given reform understand both the limitations of the status quo and the potential benefits of the reform so they are appropriately motivated to support its implementation.
Strong change management and engagement throughout the implementation process is important to build public anticipation of the benefits of reform – taking it out of the technical domain and framing it as a people-centric initiative which will make a meaningful difference to people’s lives and livelihoods.
This approach is already yielding results. Investors and governments alike have demonstrated a great appetite for reform and one of the most encouraging trends we have seen through our work is that successful reform is often the departure point for further reform –accelerating and deepening the impact and rendering it more sustainable. A progressive, demand-centric approach to attracting and retaining investment thus becomes embedded in a nation’s administrative culture and infrastructure and re-shapes the way it engages investors and citizens.
In that sense, we believe we have barely scratched the surface in terms of investment climate reform in Africa. We envisage that the real impact of our work will continue to be realized over the years to come.
Governments will see the reform process as a key pillar in building their competitive advantage. Organizations such as ICF can play a catalytic role in pioneering new models for reform and scaling up the impact of the reforms by linking governments across the continent to share experiences and exchange best practice, pooling vital skills and knowledge. This is the ultimate test of an African-led, public private partnership and we are honoured to have opened up this space for so many people to benefit.