Public leaders can change the world.
We started The Better Governance Project with a mission to change how public sector strengthening projects are thought about and done in low-income countries. Our philosophy is based both on our experience of implementing projects – and seeing what works, and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t – and on the latest research on fostering public change, by thinkers such as David Booth, Michael Barber and Matt Andrews.
Five key principles shape how we design and implement our projects.
reform leaders at the center
1. Place reform leaders at the front and center.
We look for civil servants with drive, a proven commitment to their mission and a willingness to think outside the box. Rather than taking the wheel, we keep them in the driving seat and mobilise the support and resources necessary to help them achieve their goals.
Too many public-sector strengthening projects ignore the fact that people can move mountains; and that leadership and commitment are crucial for solving complex problems and achieving change in the public sector.
2. A focus on building teams with the soft skills required to make change happen.
In addition to the technical skills that are required to help solve problems facing public sector organisations, when we build project teams, we always play close to attention to ensuring that the soft, interpersonal skills required to build coalitions for change are present.
Too many actors view technical assistance as… well, purely technical. They focus too much on transferring knowledge – and not enough on understanding the organisational dynamics that change happens in, and building buy-in for reform.
3. Work on concrete reform problems.
We seek to work on tangible problems identified by national actors, reflecting a belief that capacity grows through success and solving concrete problems, and not just through trainings.
National actors often know why something doesn’t work, or how they might make it better. However, what they’re often lacking is the resources, support and time required to put their thoughts into practice. Writing reports or hosting workshops that explain how it might be done – rather than helping them do it – doesn’t change the situation on the ground.
4. ‘Best fit’ rather than ‘best practice’.
We work collaboratively to understand a particular problem at hand and its root causes, as well as find and test solutions that are compatible with an organisation’s existing systems and capacities – as opposed to OECD ‘best practice’ blueprints.
Although it worked ‘there’, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work ‘here’. Although we look at good practice from elsewhere for inspiration, we make sure that each solution is relevant to the national and organisational context.
5. Public institutions are the only long-term solution.
In many low-income countries, non-profits have an important role to play in providing goods and services, and empowering people to advocate for their rights. However, we believe the future of development aid is no aid: a world without dependency on international NGOs, and international donors. But to achieve this long-term goal, we need stronger public institutions.
To realise a future without the need for development aid, it is crucial that governments in income-poor countries are empowered to provide citizens with quality goods and services in a fair, accountable and effective way. While, unfortunately, international NGOs have an important role in doing this today, we believe that stronger public institutions are the only long-term solution to aid dependency.