THE PROGRAMME APPROACH:
OWNERSHIP, PARTNERSHIP AND COORDINATION
Evaluation Office, 1998
United Nations Development Programme
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
II. WHY HAVE A PROGRAMME APPROACH: THE GENESIS
III. HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE PROGRAMME APPROACH: FIELD EXPERIENCE
IV. PROGRAMME APPROACH: FOR WHOM?
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Country Report Highlights
Bolivia: Fertile Ground for the Programme Approach
China: The Project Mode Continues
Ethiopia: Facing Multiple Constraints
Ghana: Programme Approach Welcome, but Only for UNDP Cooperation
India: National Development Planning and a Project Approach
Lebanon: Special Conditions Warrant Special Modalities
Madagascar: Programme Approach with Agency Execution
Malawi: Breaking New Ground
Mauritius: A Flexible Focus
Peru: Supply Does Not Create Its Own Demand
Sudan: A Community-based Programme Approach
Turkey: National Development Strategies Precede the Programme Approach
Abbreviations and Acronyms
This evaluation of the programme approach belongs to the portfolio of strategic evaluations being conducted by the Evaluation Office of UNDP. The strategic dimension of the exercise stems from the nature of the issue addressed, the timeliness of the review undertaken and the number of divergent opinions on the subject.
Since the General Assembly adopted resolution 44/211 of 22 December 1989, a shift from an exclusive focus on project inputs and activities towards broader policy concerns and development impact has been taking place internationally. The United Nations development system has been active in this effort by promoting the application of the programme approach. More specifically, UNDP, through its country offices, has been assisting Governments in defining multisectoral policies and national programme frameworks.
With the implementation of the programme approach gradually gaining momentum, it became necessary to assess and learn from empirical evidence. The concrete modalities adopted by UNDP to implement the approach, the importance of partnerships and coordination and the direct advantages Governments of recipient countries could reap from the programme approach were some of the fundamental issues being raised. An evaluation of the approach therefore appeared to be particularly timely in order to identify clearly the key issues and reflect on the initial insights gained. To achieve this aim, the exercise included case studies encompassing twelve selected countries (Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Peru, Sudan and Turkey) and extensive interviews with senior officials in UNDP and other United Nations organizations (FAO, UNICEF, UNIDO and WFP).
The evaluation team was composed of external consultants Fuat Andic, Thomas Cook, Olivier Cossée, Ralf Maurer and Carolyn McCommon along with Naresh Singh (UNDP). As team leader, Mr. Andic prepared the report. A draft document was discussed at a session of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Evaluation in 1997 and with representatives of Bureaux and Units at UNDP headquarters. The final version was completed in October 1998.
The evaluation of the programme approach was a highly consultative process and I would like to express my appreciation to all those who provided their inputs to ensure that it addressed all issues of relevance. I would particularly like to thank the team of evaluators who conducted the review and acknowledge the valuable support and guidance provided to the evaluator team by Mr. Abdenour Benbouali, Deputy Director, and the staff of the Evaluation Office. Special thanks are also due to Ms. Barbara Brewka for the editing of this publication.
The present report aims at contributing to the evolving dialogue among UNDP, the United Nations system, donors and recipient Governments on the programme approach. It highlights the value of the interaction between national ownership, partnership and coordination, the three crucial components for the successful implementation of the approach. Promoting synergy between these components through the programme approach is seen as key to UNDP and its partners engaged in development work. This synergy has become even more crucial in the context of the current reform of the United Nations system launched in 1997. In particular, the lessons learned regarding the implementation of the programme approach can be of considerable value for the introduction of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) developed to harmonize development activities undertaken by United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.
The completion of the evaluation report does not, in our view, spell the end of the exercise. It is our hope that the conclusions reached and the recommendations presented will be widely discussed and make a contribution to the preparation of key policy decisions to expand the programme approach and increase its impact on development.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPT
The United Nations General Assembly introduced the concept of the programme approach in its resolution 44/211 of 22 December 1989. It was presented as a response to the growing frustration with the slow pace of development in many low-income countries and to the frequent lack or unsustainability of development cooperation results.
In 1993, a definition of the programme approach to development was agreed to by all United Nations agencies. The programme approach is a process that helps governments to formulate national priority development objectives and to realize these objectives through corresponding national programmes formulated and implemented in a coherent, coordinated and participatory manner to ensure sustainability. Such integrated national programmes are normally multisectoral and have a variety of funding partners. The principle that such a programme should be multisectoral is based on the view that it is preferable to tackle only one development problem or objective but address it in all its dimensions.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has invested considerable time and effort in conceptualizing and formalizing the programme approach. Early in the implementation process, attention in the organization focused on the programme support document (PSD) format and the programme support implementation arrangements (PSIA), first introduced to country offices in 1993 and 1994, respectively. In 1996, UNDP decided to forsake the dual documentation principle and merge the PSIA into the PSD.
PURPOSE OF THE EVALUATION
Given an adequate implementation period on which to base an evaluation of the programme approach, the Evaluation Office, in consultation with the Division for Operational Policies and Procedures (DOPP) and bureaux, decided to conduct such an exercise. Conceived as a forward-looking assessment, the evaluation was designed to take stock of UNDP experience to date but not to try to assess the full impact of the programme approach since this would be premature.
The evaluation started with a comprehensive desk review followed by the preparation of detailed terms of reference (TOR). Consultations with bureaux and DOPP were held to ensure the buy-in of the stakeholders. The selection of the countries to be visited was based on the level of experience in implementing the
programme approach and the way in which the approach was used in each specific country.
The evaluation team prepared a structured questionnaire for use during field visits. After testing in one country that was visited by all team members, the questionnaire was modified and subsequently used in all the countries to obtain comparable information.
Twelve countries were visited: Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Peru, the Sudan and Turkey. Interviews were held with government representatives, UNDP staff and United Nations agencies both at headquarters and in country offices, and donor representatives.
The key issues defined in the TOR were:
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
To date, the programme approach has been implemented on a modest but significant scale. During the period from 1992 to 1996, only about 10 countries used the approach on a large scale. At least 40 additional countries have recently adopted it to varying degrees, mainly in Africa and the Arab States region. The use of the approach is thus expected to increase sharply in the coming years.
The country offices had no difficulty understanding the conceptual aspect of the approach, but they were unclear about its operationalization. Operationalizing the approach does not appear to have been given adequate attention by UNDP headquarters. The guidelines to assist the country offices in implementing the approach remain unsatisfactory even though the new template developed by DOPP was found to be reasonably user-friendly compared to previous documentation.
A number of difficulties were also encountered during implementation, owing mainly to an excessive preoccupation with the format of the documentation rather than the spirit of the concept.
The critical principle that the approach should always support national programmes or national programme frameworks has only rarely been applied. In most countries, UNDP put together (in the PSD or in another document) a compendium of government policies extracted from various sources and used this as a substitute for a full-fledged national programme framework.
Programme benchmarks and output-budgeting - the attribution of resources to outputs - were two novelties introduced in the PSIA and retained in the new PSD. In most countries visited, programme benchmarks proved to be a useful planning and monitoring tool. However, output-budgeting was not tried, or it was tried and abandoned, or it was used only during the planning phase. It proved to be very time-consuming in all countries.
In most countries where the programme approach is being implemented, the country offices opted not to carry out a full-fledged capacity assessment, except for what was needed for the capacity section of the PSD. This was not wise since programmes require stronger capacities than do many projects, notably in the areas of management, negotiation, coordination, planning, outreach and data-gathering and dissemination and these capacities are often inadequate in UNDP programme countries and country offices.
This inadequacy stems not from the lack of capacity of the personnel per se but rather from the lack of user-friendly, explicit implementation guidelines. The problem is not acute and can be solved by developing such guidelines. The lack of capacity in government circles as well as in other segments of civil society in some countries appears to be an impediment, at least in the first instance, which increases the cost of
implementing the programme approach. However, this obstacle will be overcome as the programme approach gains momentum.
Typology of Programmes and Projects
The evaluation team identified, classified and commented on the suitability of a number of variations it found in the designs of the programmes and projects that are being implemented under the programme approach:
Enhanced ownership is observable in varying degrees in all the countries visited. However, since the national execution (NEX) modality and the programme approach started almost simultaneously, the evaluation team found it difficult to apportion the creation of the sense of ownership between these two modalities.
The programme approach has also opened up new channels for technical cooperation, allowing UNDP to work more closely with decentralized governments, representatives of civil society, academics and the private sector, thereby deepening the sense of national ownership already created by NEX. In at least two countries, changes in government affected the sense of ownership somewhat negatively because UNDP support was too closely identified with the policies of the previous Government.
Another principle of the programme approach is that it promotes greater sustainability in development cooperation. The evaluation team was not given the mandate to take a definitive stance on this issue nor could it do so because at this stage the approach is fairly new and programmes are still being implemented. However, the approach contains all the necessary ingredients to enable programmes to be sustainable. Close collaboration and cooperation with the Governments and other layers of civil society both in the preparation and the implementation of the programmes and/or programme components led the evaluators to conclude that the approach will enhance sustainability.
Development Partnerships and Coordination
The majority of development partners are now convinced that there is a need for a more integrated, coordinated approach to development cooperation. At the same time, it appears that many bilateral and multilateral donors either are not as yet fully familiar with the programme approach as advocated by UNDP or are not interested in becoming familiar with it. The highest level of awareness and understanding of the issues relating to the approach was found among United Nations agencies and the World Bank.
The evaluators were struck by the fact that there was a certain degree of frustration at UNDP insistence on applying its own brand of programme approach. Most United Nations agencies have long considered that country programming by the agencies is the correct way to implement the programme approach, as opposed to supporting the formulation and implementation of national programmes. According to their own definition, United Nations agencies have been implementing the programme approach for a long time.
The World Bank has introduced a new programming tool, the sector investment programme (SIP). SIPs, which have been designed and implemented in numerous countries, notably in Africa, exhibit striking similarities with the UNDP programme approach. SIPs and the approach differ in that UNDP tends to consider that programmes are better defined around themes or issues than around sectors. Another difference between the approaches of UNDP and the World Bank lies in the importance the Bank attaches to linking policy development and the sectoral approach with public expenditure patterns. The issue is not altogether absent from the UNDP literature on the subject, but it has received less attention in UNDP than in the World Bank.
The European Union and a number of bilaterals interviewed in the field expressed interest in greater coordination and less scattering of international cooperation. However, they tended to be skeptical about co-financing with other donors because of visibility issues and the complexities involved in combining different sets of procedures.
The programme approach, as designed, is clearly conducive to better coordination and to the building of meaningful partnerships for development and it would be unfair to say that UNDP lacks the desire to establish good coordination. In many countries, however, UNDP resources constitute only a small fraction of the contributions from other donors. As a minor player, the organization commands less influence in persuading the other donors to synchronize their efforts. Another reason for slow progress on this front is that in some countries, donors are vying for visibility. Coordination in the design and implementation of multisectoral programmes also presents a difficult task from the national perspective because national administrations are most often organized on a strictly sectoral basis.
Coordination should not be seen as a control mechanism but as a dynamic, participatory process of establishing fair, open forums and promoting alliances built upon trust among partners. By definition, it is a process that cannot be imposed or enforced; to happen at all, it needs to be seen as a potential benefit by all parties involved.
By emphasizing the participation of the entire society (central and local governments, communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities and private consulting groups), the programme approach is conducive to overcoming a recurrent difficulty in capacity-building by addressing the needs of all national partners.
Wherever necessary, it is imperative that a capacity needs assessment to be conducted in a non-threatening manner. Participatory mechanisms, such as national stakeholder workshops and the sustainable livelihood methodology at the community level, could be helpful in this regard.
It should also be stressed that the implementation of the programme approach often puts a heavy burden on country offices not only because it places the onus on strategic thinking and coordination - requiring considerable time, effort and capacity - but also because it involves complex procedures and accounting rules. Whenever necessary, headquarters should provide user-friendly guidance in conducting a user-friendly capacity assessment and assistance to enhance country office capacity.
Accountability: Monitoring and Evaluation
The existing guidelines developed for the programme approach place a strong emphasis on flexibility at the country level with respect to monitoring and evaluation. The recent publication of the UNDP handbook on monitoring and evaluation, Results-oriented Monitoring and Evaluation: A Handbook for Programme Managers, has provided additional practical guidelines to country offices.
To date, however, little has been done to promote the setting-up of dynamic, connected information systems specifically geared towards large, multi-donor programmes although the evaluation team noted a number of good practices in this area.
In reality, common monitoring and evaluation systems designed to cater to the needs of all the stakeholders are fairly rare. Quite often, donors tend to set up parallel systems, a situation that indicates the lack of full integration of programme components funded by different donors.
Monitoring and evaluation entrusted to the national entities are not functioning as smoothly as was expected, yet complex programmes require good systems for monitoring and evaluation. In the majority of the countries in the sample, there is no in-house capacity to carry out these operations. Consequently, the need to fulfil substantive and financial accountability requirements places a heavy burden on the country offices.
Costs and Benefits
The costs and benefits of the programme approach vary from country to country. On the cost side, a distinction must be made between start-up or fixed costs and variable costs. The fixed costs (learning curve, policy dialogue, training, etc.) are undeniably high. They are due to operational aspects or modalities rather than to the concept of the approach, the exception being insistence on its multisectoral nature. A multisectoral approach is not suitable for countries where the government structure is highly sectoral.
On the benefit side, the programme approach brings flexibility and connectivity and enhances both ownership in the country and development partnerships among the cooperation agencies.
Another important value lies in the economies of scale that can be realized in the management of related projects. Budgeting is more effective and efficient since budget requests for individual projects need not be submitted individually to headquarters. Flexibility in budgeting and budget revisions also constitutes a significant advantage. In addition, programmes are generally easier and less costly to evaluate than scores of projects.
The evaluation team suggested that the ratio between benefits and costs is likely to be greater than one although given the nature of the benefits, this ratio cannot be easily quantified. It can be argued, however, that over time, the fixed costs of the programme approach should decline per programme; thus, the ratio is most likely to exceed one even if the benefits remain the same.
The programme approach, as UNDP defines the concept, is an appropriate mechanism for building strong development partnerships through broad national ownership, coordination and co-financing. It is relevant for addressing the excessive compartmentalization and weak national ownership of international cooperation activities. The approach is increasingly finding acceptance in the donor community and among Governments. Moreover, the concept of the programme approach has been operationalized with notable preliminary success in a number of the countries visited.
The full report presents the argument that there is a need to revert to the original definition and understand that the programme approach is a process, not a form. Formalizing the approach too precisely and narrowly defeats its purpose by constraining the other partners' input to the programme formulation process.
The review of the programmes that had been designed using the programme approach format revealed that those programmes were often too complex and all-embracing to be conducive to the achievement of any sustainable result. It is unlikely that synergies will materialize if a programme does not have a certain degree of focus and a shared purpose among partners, such as the concentration of assistance on a precise geographical area, on a clear set of beneficiaries, on a sector or a subsector. Therefore, it is not advisable for complex programmes to be designed in accordance with the programme approach when circumstances do not warrant its use.
The evaluation team wished to dispel the notion of an exclusionary opposition: programme approach versus project approach. It emphasized that a strategic, nationally owned, well-coordinated project is likely to be more efficient than an unfocused, donor-driven, badly coordinated programme.
From the start to the completion of the design, the programme approach requires relatively more time than does project preparation. This taxes the country offices and national organizations. More generally, the implementation of the programme approach often requires greater capacities from executing agencies than are needed under the project modality. It implies additional support tasks and a more substantive role for UNDP and its country offices. All these factors can translate into very serious implementation difficulties.
The programme approach is more conducive to co-financing and resource mobilization than the project approach. This is more a potential benefit than a present one, but the beginnings are observable, especially in the form of programmes co-financed by national governments.
The evaluation team found a variety of examples that illustrate that the programme approach has helped to mainstream sustainable human development (SHD) concerns, but it was not able to make a definitive judgement on this particular issue because of the lack of sufficient evidence.
The programme approach, as a general concept, is appropriate for the development of more effective technical cooperation. It is now vital to capitalize on the promising insights that were gained from the experience with the programme approach during the fifth programming cycle.
With the objective of fine-tuning the programme approach to decrease costs and increase benefits, the evaluation team made three main recommendations. Each recommendation has several subcomponents.
1. The conceptual framework for the programme approach should emphasize content over form.
2. The programme approach should strive to promote strong development partnerships.
3. To control costs and enhance benefits, programmes should have sufficient focus.
It is axiomatic to say that long gone are the times when development cooperation was viewed as a simple matter. It is now recognized that such cooperation is a complex process, requiring sound policies, numerous capacities and a holistic approach. The evaluation team is of the opinion that the programme approach is intended to bring such a holistic approach to development cooperation. Its recommendations are directed to the refinement of the approach so that it can fulfil its promises. To reap its potential benefits, UNDP may want to consider adopting a stand that is less ambitious and more flexible and giving prominence to substance rather than form.
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION
Following United Nations General Assembly Resolution 44/211, in which the General Assembly decided that the "need for a shift from a project approach to a programme approach implies that all relevant governing bodies, in particular the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme, should develop more programme-oriented mechanisms for the provision of technical co-operation,...", the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started to reform its channels for development cooperation and design new methodologies and mechanisms congruent with the new programme approach.
The reform also included the piloting of a United Nations-wide effort to define the approach in a way that would allow for its implementation by all United Nations agencies in a coherent fashion. This effort led to the Consultative Committee for Programme and Operational Questions of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC/CCPOQ) common interpretation of the programme approach.
To date, UNDP has experimented with the approach in a limited number of countries, using a wide array of programme types and strategies and therefore generating a wealth of largely untapped experience.
ORGANIZATION OF THE PRESENT REPORT
The purposes of the evaluation and the methodology used by the evaluation team are the subjects of chapter one. Chapter two focuses on the development and cross-fertilization of concepts relating to the programme approach as well as the tools produced for its implementation. The field experience with the approach in the twelve countries visited, including monitoring and evaluation issues, is presented in chapter three. Issues such as ownership, coordination, impact and sustainability are addressed in chapter four and the conclusions and recommendations are summarized in chapter five. Highlights of the country reports are provided in the annex.
PURPOSE OF THE EVALUATION
Because the implementation of the programme approach is currently gaining momentum in many additional programme countries, taking stock of past practices, results and lessons learned to assist in the successful implementation of the programme approach on a broader scale was deemed to be of vital importance. Consequently, in the fall of 1997, the UNDP Evaluation Office commissioned an evaluation of the results achieved to date in implementing the programme approach.
The terms of reference (TOR) for the evaluation were prepared through an extensive consultation process at UNDP headquarters. The evaluation was planned neither as an advocacy initiative for the approach nor as a denunciation of the same but rather as a way to contribute to its successful implementation. It was conceived as a forward-looking exercise to review the strengths and weaknesses in the use of the programme approach and propose a set of recommendations, based on the constraints and opportunities faced by the countries as well as on the best and worst practices identified therein. It was
UNDP recognized that it was too early to evaluate the full impact of the programme approach and that only preliminary results could be assessed. The evaluation team was requested to review the following:
Only generic recommendations were expected from the evaluation although each team member was free to offer informal country-specific recommendations in the framework of the country case studies. It was stressed that the recommendations should be as practical and capable of being implemented as possible.
Twelve countries were selected for the evaluation fieldwork. Their identification was based on consultations with the Regional Bureaux and the use of a set of objective criteria developed during the background research for the evaluation and designed to ensure broad representation in terms of national context and programme modality. The selection included eight countries where various programme modalities were used on a large scale during the fifth programming cycle (Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, India, Madagascar, Malawi, the Sudan and Turkey) and four countries where the programme approach is currently gaining momentum in a significant way (Ghana, Lebanon, Mauritius and Peru).
The evaluation team was composed of five independent evaluators and one UNDP staff member, Mr. Naresh Singh, Senior Adviser, Poverty and Sustainable Livelihoods, Bureau of Development Policy. The inclusion of Mr. Singh was intended to facilitate the team's access to background information on the UNDP mandate, culture and organizational structure and build ownership of the evaluation results in UNDP.
The team developed a common evaluation framework for use by all team members in their respective country case studies and tested it in one country (Malawi). One team member then evaluated the programme approach experience in each of the remaining countries except India, which was visited by two evaluators.
In the course of their country visits, the evaluators interviewed representatives from the Government, the UNDP country offices, United Nations agencies, major donor delegations, programme executing agencies, and programme implementing agencies, sometimes including CBOs and NGOs.
In each country, the evaluator also asked the country office to convene two working sessions (a) to gather information in a cost-effective, reliable manner; (b) to validate and consolidate some of the insights gathered during individual interviews; and (c) to contribute to the debate on the development and implementation of the programme approach at the country level. When feasible, evaluators also visited programme facilities and sites. Pertinent evaluation and audit reports constituted another important source of information. In addition, synopses of country office programme portfolios were prepared by national consultants in advance of, or during, the country visits.
The individual country reports were then combined with other sources, including the background research and interviews with senior officials at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), UNDP and United Nations Industrial
Development Organization (UNIDO), to form the basis for the conclusions and recommendations.
II. WHY HAVE A PROGRAMME APPROACH: THE GENESIS
In most instances, concepts relating to the programme approach can be traced back to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 44/211 of 22 December 1989, the arbitrary limit set for the present historical overview. Some concepts had been identified much earlier, however. The term "programme approach", for example, is found in the 1969 capacity study by Robert Jackson in the context of a critique of the project approach.
This is not to say that nothing ever changes. The real difficulty perhaps was not to come up with the original idea of a programme approach but rather to have that idea understood, negotiated, accepted, implemented and evaluated by a critical mass of development partners. This long, arduous process is still under way.
The 1980s saw a build-up in frustration with the slow pace of development in many low-income countries. International cooperation was increasingly perceived as inefficient in achieving economic growth and self-reliance. "Aid fatigue" and "donor fatigue" were terms coined to characterize this prevailing frustration with the general lack - or unsustainability - of development cooperation results.
One of the factors pinpointed as a root cause of the lack of sustained results was the general lack of ownership of the development process by the developing countries. This led to donors ignoring national priorities and policies and the ensuing lack of relevance and country-specific focus, excessive reliance on international expertise at the expense of national capacities, and the increased dependence of developing nations as a result of aid. Ensuring that developing countries would retain full ownership of their development process and use their capacities to a much larger extent in project and programme formulation, implementation and evaluation was considered to be essential.
Other critiques focused on the scattering of development efforts in scores of discrete projects that were neither related to nor coordinated with one another or with national endeavours. The manageability and relevance of such a piecemeal approach to development were questioned.
Still other causes for the lack of development impact were perceived to be, inter alia, an excessive focus on input management as opposed to the achievement of outputs and outcomes; the frequent absence of policy frameworks, leading to a lack of impact even when suitable outputs were produced through international cooperation; and - particularly for the United Nations system and IFIs - the lack of harmonization of the procedures of different agencies and the lack of procedural flexibility.
In December 1989, the General Assembly approved seminal resolution 44/211, the purpose of which was to refocus the development activities of the United Nations organizations, to restate the need for NEX and to outline the respective roles of Governments and United Nations agencies in fostering increased coordination. The resolution set forth the concept of national programme frameworks, prepared by Governments according to their own development plans and priorities, to serve as a basis for the programming efforts of the United Nations system. It also referred to the need for a shift from a project approach to a programme approach and the necessity of programme-oriented mechanisms for the provision of technical cooperation (box 1).
Box 1. Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and
Decisions of the UNDP Governing Council
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 44/211, 22 December 1989
The General Assembly reaffirmed that: "...national plans and priorities constitute the only viable frame of reference for the national programming of operational activities for development of the United Nations system", and decided that "The need for a shift from a project approach to a programme approach implies that all relevant governing bodies, in particular the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme, should develop more programme-oriented mechanisms for the provision of technical co-operation, with a view to allowing more flexible and effective support of national programmes;" (operative paragraph 17 (d)).
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/199, 22 December 1992
The General Assembly requested "¼ the Secretary-General to promote an early agreement on a common interpretation of the programme approach, including an effective methodology for evaluation, to be applied by the United Nations system, with due regard for country-specific circumstances, ..." (operative paragraph 13) and stressed that"¼ a country strategy note should be formulated by interested recipient Governments, with the assistance of and in cooperation with the United Nations system, under the leadership of the resident coordinator, in all recipient countries where the Government so chooses, ..." (operative paragraph 9).
UNDP Governing Council Decision 90/21 on National Execution, 22 June 1990
The Governing Council requested "¼ the [UNDP] Administrator, in consultation with Governments and, when needed, the specialized and technical agencies of the United Nations system, to submit to the Governing Council, at its thirty-eighth session (1991), proposals for assisting recipient Governments to build up their programme management and administrative capacities, taking into account the need for: (a) More programme-oriented mechanisms for the provision of technical co-operation, with a view to allowing more flexible and effective support of national programmes; ..." (operative paragraph 4).
UNDP Governing Council Decision 92/23 on the Programme Approach, 26 May 1992
The Governing Council stressed "... that the Programme Approach should be applied on a country-specific basis and that the use of a variety of operational tools and programme-support mechanisms should be explored and encouraged in implementing that approach." (operative paragraph 2). It also stressed the "... need to involve the United Nations specialized agencies at the early stages of the design of the United Nations Development Programme assistance and support to national development programmes, at the request of Governments;" (operative paragraph 6) and requested "... the Administrator (a) to hold informal consultations at the United Nations Development Programme headquarters on the draft guiding principles during the second half of 1992 ..." (operative paragraph 7).
Because of the multisectoral focus of UNDP, its capacity in United Nations agency coordination, and its function as an important donor for United Nations specialized agencies, the organization took the lead role in operationalizing the programme approach. In June 1990, the UNDP Governing Council, recalling General Assembly resolution 44/211, requested UNDP to coordinate the efforts of United Nations agencies to produce programme-oriented mechanisms (box 1).
The Governing Council request would lead UNDP to begin a process to develop guidelines for the implementation of the programme approach and later to design two templates: the programme support document (PSD) and the programme support implementation arrangements (PSIA) document.
DEFINING THE PROGRAMME APPROACH
In 1991, the UNDP Bureau for Programme Policy and Evaluation (BPPE) began the drafting of a set of guidelines for the implementation of the programme approach. An early draft was presented to the Governing Council, which stressed the need to consult other United Nations agencies and the importance of flexibility to enable different country circumstances to be taken into account.
In its resolution 47/199 adopted in December 1992, the General Assembly expressed concern about the slow pace of the implementation of resolution 44/211 (box 1). It requested the Secretary-General "to promote an early agreement on a common interpretation of the programme approach, including an effective methodology for evaluation, to be applied by the United Nations system," something that had been missing among United Nations agencies up to that time. In a further drive to increase United Nations agency coordination, the General Assembly also stressed the formulation of the country strategy note (CSN).
The BPPE document Guiding Principles on the Programme Approach was presented in draft form and amended through consultations within the framework of the ACC/CCPOQ at the end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993. The CCPOQ discussed the definition of the programme approach proposed in Guiding Principles. While a number of agencies tried to promote the already-familiar concept of agency country programmes, the notion of national programmes to which United Nations agencies and other donors would contribute was re-instated as the correct frame of reference for the programme approach.
In March 1993, the CCPOQ reaffirmed its commitment to the common interpretation and guiding principles of the programme approach adopted by the ACC in October 1992. According to that interpretation, a programme " ... is a coherent set of policies, strategies, activities and investments designed to achieve a specific time-bound national development objective or set of objectives"and the programme approach refers to the "...pursuit of national development goals through cohesive national programmes." This is the first and so far the only United Nations-wide definition of the approach.
It was hoped that such an approach would (a) focus development cooperation efforts on clear development strategies and objectives and on the sustainability and impact of programme outputs rather than on programme or project inputs, (b) strengthen cooperation among projects and development partners, (c) allow for a better integration of development cooperation into the national development agenda, and (d) reduce management costs for international development cooperation, particularly those incurred by Governments of programme countries.
Apparently aware that the common understanding would be found to be inapplicable in some programme countries, the CCPOQ would later reflect upon the need for broadening it to allow for its application in countries without national programmes and even in those countries experiencing complex emergencies. The evaluation mission surveyed the latter situation and proposed a number of strategies and adaptations of the programme approach that will be discussed in subsequent chapters.
UNDP soon came to realize that coherent, articulated, national programmes often did not exist and that, consequently, there was a need to help developing nations develop and clarify their policy environment and design national programme frameworks. This need was perceived as an opportunity to move into sensitive upstream areas or, to the extent that UNDP had already focused on policy initiatives, to improve their linkage with activities implemented downstream. It was also envisaged that it would allow UNDP to step up its aid mobilization and coordination efforts.
This point is reflected in Guiding Principles in a three-step scenario for situations where the Government is committed to the programme approach: (a) support the working out of a national policy; (b) support the elaboration of national programmes; and (c) design UNDP support to national programmes. A fourth step - assess capacities and needs - was added in second position in the latest guidelines of the Division for Operational Policies and Procedures (DOPP). The evaluation team's findings on the operationalization of this strategy are presented in subsequent chapters.
At present in UNDP, the programme approach to development is a process that helps Governments to formulate national priority objectives and to realize these objectives through corresponding national programmes. These integrated national programmes, formulated and implemented in a coherent, coordinated and participatory manner to ensure sustainability, are usually multisectoral and have a variety of funding partners.
The idea that programmes should be multisectoral was based on the principle that it is preferable for a programme to tackle only one development problem or objective but to address it in all its dimensions. Thus, sectoral approaches were deemed imperfect because there is no development problem for which possible solutions are all neatly confined to a single sector. Sectors were believed to represent an artificial segmentation of a country's socio-economic reality. Another type of segmentation was preferred, one that was based on cross-sectoral development objectives and issues. However, it should be noted that any segmentation of a given reality runs the risk of being perceived as somewhat artificial from one point of view or another.
The evaluation team recognized the value of capturing the broad development picture and of promoting cross-sectoral coordination. In today's global world, it could be argued that most development problems are interrelated. While this may be true, an attempt to tackle all the ramifications of a given development problem soon proves unfeasible, however.
To avoid becoming all-encompassing and to remain manageable, a programme will always have to live with a number of externali-ties. Following this line of reasoning, the delimitation issue is reduced to the following: what combination of programme activities would best decrease management costs and increase impact and which development activities would best be pursued by other partners and/or programmes?
In 1990, a task force led by the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (RBLAC) and including representatives from all Regional Bureaux revised a draft programme document format that had been developed by the Bolivia country office. The task force produced a report that consisted of an illustrative programme document on a fictive urban development programme and notes on conceptual and operational issues.
The proposed format of the programme document adopted a three-tiered structure that progressively narrows the focus from the context in which the programme will take place, to the description of the Government programme, and finally to the role and participation of UNDP. This proposed structure and a number of other innovations (the section on sustainability, the benchmarks) have been retained in the corporate PSD. Two workshops held in Santiago and Geneva in 1991 served as a source of comments from selected country offices and helped to refine further the proposed format.
The PSD format was finalized in 1993 by another ad hoc task force that included a representative of the Division of Finance. It was decided that the PSD would be devoted to the description of the national programme and its policy environment and that it would contain only a simple outline of UNDP support. Detailed implementation arrangements and budgets were to be planned, approved and revised annually using another, supposedly leaner document, the PSIA document. This document was first introduced to country offices in March 1994; however, owing to its complexities, it was later considered cumbersome and unnecessary and it was abandoned.
Another novelty was output-budgeting - the attribution of inputs to outputs. The task force attempted to reconcile the two-tiered budget structure induced by output-budgeting with the framework of existing, project-oriented and one-tiered information management systems, a goal that until now remains unfulfilled.
The country offices were generally circumspect on both output-budgeting and the dichotomy between the PSD and the PSIA. The PSIA document was seldom drafted in countries visited by the team. Some offices tried the PSIA but did not continue with it because of the time required to prepare the document. Instead, country offices continued to rally round the customary budget revision to re-direct programmes on a yearly basis.
In 1996, DOPP decided to forsake the dual documentation principle. To this end, the tables of the PSIA were merged into the PSD. The new PSD is supposed to be amended annually with the help of simple software using output-budgeting. The template was presented in May 1997 to the members of the Joint Consultative Group on Policy (JCGP) and to other inter-agency working groups to gather wider United Nations input.
In most countries in the evaluation sample, country offices have used the new PSD with relief. The template and the software were found to be reasonably user-friendly. Nonetheless, while they are a step in the right direction in terms of simplification, they need to be simplified further and made more flexible. They should, for example, allow for the organization of benchmarks and financial data according to additional parameters, such as the region or district where the activities are implemented or the types of beneficiaries (e.g., administrations, CBOs, communities). Because of the exponential cost of adding new accounting parameters, all such parameters, including outputs, should be optional in order for countries to define which categorization of programme expenses, if any, is in their best interest.
UNDP has invested considerable time and effort in conceptualizing and formalizing the programme approach. It has developed the conceptual aspect quite formally and in detail. However, an inordinate amount of staff time and effort was invested in designing templates for programme documentation. As noted earlier, attempts at gathering and using the inputs of other United Nations agencies in designing the templates have been inappropriate, a shortcoming that was stressed by the Governing Council in 1993.
The excessive focus on documentation also takes its toll at the country office level where an enormous amount of staff time and effort is invested in preparing, rewriting and formatting bulky programme documents for UNDP internal approval purposes. This massive documentation is of little use to other development partners. The evaluation team observed many instances where the bulkiness of programme documentation actually alienated partners in Governments, United Nations agencies and donors. The documentation is also difficult to grasp for most staff in local governments and community organizations. Therefore, the UNDP programme approach documentation is not conducive to broad-based, participatory programmes. This runs counter to the objective of the programme approach in terms of broad donor and national participation in programme design and/or implementation. The PSD should be further simplified, e.g., by merging the parts used to describe the national programme and UNDP support (parts two and three).
The overemphasis on documentation has greatly increased the design and implementation costs of the approach. It has diverted attention from the real issues of ownership, coordination, participation and focus as well as from the propagation of the substance of the approach and its operationalization.
Based on the concerns expressed by the country office staff in almost all the countries in the sample, the evaluators concluded that the guidelines to assist the country offices in implementing the approach remain unsatisfactory. More backstopping, support and training should have been extended to the offices with regard to the real issues.
It is hoped that more recent efforts concerning programme documentation will provide an opportunity for such backstopping.
That the new documents are often considerably leaner than past ones is an encouraging sign. The programme outline designed to expedite programme approval at headquarters under the Target Resource Assignment from the Core (TRAC) system is exemplary in this regard. A common format for joint programming was developed by the JCGP sub-group on the harmonization of procedures at the country level. This is an interesting development because the programme approach needs such cross-agency programme document formats to fulfil its promises in terms of reducing the design and management costs of development cooperation.
With the announcement of United Nations reforms by the Secretary- General in March and July 1997, there is a renewed emphasis on the rationalization and harmonization of United Nations system activities at the country level. The proposed reforms include the principle of a new United Nations collaborative document that is applicable to all United Nations organizations at the country level: the United Nations development assistance framework (UNDAF). The UNDAF document could become mandatory in every country whereas the decision to initiate the CSN process belongs to the Government.
Guidelines for the UNDAF document were developed by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and a pilot phase involving twelve countries started in the autumn of 1997. Three of the countries selected for the UNDAF pilot phase were part of the evaluation sample (Ghana, Madagascar and Malawi), and the preparatory work for UNDAF had begun in all three. There was great interest on the part of United Nations agencies and a desire to participate actively in the theme groups established in the UNDAF process. It is expected that UNDAF will further facilitate the application of the programme approach.
PROGRAMME APPROACH AND THE UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM, INCLUDING THE WORLD BANK
The programme approach attracted increasing interest from United Nations agencies and IFIs in spite of their tackling the approach from different angles. As noted earlier, most United Nations agencies have considered agency country programming to be the correct way - or at least one suitable way - to implement the programme approach. In spite of the fact that this view was refuted by the CCPOQ common understanding, it still runs deep in the headquarters of some agencies.
In Rome, the staff members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) who were interviewed noted that the FAO programme approach was often understood to refer more to a cluster of projects sharing a common goal than to support to a national programme framework. They contended that, based on its own definition, the Organization had been applying the programme approach for a long time. Special action programmes are one operational translation of this strategy. They usually reflect needs coming from Governments, a goal that FAO perceives as dearer to its heart than NEX.
Needless to say, FAO is not satisfied with the UNDP way of tackling the implementation of the programme approach. It believes that enough has not been done to find effective ways to implement the programme approach with other agencies.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) appears to be quite serious about the programme approach and its staff is very articulate about it. The Fund often uses the National Plans of Action for Children as convenient national programme frameworks. Since the Convention on Child Rights was approved, UNICEF has evolved from having an almost exclusive focus on health and education towards an increased preoccupation with policy and human rights issues. This has changed its relationship with Governments and the points of entry for its assistance.
The main tool for UNICEF programming is a five-year country programme, which is broken down into sectoral or cross-sectoral programmes and projects and updated annually. The country programme is the result of an 18-month process involving an assessment of the previous country programme and an analysis of the national situation and policy framework, two notes to the Executive Board and a Master Plan of Operation signed with the Government. This programming system relies heavily on quantitative indicators.
UNICEF tends to adopt a very hands-on attitude to programme delivery to the extent that government ownership of UNICEF-supported programmes remains an issue. An often-mentioned reason for this state of affairs was that the organization needed strong visibility and accountability to mobilize resources. However, this inclination towards agency execution is currently being debated in-house.
It is more critical to UNICEF resources that the organization keep a high profile internationally than nationally, which is one reason why UNICEF is increasingly open to collaboration with government programmes supported by other donors. Moreover, UNICEF has been successful in networking and cooperating with NGOs as well as with other United Nations agencies. Cooperation has been especially fruitful with the World Health Organization (WHO), whose technical respectability complements UNICEF skills in networking and delivery. The World Bank is another development partner with which UNICEF is collaborating increasingly within the framework of the sector investment programmes (SIPs).
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been criticized by its board for applying a fragmented, disconnected approach. The Organization cited the demise of industrial policy as a reason for its difficulties with the programme approach. Staff members in Vienna did not see a big difference between programmes and big projects, especially at the implementation stage. They perceived no clear, sharp boundary between the programme approach and the project approach but more of a continuum, with one mode blurring into the other.
Some staff members thought that Governments were fed up with frameworks and that UNDP was a small donor that nevertheless insisted on frameworks that were not necessary for the delivery of effective assistance. UNIDO experienced the same frustration as FAO with regard to the lack of UNDP outreach efforts concerning the implementation of the programme approach.
The views of UNIDO on the values and value added of the programme approach (e.g., greater participation of stakeholders, synergies and interlinkages among components) were quite clear, however, as was its understanding of the enabling conditions for the approach. Operationally, UNIDO is clustering projects under umbrella programmes. The Organization sees value in projects, particularly since they are easier to manage and permit more direct accountability to donors by avoiding the pooling of resources.
The programme approach is still very new for the World Food Programme (WFP), which perceives it as a radical change for an organization that until 1995 operated on a project basis. The Programme aims to phase in the change over two years, through 1998, which will signal the move to a full programme approach. In the current transition phase, eight countries are experimenting with the approach. A WFP manual on the programme approach is being prepared.
WFP understands the programme approach as involving greater focus, increased decentralization and discretion for local committees and much more government involvement, but WFP still originates the programmes and the Government approves them. This is the country programme approach. Nevertheless, WFP can be quite programmatic and flexible, notably when using food-for-work in support of national programmes.
Starting from the mid-1990s, the World Bank developed and implemented a new programming tool that is very relevant to the programme approach: the sector investment programme (SIP). SIPs, which have been designed and implemented in numerous countries, notably in Africa, exhibit striking similarities with the UNDP programme approach.
The philosophy of the SIP is expressed in six essential features: (a) sector-wide scope and coverage of all sector expenditures; (b) a clear sector strategy; (c) national ownership and leadership; (d) multi-donor funding; (e) uniform implementation and monitoring arrangements; and (f) the use of local capacities and a decrease in the use of international expertise.
Apart from the first feature (UNDP tends to consider that programmes are better delimited along the lines of themes or issues), the other five mirror the UNDP position on the programme approach and NEX (feature (f).
One difference between the approaches of UNDP and the World Bank seems to lie in the importance the Bank attaches to linking policy development and the sectoral approach with public expenditure patterns. Here the Bank is using its comparative advantages in conditionality and competence in the macroeconomic area. The issue of linking the programme approach with public expenditure patterns is not altogether absent from the UNDP literature on the subject but has received less attention in UNDP than in the World Bank.
Another interesting feature of the World Bank approach is the concept of lender of last resort. According to this concept, the Bank should refrain from funding its own favourite projects and instead should finance those components of a sector programme that are not supported by other donors.
PROGRAMME APPROACH AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
The European Union is channelling large amounts of development resources to Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries through the European Development Fund. In the countries visited, European Union representatives expressed interest in greater coordination and less scattering of international assistance.
Coordination with the development cooperation arms of European Union member countries is formalized and strong. However, the European Union tends to discourage co-financing with other donors because of the complexities involved in combining different sets of procedures. It considers that coordination efforts are best made at the policy level. When it chooses to cooperate with another donor at the project level, it usually prefers parallel financing, with responsibilities clearly divided among partners.
The European Union policy of allocating a minimum of 80 per cent of its country resources to two or three focal areas, the remaining 20 per cent to be scattered among other sectors, is noteworthy in terms of focus.
III. HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE PROGRAMME APPROACH: FIELD EXPERIENCE
The background research for the present evaluation established that during the fifth programming cycle, only about 10 country offices out of a sample of 102 used the programme approach on a large scale (Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sudan and Zambia). However, UNDP had invested significant resources in the programme modality because this small number of countries (e.g., China, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria) often had large amounts of UNDP resources available during that period. At least 40 additional countries have recently embarked on the approach to varying degrees, mainly in Africa and the Arab States region. The use of the approach is thus expected to increase sharply in the coming years.
COUNTRY OFFICES AND THE PROGRAMME APPROACH AS A CONCEPT
As early as 1989-1990, a handful of countries (Bolivia, China, India, Madagascar, Malawi) started to experiment with the programme approach before UNDP headquarters made guidelines on its implementation available. They learned by doing, developing their own programme document format (Bolivia, China) or using adapted project document templates.
This lack of precise guidelines at the beginning of the fifth programming cycle and the specificities of each country resulted in a wide array of implementation practices and methods. In this sense, one can hardly say that there is such a thing as the programme approach. It would probably be closer to field-level reality to talk about several approaches, all sharing the same conceptual backdrop. In any case and as will be explained subsequently, the replication of copycat programmes in all of the programme countries would have defeated the very purpose of the approach, which was supposed to be more flexible, demand-oriented and responsive to a country's development agenda than the project approach.
The concept of the programme approach is broad and includes numerous elements, the most important being national ownership, strategic and holistic thinking, a multisectoral focus, coordination and participation. In all 12 countries visited, there was a good understanding of the tenets and principles of the programme approach as a conceptual frame of reference. However, this blanket statement needs to be qualified based on the particularities of each country.
It should not come as a surprise that different countries tend to place more emphasis on some elements than on others. In Bolivia, China, Ghana, Lebanon, Malawi, Mauritius and Turkey, the principles of the programme approach are well understood and accepted. In India, they are also well understood but implementation raises serious questions. In Peru, the country office appreciates the programme approach but is convinced - with good reason - that it is inapplicable in the country, owing to a very segmented administration and to the lack of government trust in planning as a tool for development. As a result, the programme approach in Peru is a tool only for internal use by the country office.
In some countries, the understanding of the approach has evolved taking into account lessons learned from the implementation process. In Madagascar, the approach was implemented by United Nations agencies during the fifth programming cycle, leading to a low sense of national ownership. The country office is now rightly emphasizing NEX as a logical consequence of the approach. In Ethiopia, the Government and the country office are moving towards sectoral programmes after having found thematic ones unfruitful.
Equally distinctive is the case of the Sudan, where the emphasis is on geographical focus and community participation. Furthermore, the country is experiencing a civil war and complex emergencies, a situation which, according to the ACC/CCPOQ, calls for a broader understanding of the approach. In such a context, the Sudanese case makes it clear that up to a point, it is possible to compensate for the ensuing weak government ownership by strengthening community ownership through an extensive participation effort.
In short, with some variations, it can be said that there is a good understanding of the conceptual aspect of the programme approach. However, some UNDP staff both at headquarters and in the country offices equated the approach to the use of the PSD template, a simple and straightforward but quite reductive criterion. An opposite position, stressing the importance of substance and processes (national ownership, participation, coordination, co-financing, strategic and holistic thinking, a multisectoral focus, that is, stressing the value of connecting people, ideas and/or actions) was taken by equally numerous UNDP staff and by Governments and United Nations agencies. The evaluation team stressed the validity of the latter perception, especially since it is clear that the substance of the programme approach has suffered from the excessive emphasis that UNDP headquarters has placed on documentation and form, namely, the PSD and PSIA templates.
Defining the programme approach as a process that aims for increased ownership, coordination, etc., is less clear-cut than equating it to the use of the PSD, but such a method recognizes the complex, polymorphous nature of the approach and stresses what is important: substance. At most, the presence of a PSD could be used as a proxy indicator for the programme approach although the evaluation team noted a number of tactical, uncoordinated, donor-driven, non-participatory programmes as well as some very strategic, coordinated, coherent initiatives that technically were projects, that is, planned using a project document.
It should be noted that most, if not all, of the country offices visited introduce exceptions by not equating all their assistance activities to programmes alone. In their view, there will always be projects that, by their very nature, cannot conceptually be incorporated into a given programme and that therefore will have to stand on their own. They consider that forcing a project under the umbrella of a programme when this is not warranted may be counter-productive and will go against the very essence of the programme approach concept.
Designing programmes as umbrellas for projects (umbrella programmes) was a rather frequent practice in the countries visited (Bolivia, China, India, Mauritius, Peru, Turkey and to some extent Malawi, i.e., more than half of the sample).
Umbrella programmes, which are a hybrid that falls between scattered projects and fully integrated programmes, have two main qualities. First, they constitute a valuable tool for expediting the approval of programmes and earmarking resources for allocation funding at an early stage in the development of the programme. Second, they can serve as a means of fostering some degree of coherence and coordination among interventions while avoiding their complete integration. They can be quite useful in this respect because under some conditions, complete integration and coherence may prove to be unachievable and even detrimental to flexibility or too costly in terms of staff and/or preparation time.
The fact that umbrella programmes are a cost-efficient way of approving funding should not be belittled since this is a valuable characteristic. Nevertheless, to remain faithful to the programme approach, it is important to maintain a threshold of strategic focus, coherence and coordination. Using umbrella programmes to meet a purely formal requirement or as a mere financial mechanism should be avoided.
In short, programmes and projects are not mutually exclusive. Opposing the programme approach to the project approach is largely a simplification. What is to be avoided at all costs is a segmented, scattered, donor-driven approach to development, whether it be through programmes or through projects.
Apart from the excessive emphasis on format over substance, the false opposition of programmes to projects, and the few exceptions regarding details, understanding what the programme approach means does not pose very many problems. However, putting the concept into operation is a different matter.
ELICITING DEMAND FOR THE APPROACH
According to the UNDP guidelines, How to Implement the Programme Approach, the first step (box 2) in applying the approach is to hold discussions with key government officials on the relevance of the national programme framework and the advantage of the programme approach. Subsequently, a joint UNDP/Government outreach effort should be made to familiarize national and international partners with the concept and its application. In other words, the purpose of this step is to elicit a demand for the approach.
In all the sample countries - both those that have used the approach in a significant way during the fifth programming cycle and those that have just begun to use it - UNDP country offices did conduct a policy dialogue with the Government and carried out their policy dialogue or advocacy role successfully. Needless to say, the policy dialogue efforts yielded different results in different countries.
Box 2. Steps in Applying the Programme Approach
Source: UNDP, BPPS, How to Implement the Programme Approach: A User's Guide, May 1997, p. 12.
Countries with large project portfolios whose management had already become cumbersome and whose relevance to national development efforts was rather dubious were eager to cooperate with UNDP, finding a solution to the problems they had been experiencing in managing technical cooperation. To some extent, they also had a culture of either planning long-term development strategies and policies or experience in their design. Countries such as Bolivia, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Turkey are at this end of the spectrum.
At the other end is Peru, where there has not been a full-fledged, formal discussion with the Government about how to implement the approach. The Government and UNDP did agree to the use of the programme approach as an internal planning, coordination and monitoring tool by the country office, notably for the programmes on privatization, concessions and agriculture.
In between are three countries - China, India and Lebanon - that have shown a lukewarm interest in the programme approach for a variety of reasons. In China, the China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchange (CICETE) took the position that the programme formulation process under the programme approach would impose an unacceptable burden on the existing and already cumbersome formulation process. Although CICETE accepted the potential value of the programme approach, its full-fledged application was postponed to a future date and the assistance during the fifth programming cycle was composed largely of umbrella programmes consisting of uncoordinated projects.
India, which pioneered periodic development planning among the developing countries, had already instituted a sectoral approach and UNDP did not fully succeed in convincing the Government to shift to a multisectoral focus. Very few government staff were initially convinced that the programme approach was worth the effort. A number of current projects with a common focus (programmes in the leather and jute sectors) are grouped together and labelled as programmes. In other words, one cannot say that in China and India, the policy dialogue was fruitful in terms ofinducing the abandonment of projects or increased coordination between them. The two country offices are, however, trying to improve upon this situation by broadening the scope of the programme focus and promoting a more multisectoral approach.
In Lebanon, the case is not altogether clear-cut. While the basic thrust of the programme approach is well appreciated by the country office and the staff have no qualms about the approach as a concept, a number of staff members remain staunch supporters of the project modality and format, with which they are more familiar. The Government does not see much practical difference between programmes and projects. What matters to the Government is the fact that there has been no real change in the content of development cooperation despite the change in name.
In many countries, Governments at the onset viewed the reduction in the management cost of external cooperation as the main advantage of the programme approach. Cost reduction is an understandable concern, particularly on the part of civil servants working in UNDP counterpart organizations. The proliferation of projects was perceived as creating a greater liability in management terms than it did conceptually.
The policy dialogue with other national and international partners regarding the programme approach concept and its application has taken place in almost all the countries in the sample, that is, UNDP country offices have complied with the requirement of the first step. The degree of intensity of this dialogue varied from country to country. The success rate in bringing others - especially international development partners - into the concerted effort of the programme approach has varied to an even larger extent (see chapter four). The participation of local governments, NGOs, civil society organizations (CSOs), etc., will also be treated later in the present report.
ASSESSING CAPACITIES AND NEEDS
Based on the guidelines, the second step is to assess capacities and needs. Since one of the main objectives of UNDP is to build capacity, a baseline overview of existing capacities and gaps appears as a logical step. However, according to the country reports, a national technical cooperation assessments and programmes (NATCAP) exercise was carried out in only two countries, Ghana and Malawi. In Ethiopia, the intention to carry out a capacity assessment was frustrated by the Government's intervention and the project was subsequently abandoned. In no other country in the sample did the evaluation team find that a full-fledged capacity/needs assessment had been carried out.
The country offices may have refrained from conducting such an assessment for any one of several reasons. Perhaps they did not wish to appear to be checking on the Governments' capacity to implement the approach after having led a successful policy dialogue. Another explanation could be that the country offices had sufficient knowledge, intuitively or based on previous experience, of the existing capacity and were a priori convinced that by and large, the programme approach could be implemented with that capacity. In short, in most countries where the programme approach is implemented, the country offices opted not to carry out a capacity/needs assessment and assumed, based on some evidence, that sufficient in-country capacity existed for implementation.
It appears, however, that programmes tend to require stronger capacities than classic projects, notably in the areas of management, negotiation, coordination, planning and outreach. These capacities are often inadequate in UNDP programme countries. It is therefore imperative to find ways to conduct a capacity/needs assessment in a non-threatening manner. Participatory mechanisms such as national stakeholder workshops and the sustainable livelihood methodology at the community level could probably help in this regard. The list of key considerations explained in detail in the latest NEX guidelines adequately captures technical, administrative, financial, planning and management capacities. It should be further expanded to include capacity indicators for coordination and outreach.
The capacities in UNDP country offices were found to be inappropriate in three of the countries visited. The evaluation team's observations tend to support the assertion made in one country that UNDP country office staff adequately handle classical tasks such as financial and procedural support but that they are not so well equipped with regard to substantive matters.
It should be stressed that the implementation of the programme approach often places a heavy burden on UNDP country offices because it involves more complex procedures and accounting rules. In addition, by emphasizing strategic thinking and coordination, the approach is consistent with the new substantive role of UNDP in development cooperation, but any change in role implies a commensurate change in capacities to which the country offices must respond.
IDENTIFICATION, DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROGRAMMES
Step three in applying the approach consists of the identification of UNDP support, which usually focuses on capacity-building that can go beyond training and skills to include other types of technical cooperation activities.
A quick look at the nature of the programmes in the countries sampled reveals that the great majority were dedicated to capacity- and institution-building in various areas with sustainable human development (SHD) as the ultimate aim. Examples include:
Bolivia - assistance in health and education and water drainage services both at the central and local government levels; assistance to the Civil Service Office in institution-building at the central level;
Ethiopia - focus on regional states in support of a wide array of SHD-related themes, community-level capacity-building to support the Social Development Fund and capacity development for public policy and State reforms;
Ghana - capacity development for public policy and State reforms together with poverty reduction and support to the private sector;
Lebanon - improving basic education and health care, including the provision of better drinking water, with a focus on the poverty-stricken Baalbek area;
Madagascar - poverty alleviation, environmental protection, the improvement of planning and management capacity, and assistance to micro and small enterprises;
Mauritius - policy development and the improvement of local administration;
Sudan - assistance to micro and small enterprises;
Turkey - Habitat and environmental protection programmes at the central level as well as assistance to the southern Anatolia development, a regional development project funded from multiple sources.
While the third step has been properly taken by the country offices, there is considerable variation in the execution of the fourth step, implementation. This includes the development of the advisory note and the PSD on the part of UNDP and the CSN on the part of the Government and monitoring and evaluation.
In all the countries of the sample, UNDP prepared the advisory note, but the response to it varied from country to country. This stems from the fact that a bureaucratic mechanism and the long-term strategy and policy culture are not developed to the same extent in all countries; for example, Bolivia, Madagascar and Turkey are more developed in this respect (box 3). Another reason for variability is that some countries welcomed the CSN process while others viewed it as unnecessary (China, India, Peru).
PSDs appear to have been prepared in all countries visited, even in Peru, although in that country, it was an internal document. However, a number of countries have forgone the preparation of the PSIA, considering that it was too time-consuming and that its utility was marginal at least at the beginning of the application of the programme approach. It should be noted that the PSIA was abolished in 1997.
From its analysis, the evaluation team concluded that scenario two of the instructions in the user's guide has prevailed in the implementation of the programme approach, i.e., in the absence of a formalized national programme framework, (a) securing the Government's support, (b) using the existing policy documents or CSN either to help the Government to design national programme frameworks or as a substitute for them, (c) not necessarily assessing national capacities but certainly assessing the needs within the guiding principle of the UNDP position on SHD, and (d) preparing PSDs.
From the analyses contained in the country reports, the evaluators also concluded that in countries where the programme approach is applied to the full extent (i.e., all countries except China, India and Peru), country offices completed steps three and four.
"Pursuant to Resolution 47-119 of the General Assembly on the Triennial Policy Review of the operational activities of United Nations Development System adopted on 22 December 1992...and in accordance with par.9 of the Resolution which called for the formulation of Country Strategy Notes (CSN) by interested governments, the Turkish Government formally agreed to formulate its CSN...This process lasted 18 months... The CSN issued in January 1995 (is) a comprehensive frame of reference for the United nations Technical Cooperation for Development for the next five years. This Note was preapred by the General Directorate for Special Sectors and Coordination under the coordination of the State Planning Organization, which followed a process of consultations with multiple national agencies, technical ministries, NGOs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs... Consultations were widely held with the UN system agencies through the coordination of the UN Resident Coordinator... The primary objective of the Country Strategy Note is to reflect unified and integrated operational acitvities by the System, contributing to the achievement of national development priority goals of the Government of Turkey, leading to balanced socio-economic and sustainable development..."
Source: Country Strategy Note, Turkey (1995-1999), Ankara, December 1994
The evaluation team looked at a number of design questions, namely, the closely interrelated issues of delimitation (what to put into programmes and what to omit) and complexity. As mentioned earlier, the general UNDP view has been to include in specific programmes those activities that are geared to the resolution of precise development problems. This should lead to the design of multisectoral programmes. Varied levels of a multisectoral approach have been achieved or are being pursued in most countries visited (Bolivia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, the Sudan, Turkey).
China, India and Peru, however, have been working on highly focused, subsectoral programmes, mainly because of Government reluctance with respect to a multisectoral approach. In cases where the national administration is highly sectoral in culture and structure, e.g., when there is no government body strong enough to coordinate line ministries, UNDP should refrain from imposing an alien concept and take a gradual approach to assisting Governments to develop capacity as well as the habit of working properly in a multisectoral fashion. This could entail the design of sectoral or subsectoral programmes while promoting broader, more informal coordination frameworks to seek multisectoral synergies between programmes rather than within them.
The body of evidence suggests that multisectoral programmes tended to be more difficult to design, implement and coordinate than sectoral or subsectoral ones. The situation in Ethiopia is a case in point. After experiencing major difficulties in implementing thematic programmes during the fifth programming cycle, the Government and UNDP are now reverting to a sectoral approach. The same applies to a lesser degree in Ghana, where the country office designed a multisectoral although fairly focused programme but acknowledged that a multisectoral programme is probably more difficult to prepare than a sectoral one. Another illustration of this point is the Malawi Social Development Programme, which is involved in nutrition, water and sanitation, health, primary education, rural housing and transport. Not surprisingly, the programme proved very difficult to manage and coordinate.
The evaluators recognized the intrinsic values of the multisectoral approach as well as the limitations of a strictly sectoral focus but stressed that the former comes at a cost, namely, increased complexity and diffused focus. This cost can be offset only if additional synergies materialize and this does not usually appear to be the case. Focus can also be achieved through other means than sectoral programmes.
The evaluation team classified a number of design types with respect to the programmes and projects being implemented under the programme approach. The resulting typology, albeit somewhat artificial, consists of five distinct programme types plus two project types. Some types help to foster focus and simplicity and/or maximize synergies in multisectoral programmes; others are to be avoided.
Focused multisectoral programmes are programmes that exhibit a number of features allowing for increased focus and whose components are tied together in a coherent, coordinated fashion.
This category includes: (a) area development programmes, which focus on limited, well-defined geographical areas (examples can be found in Ghana, where all programmes focus on five districts; Madagascar; Malawi; Turkey (Southern Anatolia Development Programme or GAP); and, of course, the Sudan (area development schemes and area rehabilitation schemes); (b) programmes that focus on a clear set of beneficiaries, e.g., particular communities or small-scale enterprises (Ethiopian Social Development Fund, Capacity-building and Utilization Programme in Ghana, Turkey Women in Development Programme); and (c) programmes that concentrate on a specific task, such as the reform of the civil service and/or governance, a multisectoral theme involving human rights, an independent and responsible press, a strong judiciary, balance of powers, etc., since these elements are mutually supportive.
The majority of programmes are found in this category, which probably constitutes the most desirable design type, one that UNDP should pursue whenever there is a government commitment to a multisectoral approach.
Focused sectoral or subsectoral programmes are programmes that focus on specific sectors or subsectors and whose components or sub-projects are also tied together in a coherent, coordinated fashion. The jute and leather sector programmes in India, the environmental action programme in Madagascar (box 4), and the privatization programme in Peru are the prime examples. This is probably the most desirable programme type whenever the Government and a core group of donors strongly believe in a sectoral approach.
Box 4. Characteristics of the Programme d'action environnementale, Madagascar
"The Programme d'action environnementale is a coherent 15-year national programme executed by the Ministry of the Environment and supported by GEF and other donors. It has the following characteristics:
Owned: the programme is described in a Government document; its implementing structures have been established by law;
Co-financed: it is also gathering support from many donors; the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is only one among many partners;
Scaled: the programme is incremental; the time horizon is broad enough; experience gathered during the pilot phase was evaluated;
Focused: the programme is clearly focused on environment and within the environment on a number of key themes, but it also tackles the mainstreaming of environmental concerns in other sectoral policies;
Coherent and coordinated: there is a good combination of policy and grass-roots work, with fair coordination mechanisms at the national and local levels, coherence between the upstream and downstream objectives;
Soundly planned: the PSD is technically sound, pragmatic, provides a frank assessment of national capacities, seems to focus adequate funds on few key capacities, and caters to the gathering of baseline data and the monitoring of a manageable number of indicators."
Source: Country Report: Madagascar.
Umbrella programmes represent another design type that is used quite frequently. Projects managed independently are placed under a single programme to achieve greater simplicity and flexibility in the allocation of funds. This is a valid design type as long as the projects concerned share a common purpose and a functioning coordination mechanism.
Unfocused programmes are programmes that encompass a wide variety of sectors, beneficiaries and regions. They tend to be highly complex, unfocused and difficult to manage. Examples include some of the first-generation programmes of Ethiopia and the Malawi Social Development Programme. It is a design type that should be avoided.
At the end of the spectrum in terms of coherence and integration are independent, uncoordinated scattered projects that have been indiscriminately grouped under the title of "programme" to give the appearance of complying with instructions from headquarters. Referred to as programme ersatz by the evaluation team, it is a design type that Governments and country offices should avoid.
Programmatic projects are projects that, to a certain degree, are strategic, well coordinated, nationally owned and participatory but managed independently. Since it is axiomatic that the programme approach is not donor-driven, the project approach should be the norm if a Government is not convinced of the relevance of the programme approach. This does not mean that UNDP should not place an emphasis on increased ownership, coordination, participation and focus. On the contrary, it should be made clear that the values of the programme approach can be pursued even under the project modality through the use of tools for country programming, e.g., the country cooperation framework (CCF).
Uncoordinated/scattered projects, characterized as the project approach in many a UNDP document promoting the programme approach, are, of course, projects that are designed and implemented without any linkages among them. It represents another design type that is to be avoided.
Emboldened by pressure from headquarters and anti-project rhetoric, many countries quickly moved from uncoordinated/ scattered projects to unfocused programmes, a dramatic change that often translated into serious delivery problems. Other countries wisely embarked on a more gradual change process. A small number of countries merely pretended to change, grouping projects together only on paper. Most countries with experience in the programme approach are now converging on focused multisectoral programmes, focused sectoral or subsectoral programmes or umbrella programmes.
It should be mentioned that although some integration of interventions may yield synergies at a reasonable cost, this is not systematically the case. While the integration of several interventions into a single programme might yield better results up to a point, organization theory establishes that if complexity crosses a critical threshold, the return on the investment or, in this case, the return on the time and effort invested in programme preparation and management, will decrease. Country offices should try to weigh the synergies expected from grouping several interventions into a programme on the one hand against the additional design and management costs incurred in doing so on the other.
Unfocused programmes, programme ersatz and uncoordinated/ scattered projects go against the grain of the programme approach and should be avoided at all costs. The remaining variations should be considered within the concept of the programme approach and used according to the situation in each country.
MONITORING AND EVALUATION
Monitoring and evaluation are even more critical for programmes than for projects because programmes are intended to be larger, more results-oriented, more flexible and better coordinated than projects, all of which require good information systems and strong feedback mechanisms. Moreover, the programme approach is closely associated with NEX, a modality under which monitoring and evaluation have become critical to ensuring the accountability of United Nations agencies to their contributors and governing bodies.
In 1993, the UNDP Central Evaluation Office (CEO) produced a set of guidelines for designing a monitoring and evaluation system in the context of the programme approach. A United Nations-wide document was later developed in consultations with United Nations agencies held within the framework of the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on Evaluation.
The main characteristic of Guiding Principles for a Monitoring and Evaluation Methodology is the promotion of the support of national monitoring and evaluation systems and capacities as a logical consequence of supporting national programmes. This is to be accomplished without relinquishing the role played by UNDP and other agencies in monitoring and evaluation as a way to maintain substantive and financial accountability.
Guiding Principles stresses the need for common monitoring systems and more joint evaluations. Otherwise, it puts forward a non-procedural approach, maintaining, under the programme approach, traditional procedures of the project approach (e.g., tripartite review meetings, now bi- or multipartite; mid-term reviews and independent evaluations). This approach, which the evaluation team deemed appropriate, is taken further in the recently issued UNDP handbook on monitoring and evaluation. The handbook provides clear guidelines for the monitoring and evaluation of programmes and projects alike.
In practice, the cases where a common monitoring and evaluation system was designed to cater to the needs of all the various donors are fairly rare. Quite often, donors tend to set up parallel monitoring and evaluation systems, an action that denotes the lack of full integration of programme components funded by different donors. This should not be viewed as a major cause for concern but rather as a situation that should be progressively improved through hard work and the building of trust. Moreover, an entire range of variations exists between discrete, independent projects on the one hand and fully integrated programmes on the other and there is no proof that the full integration of programme components is always the best solution in a given context.
On the issue of who should monitor and evaluate programmes, the evaluation team concurred with the point of view expressed in Guiding Principles: ideally, every programme should have a single monitoring and evaluation system hat caters to the needs of all development partners. Furthermore, since the programme approach should support national programmes, the system should be in national hands, at least whenever they are capable of maintaining adequate transparency and accountability standards. Otherwise, UNDP and other agencies should not compromise on the role of monitoring and evaluation, thereby maintaining their substantive and financial accountability.
Donors have a clear role to play in designing monitoring and evaluation systems, even though these should be nationally owned, and they will always be prepared to undertake monitoring and evaluation functions themselves if they are not satisfied with the national reporting system. This is especially important because a monitoring and evaluation culture does not seem to be very pervasive in the administrations of the countries visited. Also, monitoring and evaluation capacities (and interest in those functions) by and large are fairly scarce. This sorry state of affairs calls for a major thrust in building national capacities and heightening interest in monitoring and evaluation.
A critical comment heard in the field deserves mention at this point: it is often futile to try to build capacities in the civil service if the necessary preconditions for retaining capacities are not in place (adequate salary scale and incentives, low staff turnover). Without such prerequisites, the traditional approach of training only government staff, particularly in such easily marketable skills as data analysis or the setting-up of computerized databases, might actually contribute to the depletion of government capacity by encouraging staff transfers to the private sector.
Building capacities in entities that can hardly retain them amounts to a perpetual effort referred to by the evaluation team as the Sisyphus syndrome. In view of the emphasis the programme approach places on the participation of all segments of society in programme design and implementation, it is conducive to overcoming this difficulty by involving national universities, NGOs, private consulting groups and communities in capacity-building to improve monitoring and evaluation systems.
Guiding Principles places a strong emphasis on flexibility at the country level, which is a good starting point. The recently published UNDP monitoring and evaluation handbook provides additional, practical guidelines for country offices. However, more should be done to promote the setting-up of dynamic, connected information systems specifically geared to large, multi-donor programmes.
It is particularly important to create efficient mechanisms for the sharing of information to make full use of the potential synergies between coordination and monitoring and evaluation in the context of the programme approach. The information produced by the monitoring and evaluation system must be shared quickly with programme partners and others to allow for the rapid reorientation of programme strategies and activities. The evaluation team observed a number of interesting practices in this area, such as the general evolution towards more substantive coordination meetings, the participation of communities in the monitoring system of the area development schemes in the Sudan, the principle of single-counter access to programme services and forms, the building of a computer network that links all implementation partners of the Capacity-building and Utilization Programme in Ghana, or the publication in Madagascar of a technical bulletin on fisheries.
It should be mentioned that some features of the programme approach PSD have implications for monitoring and evaluation, namely, the use of benchmarks - i.e., indicators of the timeliness with which programmes implement their planned activities - and output-budgeting, an attempt to capture the real versus the projected costs of each programme output.
On the more technical issue of benchmarks, the picture emerging from most country case studies is that benchmarks constitute a useful planning and monitoring tool. They help to foster more precise, formalized planning of programme activities and they are simple to track and verify, allowing programme stakeholders to check on whether or not the programme is on schedule in the production of its intended outputs. Therefore, one of the values of the PSD/PSIA (or new PSD) is that it mandates the design of specific indicators during the programme formulation process. This was not the case with regard to the project document format.
In the countries visited, output-budgeting was either not tried, it was tried and abandoned, or it was used with difficulty in budgeting procedures but very rarely in verifying real versus projected output costs. The main reason for this is that allocating inputs per output proved very time-consuming in all countries, and more so in countries where outputs tended to be defined in a narrow sense, leading to output proliferation, e.g., Ethiopia's first-generation programmes. Output-budgeting proved cumbersome in the planning phase (while establishing budgets) but even more so during implementation, when each and every implementing/executing agency had to juggle with scores of output numbers while reporting their expenses.
In addition, it proved to be quite difficult to amend the UNDP financial information systems to take output-budgeting into account. The first solution to this problem consisted of entering each programme output as a separate project in the financial databases. Since there was no satisfactory way of encoding the programme to which each output belonged, the outputs were the equivalent of discrete projects in the databases, rendering data retrieval on a programme-by-programme basis almost impossible. The second solution involves using the PSD software recently issued by DOPP to create as many budget lines as there are outputs for any given type of expense. The technique is interesting because it allows the capture of the entire programme budget. The main problem with it, however, is that the connection between budget line numbers and outputs differs from one type of expense to another. Therefore, the system is likely to generate human errors when expenditures are reported and entered in the financial database. In other words, the system is difficult to maintain and will probably be manageable only for small programmes (e.g., the Mauritius 2000 programme).
It should be noted that the same difficulty with financial systems seems to arise when an attempt is made to wrap a number of projects into an umbrella programme, as evidenced by the experience in Peru.
The group working on the new Financial Information Management System (FIMS) is reportedly trying to correct the problem. Without prejudging the result of these efforts, the opinion of the evaluation team is that although output-budgeting appeared to be a good idea, in practice, its cost in terms of UNDP and programme staff time was much greater than the benefits it offered as an oversight tool. In addition, and since reallocating funds from one output budget to another is apparently a tedious process under the first solution mentioned earlier because funds technically belong to different projects, it is likely that at least some implementing agencies will tend to report against low-disbursing output budgets some expenses actually incurred in overspending outputs, thereby defeating the purpose of tracking down real output costs.
Country offices that wish to do so may ask some implementing agencies to budget and report on an output-by-output basis, but this need not be done in a systematic way. Besides, it is difficult to see why such detailed financial data should be entered in the corporate databases.
The software for the new PSD is an interesting tool for such country-level, case-by-case analytic accounting and could be further refined to allow for the organization of benchmarks and financial data according to additional optional parameters, such as the region or district where the activities are implemented or the type of beneficiary (administrations, CBOs, communities, etc.).
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF THE APPROACH: VIEWS OF THE COUNTRIES AND COUNTRY OFFICES
With few exceptions, the programme approach has found fertile ground as a key principle of development management in the countries studied.
Almost without exception, both country offices and the nationals who are involved either in the formulation or the implementation of the programme approach were quick to point out the numerous advantages that it brings to development management.
Conceptually, the approach focuses on impact and results, avoids duplication of effort, and reduces wasteful management practices. Its multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional nature was seen as advantageous. The approach enables development cooperation to be more focused. As a concept, it is superior to the scattered project system since the linkages among components (or projects) in a given programme area are improved and internal consistency is achieved. By the same token, it is a system that reflects national priorities more coherently than individual projects do. It is more conducive to resource mobilization since it provides flexibility in incorporating local governments, NGOs, civil society, etc., in the process of formulation and implementation, and it facilitates closer cooperation among the United Nations agencies.
The programme approach can also foster economies of scale in the management of related projects. Only one set of signatures is required for approvals as opposed to the many that might be necessary if each project were implemented individually. In addition, budgeting is more effective and efficient since budget requests for individual projects do not need to be submitted to headquarters individually; instead they are included within the overall programme allocation. Flexibility in budgeting and budget revisions was also frequently mentioned as an important advantage. Programmes are often easier and less costly to evaluate than scores of projects. In short, at least in some instances, the potential of the approach has been realized in terms of improved cost-effectiveness in the administration, management, monitoring, and evaluation of technical cooperation.
Governments should have not only well articulated development strategies - a sine qua non of the programme approach - but also a programme in which their demands for technical cooperation are clearly expressed. Thus, the programme approach also strengthened the Governments' position in negotiating assistance with the donors.
The approach has opened new channels for technical cooperation beyond the almost exclusive relationship with central administrations that was typical of the project approach. This has allowed UNDP to work more closely with decentralized governments, representatives of civil society, academics and the private sector.
This having been said, the same interviewees were equally quick to point out that there are certain disadvantages to the approach. Most pertain to operational aspects or modalities rather than to the concept itself, the exception being insistence on its multisectoral nature. Such insistence is not appropriate for countries where the government structure is highly sectoral.
From an operational standpoint, substantial effort and time are required for policy dialogue, even in countries where Governments periodically issue medium-term policy and strategy documents for development. During the design stage, the preparation of the required documents is also very time-consuming since they are rather complex. For instance, the preparation of PSDs requires a disproportionate amount of time, resulting in delays in project start-up. At the implementation stage, the government officials are not always in sync - conceptually or in terms of scheduling - with the country office. In more cases than not, implementation difficulties are very serious and continue to plague the system.
Monitoring and evaluation entrusted to national entities are not functioning as smoothly as was expected, yet complex programmes require a nearly perfect monitoring and evaluation system. In the majority of the countries, there is no in-house capacity to carry out these operations. Therefore, the maintenance of substantive and financial accountability places a heavy burden on the country offices. Finally, the system as such has become too bureaucratic and, in many instances, zealousness regarding form takes precedence over content.
In short, while the advantages of the approach pertain mainly to its conceptual tenets, the disadvantages relate primarily but not exclusively to procedural matters, which can and should be corrected. These appear to be the bureaucratic nature of the implementation process and the costs associated with the start-up stage and the training of government personnel to adapt to the approach. These short-term fixed costs are quite observable. However, it is also argued quite vehemently by all the parties concerned that the long-term benefits from this holistic approach, e.g., an enhanced sense of ownership, sustainability, and the conduciveness to co-financing, will probably exceed the costs.
IV. PROGRAMME APPROACH: FOR WHOM?
The introduction of the programme approach as an alternative to the project approach represents a major institutional development challenge for both UNDP headquarters and the country offices. The answer to the question "Who is the programme approach for?" is rather simple: it is to enable programme countries to benefit, with a strengthened sense of ownership, from UNDP technical cooperation, expanded donor cooperation, and programme results that enhance sustainable development. As can be anticipated, the countries' experience with regard to these issues has varied.
The enhancement of the sense of ownership is one of the most important attributes of the programme approach. The approach aims to create a sense of ownership not only in central government circles but also - by the very nature of its design - in different layers of society, e.g., local governments, NGOs, universities, and CSOs and private-sector organizations. The involvement of these entities is multifaceted in that they may share the responsibility for formulating and implementing the programmes and simultaneously develop an interest in them as potential beneficiaries of their results and impact. In short, the programme approach is for the various social strata and not necessarily for the public sector alone.
The sense of ownership has not been enhanced to the same degree nor does it show the same characteristics in all the countries visited. In general, however, success in this area has not been fully achieved.
Bolivia - A strong sense of ownership was quite apparent at the start at the central government level (box 5), but it was affected somewhat negatively by the change in Government in 1993. In one of its programmes, UNDP aimed to foster local participation as well as local implementation to help to develop the region. This ongoing effort affears to be successful.
Ghana - The programmes were designed with broad stakeholder consultation, with the participation of concerned ministries and private-sector organizations. There, both CSOs and private-sector organizations have played an important role together with the Government, and a strong, broad sense of ownership has been achieved.
India - Ownership appears to remain fairly and squarely at the central government level. This must be seen in relation to the fact that the Government adheres to the project approach, having been very sceptical about replacing it with the programme approach.
Madagascar and Turkey - The sense of ownership appears to be enhanced by the high incidence of involvement of various levels of civil society in addition to the central government.
Malawi and the Sudan - A strong sense of ownership is observable at the local and regional levels, but it also extends beyond the local governments, spreading to CSOs and some communities.
Mauritius - A situation similar to the situation in Bolivia occurred, where an extensive programme to reform the education sector was designed with UNDP support, only to be forsaken by the incoming minister after a cabinet reshuffle.
Box 5. Programme Approach in the Bolivian Press
"... The advantages of the programme approach in external assistance are evident: (1) it focuses on impacts and results rather than the management of inputs; (2) it serves to organize efforts in multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional sectors; (3) it avoids duplication of effort; (4) it reduces the wasteful management of a number of unrelated projects; (5) it helps to focus on major macro problems of the sector...Application of this methodology to the planning strategy of the Government in all the sectors will result in the optimization of external and financial technical assistance, avoid duplication, and close the gaps in the development of many sectors ...".
Source: translated from Presencia, 16 April 1992.
It is difficult, however, to attribute the enhancement of the sense of ownership to the merits of the programme approach alone. Since the programme approach and NEX started at approximately the same time in all countries in the sample except one, it is impossible to separate the impact of the two modalities on the sense of ownership. Using as a proxy the example of Madagascar - where the programme approach has been implemented but NEX is not yet in full swing - one can perhaps venture to state that a widespread sense of ownership of first-generation, agency-implemented programmes was lacking in spite of a participatory design process and the existence of national programme frameworks. Therefore, the programme approach in the absence of NEX does not seem to foster a strong sense of national ownership. One could also argue that the programme approach implies NEX.
The question then is: is NEX alone responsible for enhancing the sense of ownership or are the interrelated effects of the two modalities responsible for such enhancement. The evaluation mission could not ascertain this categorically one way or the other. Nevertheless, based on limited observations, the team concluded that the approach undoubtedly makes some contribution to the enhancement of the sense of ownership. This seems to be particularly true with regard to a broad sense of ownership, extending beyond the public sector and bringing together all strata of society, whose involvement in the programme design and implementation processes is a sine qua non of the approach.
The programme approach is conducive to promoting a situation where all programme stakeholders (government, civil society, the private sector and donors) share a sense of purpose and responsibility. In this context, the role of UNDP in forming a development partnership with the various strata of society needs to be stressed. One interesting practice was observed in a few countries, namely, the setting up and/or involvement of beneficiary organizations, e.g., private-sector or community organizations, in the annual programme review mechanism.
To the knowledge of the evaluation team, the system of tripartite review meetings has not been officially reformed at the corporate level to accommodate the new programme approach and NEX relationships. Congruent with the recently issued monitoring and evaluation handbook, the team proposes a bipartite structure according to which donors and Governments would constitute the principal programme owners while accommodating all executing and implementing agencies as well as programme beneficiary organizations. Such a structure could also be considered as multipartite if broad participation were emphasized.
With regard to the issue of the costs associated with enhancing the sense of ownership, the benefits derived from expanded ownership will have to carry certain costs. According to country office staff, convincing the central government authorities - who are accustomed to having the monopoly on implementing programmes and projects - to accept partners on an equal footing in programme formulation and implementation represents the major cost. The evaluation team concurred with this assessment.
The training of local governments, NGOs, etc., that have little or no experience in such formulation and implementation constitutes another cost. In addition, considerable time and effort are invested, especially during programme formulation, to ensure that the programme will be participatory. Finally, in some countries, the government structure is inadequate, a situation that needs to be remedied prior to the implementation of the approach. Consequently, a thorough cost/benefit analysis of the approach is needed, but it cannot be carried out at this stage. The evaluation team concluded, however, that in all probability, the benefits of the programme approach exceed the costs.
COORDINATION AMONG DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS
At the conceptual level, one of the goals of the programme approach is coordination, especially among the different donor agencies, whether they are within or outside the United Nations system. In other words, one of the merits of the concept is that it leads ultimately to a meaningful development partnership among donors and national entities.
The coordination of various donor cooperation efforts would conceivably improve the management of the assistance from the government side and provide a more systemic methodology within an overall framework of national programmes. In the countries in the sample, different donor agencies are implementing a multiplicity of development projects. Inefficiencies ensue if a large number of projects are funded by many different agencies with minimal or no coordination and cooperation. This leads to duplication of effort and sometimes even to contradictory results.
The programme approach aims for coordination and cooperation among all donors that could operate within a national development framework. The evaluation team agreed with this conceptually and its background research for the present evaluation seemingly proved that coordination tended to be stronger in countries implementing the programme approach than in those using the project approach alone. However, the practice, as observed in various countries, was very different.
The evaluation team looked at coordination at four levels: coordination among government agencies; coordination within the United Nations system; coordination among Governments, the United Nations and other multilateral and bilateral donors (including IFIs) and other development actors such as NGOs; and coordination between implementing agencies within programmes (a more operational level).
As was mentioned earlier, cooperation among government agencies - even the need for this type of cooperation - is not yet fully understood. In no country in the evaluation study was there a clear picture of multisectoral coordination among government entities. Even in Bolivia, where originally two multisectoral ministries were established and the need for the programme approach is fully understood, one cannot say that cooperation is at an optimum level.
The coordination of efforts within the United Nations system is also uneven. While in some countries the coordination among various agencies is fairly good, in others, a great deal of time and effort will be required before it begins to approach the optimum level. An important stumbling block to increased coordination appears to have been the way NEX was promoted in a number of countries: insufficient attention was paid to the value added that could have been provided by United Nations specialized agencies in the NEX modality in terms of technical quality and substantive accountability. The programme approach could potentially help to mend this unfortunate divide between UNDP and United Nations specialized agencies. It is hoped that coordination will be enhanced by ushering in UNDAF and by institutionalizing thematic or sectoral coordination groups in every country, such as the Inter-agency Social Development Programming Committee (ISDPC) in Turkey.
Coordination among donors is even less successful on the whole. In more cases than not, many bilaterals or even multilaterals, such as the World Bank, appear to be rather oblivious to the programme approach and consequently to the need to coordinate efforts. Although some bilaterals, such as the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) in Malawi or the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) in Bolivia, seem to be familiar with the programme approach and desirous of advancing coordination, overall results are far from satisfactory. Various coordination committees exist in almost all the countries and they are frequently chaired by the United Nations resident coordinator/UNDP resident representative. Most often, however, these committees have yet to yield concrete results.
There are many reasons why coordination efforts are slow to yield the desired results. In some countries, e.g., China, donors are vying for individual visibility. In addition, in Ghana and Madagascar, the weight of the World Bank is overwhelming; therefore, in government circles, the World Bank view of the sectoral approach prevails rather than the UNDP view of the multisectoral approach. Finally, the resources available for development cooperation from UNDP sources sometimes represent only a fraction of the contribution of other donors. In Malawi, for instance, the total indicative planning figure (IPF) resources of the fifth programming cycle was equal to a one-year outlay from DANIDA. In short, in more cases than not, UNDP is a minor player. As such, it has less influence in persuading the other donors to synchronize their efforts.
It would be unfair to say that UNDP itself lacks the desire to establish good coordination. Efforts are not spared in almost every country, but it will take a considerable amount of time for a proper coordination mechanism to be established and perhaps even longer for this mechanism to yield fruit. In addition, while there is a lot of talk about coordination, in some cases, it is merely lip-service to a sacred concept. Furthermore, the understanding of what coordination actually means is not always clear. The evaluation team concluded that UNDP is overly optimistic with regard to the extent to which coordination is possible.
Instead of aiming for perfect synchronization and coherence among development partners, the goal should probably be to strive to promote incremental improvements in an imperfect environment. One way to accomplish this would be to view coordination not as a control mechanism but as a dynamic, more open, Darwinian process. Such a process would establish a fair, open coordination forum and promote alliances forged case by case, based on trust between partners. As mentioned earlier, it could help to restore the relationship between UNDP and United Nations agencies, which was strained by the introduction of NEX and the programme approach. It could even make use of existing rivalries between development partners, comparing various development theories and practices to allow the best to surface and the worst to subside in the same way that a democratic political system or a market economy works.
The extent and quality of coordination within programmes are critical to the programme approach because it makes little sense to aggregate various activities, components or projects into a single programme if they are to be implemented in isolation from one another. Again, the situation in this regard varies widely from country to country and even from one programme to another. This issue has often been overlooked, as if putting components and projects together in a planning document would in itself ensure synergies and avoid duplication of effort.
The primary factors conditioning coordination within programmes seem to be the strength, capacities and participation culture of the organization selected to be the programme executing agency (box 6). As mentioned earlier, programme delimitation is another critical factor. Nation-wide multisectoral programmes appear to be difficult to coordinate even when there is a political commitment to this effect. Interestingly, this does not appear to be the case for decentralized multisectoral programmes. Region or district towns are small places, where line ministry officials know each other and share information and resources more easily than in capital cities.
Box 6. Programme Coordination in Ghana
"The International Economic Relations Division (IERD) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) is the executing agency for all programmes. However, because IERD lacks the financial and staff means to manage programmes directly, each programme and its implementing agencies are managed by a coordinating agency, a feature specific to Ghana."
"The capacity-building programme ... is efficiently coordinated by a private- sector institution that devotes a lot of time and effort to achieving real synergies and adequate information-sharing between implementing agencies in a participatory manner."
"In effect, the MoF represents the Government as the owner of the programmes. The coordinating agency could be seen as the main contractor in charge of programme delivery, and the implementing agencies as sub-contractors."
Source: Country report, Ghana.
It should be noted that coordinati on within programmes can occur even in loosely clustered programmes simply by virtue of having the staff of the implementing agencies meet regularly, as evidenced by the Arid and Semi-arid Agricultural Development Programme in northwest China.
PRECONDITIONS FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE BEST RESULTS
The User's Guide presents the critical elements that should be in place in order for the programme approach to yield the best results (box 7). If one or more of the elements is absent, the effectiveness of the programme approach is reduced.
The evaluation team did not find all seven elements in any of the countries studied; in each case, more than one element was missing. In Bolivia, for example, coordination and oversight at the national level were absent as was the involvement of stakeholders and beneficiaries in the planning and implementation process. In all the countries visited, acceptance of the national programme framework and the willingness of all donors to harmonize their efforts and procedures are not yet a reality.
Today, several countries do not have and/or refuse to have four-, five-, or seven-year development plans. Many decision-makers believe that an all-encompassing development plan is passé. The situation varied greatly in the countries that the team studied. At one end is Turkey with indicative five-year development plans, at the other, Peru, which does not believe in any type of plan, even one that is indicative. It is difficult to argue that the
programme approach is more successful in Turkey than in Peru merely because Turkey has a five-year development plan.
Box 7. Preconditions for the Achievement of the Best Results
"The programme approach being a programming process, every effort should be made to create the conditions for its success. These conditions include:
Source: UNDP, DOPP, How to Implement the Programme Approach: A User's Guide, pp. 8-9.
The evaluation team also pointed out that the first precondition runs the risk of being understood as an attempt by UNDP to impose the forging of development plans on countries in order to have the programme approach operational.
The absence of certain preconditions, e.g., development plans or harmonization, does not mean, however, that development cooperation cannot be improved through a gradual process leading to increased ownership, participation, integration and coordination of development endeavours. Indeed, in more than half of the countries, the programme approach by and large was quite successful.
IMPACT AND SUSTAINABILITY OF PROGRAMME RESULTS
Another principle of the programme approach is that it promotes greater sustainability of the results of development cooperation than the project approach. The evaluation team was not given the mandate to take a definitive stance on this issue. Furthermore, it would have been premature to do so since many of the programmes are in the process of being implemented and have not yet produced clear outputs.
Nevertheless, the evaluation team thought that a few comments would be in order. First, although there appears to be no evidence that would enable the team to state categorically that the programme approach is more or less conducive to sustainable results than other modalities, the approach, if properly implemented, is likely to have more sustainable results since, combined with the NEX modality, it is often more fully integrated into normal government activities. Also, greater involvement of non-public-sector national entities, in addition to the Government, during the design and implementation stages reduces the risk of technical discontinuity. Finally, the sense of ownership that is developed increases the possibility that the governments may be willing to extend financial support to some programme activities after the UNDP programmes are completed.
It has been claimed that the programme approach, by looking at the broader picture, would allow UNDP to incorporate SHD concerns more efficiently in specific development processes than narrower approaches, e.g., those that are sectoral or segmented. The logical connection between the integrative concept of SHD on the one hand and the programme approach as a multisectoral, integrated approach to development on the other makes such a claim plausible. One could even venture to state that in order for UNDP to operationalize its SHD mission, some form of programme approach is a sine qua non.
Without making any definitive statement, the evaluation team noted a large number of examples where the programme approach has helped to mainstream SHD concerns.
Bolivia - The approach, combined with the SHD focus of the United Nations system, had a great impact on the democratic development of the country. Indigenous people began to participate in the development process; the functioning of democratic institutions and governance improved; and poverty alleviation became the central theme of the national development debate.
China - Programmes designed under the first CCF are focusing on underdeveloped areas and place much more emphasis on SHD concerns than was the case under the previous country programme.
Malawi - The programmes have served to support and promote national commitment to a participatory development process at the decentralized level, focusing, inter alia, on the provision of social infrastructure.
Peru - A large privatization rogramme has channelled two per cent of the sale proceeds through a social development fund to support poverty reduction activities, alleviating the short-term effects of the structural adjustment.
Sudan - The programmes have worked at the community level to promote democratic decision-making mechanisms, the empowerment of women and environmental conservation efforts.
Turkey - UNDP support to the Government's southern Anatolia programme is expected to help focus part of the attention on non-infrastructural issues such as gender-in-development and local governance.
DEMAND FOR A PROGRAMME APPROACH
From the preceding discussion, it is apparent that the design of the programme approach is not a whim of UNDP but rather a response to a real situation with regard to development cooperation that has become too cumbersome and too complex to be managed on a project-by-project basis. The programme approach is for those countries that are overwhelmed by the multiplicity of donors and projects that, through no fault of their own, turn out to be disjointed and disconnected. A country such as Bolivia, with 600 different projects, or Turkey (which depends much less on foreign cooperation than Bolivia) with 60 different projects financed from multiple sources, or any other country in a similar situation welcomed the programme approach.
The programme approach is also for those countries that are willing to relinquish central government monopoly on programme or project preparation and implementation and for those that are willing to have a development frame of reference, whether in the form of a plan or simply a set of medium-term policy instruments.
On the other hand, if a country is disinterested in the approach, such as Peru or China or, to a certain extent, India, to insist on the programme approach is not compatible with UNDP neutrality in providing technical cooperation.
So long as there is demand in a given country, the approach is not only easier to apply but it can also yield more fruitful development results (box 8). However, a clarification is in order. A demand cannot be made for something that is unknown, e.g., goods or services or, in this case, the programme approach. This is axiomatic. However, once the availability of something (i.e., the programme approach) is made known, then Governments may make a demand for it if they wish to do so. Therefore, it is the responsibility of UNDP to carry out the appropriate policy dialogue and use its advocacy role to make Governments aware of the benefits of the approach and then to determine whether there is a need or demand for it.
Box 8. Three Levels of Ownership
"After assuming power in 1991, the Transition Government of Ethiopia launched a review of the country's development cooperation to find that most of its projects were donor-driven and their impact negligible. The government was ready for a change and welcomed new ideas that would help rationalize this assistance and make it more responsive to national priorities. ... Along came UNDP, which had just started to promote national execution and the programme approach as the new building blocks for its development cooperation. Naturally, the Government took interest in these instruments as they seemed squarely to address its concerns. As a result of what was essentially a coincidence, Ethiopia was thus to become one of the first countries to embrace the new model of development cooperation combining National Execution and the programme approach."
Source: Country report, Ethiopia.
"The area development scheme largely compensates for this weak government ownership by a strong community ownership. It applies a simple bottom-up approach enhancing self-reliance, which is rightly considered a small revolution in the Sudan. Grass-roots institutions such as the Village Development Committees (VDCs) and sanduqs are established through compre-hensive social interaction and a democratic decision-taking process. VDC members ... are directly managing a sizeable part of the programme resources through what could potentially become a sustainable credit system Sanduq means "box" in Arabic and, in the Sudan, designates a traditional informal saving and credit system similar to the tontines of Western Africa. The programme adapted this traditional system and helped register sanduqs as legal, formal entities."
Source: Country report, the Sudan.
"The country office has found it inappropriate, if not impossible, to use the programme approach with the Government of Peru as a planning tool for multisectoral, national activities. Rather, it is applied as an instrument of internal use where the PSD functions as an umbrella document that includes aspects such as strategies, goals and activities as well as management methodology, monitoring and evaluation with an overall structure similar to other UNDP projects. Within this framework, the country office implements several projects, each with its own budget and simplified structure as part of a "programme"."
Source: Country report, Peru.
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
As the present report has emphasized, the purpose of the programme approach is to improve the impact of international development cooperation. This goal is to be accomplished through the use of new instruments with which to enhance national ownership, increase the focus on issues and improve their operationalization through new methodologies, and coordinate development cooperation.
Based on the experiences of the 12 countries in the evaluation sample, the evaluation team put forward a number of interrelated conclusions and recommendations of an operational nature with the aim of fine-tuning the approach to decrease its costs and increase its benefits.
The concept of the programme approach as defined by UNDP is ap-propriate for concerted development efforts. The intent to build strong development partnerships through broad national ownership, coordination and co-financing is especially noteworthy.
The approach is relevant as a means of addressing the excessive compartmentalization and weak national ownership of international cooperation activities. Moreover, the concept has been operationalized with notable preliminary success in a number of the countries visited. If implemented properly, the programme approach can help to improve the efficiency of international cooperation. However, the evaluators recommended that:
Decisions on programme delimitation should to be taken in consultation with other partners. They should be based on practical considerations (e.g., which combination of programme activities will best decrease management costs and increase impact, etc.) rather than on conceptual considerations alone.
PROCESS VERSUS FORM
UNDP has invested considerable time and effort in conceptualizing and formalizing the programme approach. The country offices had no difficulty understanding the conceptual aspect, which has been developed quite formally and in detail.
An inordinate amount of staff time and effort was invested in designing templates for programme documentation (PSD, PSIA, new PSD). This focus on documentation also takes its toll at the country office level, where staff invest an enormous amount of time and effort in preparing, rewriting and formatting bulky programme documents for UNDP internal approval purposes.
This massive documentation is of very little use to other development partners. Moreover, in some cases, it has alienated partners in Governments, United Nations agencies and donors. The fact that to other donors, the programme approach documentation does not appear to be conducive to broad-based, participatory programmes negates one of the objectives of the approach, namely, to obtain broad national participation in programme design and implementation.
Regardless of whether it was the headquarters' intent to impose a set of very formal instruments or simply misunderstandings by the country offices that led the staff to believe that the instruments were inflexible, there is no doubt that those instruments acted as a straitjacket and were not very conducive to the efficient production of results.
The opposite situation exists regarding the operationalization of the approach, which was not given enough attention. The guidelines to assist the country offices in implementing the approach remain unsatisfactory. This conclusion is based on the concerns expressed by the country office staff in almost all the countries in the sample. With country offices unclear about the operational aspects, almost every country in the sample operationalized and implemented the approach in its own way. The situation could not have been otherwise: the approach recognizes flexibility as a desirable trait. However, additional backstopping, support and training should have been extended to the country offices with respect to the real issues of ownership, coordination, participation, focus, planning, monitoring and evaluation.
Development cooperation, even when accompanied by preconditions and requirements, must be tailored to the idiosyncrasies of each country. It is necessary to "Think globally; act locally". The programme approach should thus be viewed not as a static, rigid form but as a dynamic process, one that will gradually increase the ownership, coordination, participation, flexibility and strategic focus of development cooperation.
As the programme approach matures and the country offices and Governments become fully familiar with its tenets, moving from simpler to more complex, sophisticated forms of the process will undoubtedly bear the intended fruits. To achieve this goal:
If the programme approach is a process and not a form, several sub-issues emerge. One is that this process does not necessarily replace the project approach and/or project preparation. As was emphasized by the country offices, projects are here to stay because it is conceivable that there are specific cases where each and every project cannot be fitted into a programme or become a component of a programme.
The evaluators noted a prevailing undertone that projects are not altogether desirable. In fact, there is a pervasive tendency to create an exclusionary opposition - programme approach versus project approach. This opposition is unnecessary since a strategic, nationally owned, coordinated project is more efficient than an unfocused, donor-driven, uncoordinated programme. What is to be avoided at all costs is a compartmentalized, scattered approach, whether it concerns projects or programmes.
Furthermore, whether the interventions are referred to as programme components or projects in a programme, the project format will continue to exist if for no other reason than financial accountability. Especially in cases where programme components (not to call them projects) are financed from different co-financing sources, co-financers will want to see the results of the programme segments that they have financed. At present, this can be achieved only if the components are prepared in project form so that each co-financer can receive a proper account of the use of its funds. Therefore,
Viewing the programme approach as a form can lead to an underestimation of the dangers of complexity. While the integration of several interventions into a single programme may yield better results up to a point, organizational theory establishes that once the degree of complexity crosses a critical threshold, the return on the investment - in this case, the time and effort invested in programme preparation and management - will diminish. Therefore,
ASSIGNING WEIGHTS TO THE PRECONDITIONS
From its observations of the influence of seven preconditions on the results of the programme approach, the evaluation team concluded that the absence of some of the elements is not necessarily critical to the success of the approach or at least that all of the elements do not have the same weight in determining its success. The preconditions must be revised and ranked according to their relative importance.
It would have been presumptuous for the evaluation team to suggest the weight for each precondition since the team did not have sufficient inputs to do so nor was such a task included in its TOR. However, the team indicated that the first precondition, the existence of a national programme framework, risks being interpreted as an effort by UNDP to impose the preparation of development plans on countries in order to have the programme approach modality operational in those countries.
The evaluators indicated that an important precondition seemed to be missing from the User's Guide, namely, a minimum level of political stability and/or consensus across the political spectrum with regard to critical development strategies. In the absence of this element, UNDP support to precise national programmes runs the risk of being discarded; thus the time
invested in programme preparation is wasted following a change in government, as was the case in Bolivia and Mauritius.
COORDINATION: HARMONY OR DISSONANCE?
Coordination is one of the preconditions for the successful application of the programme approach. UNDP is quite optimistic that the approach will lead to better coordination among donors, ultimately reaching to meaningful development partnerships among donors and national entities. The evaluation team appreciated this attribute of the programme approach and concurred with this stand. In the first instance, the vehicle for these partnerships is increased coordination among donors, leading to co-financed and/or parallel programmes.
The evaluation team distinguished several layers of coordination: among government agencies, the United Nations family, donors and within specific programmes.
The coordination that the programme approach is supposed to foster, especially through design, is not clearly discernible in all of the sample countries. While coordination appears to be better among some of the United Nations agencies, this is not the case among all donors. One reason for this state of affairs is that many bilateral and multilateral donors are either not fully familiar with the programme approach or are not interested in becoming familiar with it.
The role of UNDP in coordination is often challenged, in many cases on the grounds that the available UNDP funds are only a fraction of what is provided by IFIs and bilateral donors. Moreover, multilateral donor agencies have pursued, and are likely to continue to pursue, much more of a sectoral approach than the multisectoral one that the programme approach advocates. At the same time, there is a widely shared concern that coordination often entails unproductive meetings and the loss of time. Focusing forums on sectoral issues appears to be a useful way to improve the efficiency of meetings.
This does not mean that interest in coordination or UNDP coordination efforts are lacking. People have made important progress in accepting the idea of considering development issues together and working in a concerted fashion. Donors and Governments are increasingly getting together to identify national development needs and opportunities rather than making decisions without country input. From this perspective, the programme approach has the potential to bring together long-competing donors and agencies.
For this to happen, programmes must be the output of a much larger, continuous, participatory process of sharing country context analyses and views among United Nations agencies, donors, Governments, NGOs and CBOs. Such a dynamic, open coordination process is probably more conducive to achieving results than a control-oriented coordination mechanism and it could help mend the strained relationship between UNDP and the United Nations agencies.
As a corollary to the above, coordination in the design and implementation of the programme approach from the national perspective is also a difficult task. On the one hand, the bureaucracy is organized on a strictly sectoral basis with turf-minded bureaucrats running the ministries based on a decades-old (if not centuries-old) tradition. On the other hand, UNDP programmes tend to be multisectoral, requiring coordination and give-and-take between and among ministries.
Although in each and every country there is a coordinating agency in the Government (for example, the Ministry of Finance in Malawi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Peru, or the State Planning Organization in Turkey), these entities are more accustomed to liaising with the donors than to assuring coordination among the national implementing agencies. Also, they have neither the capacity to do so nor (in some cases) the proper mandate.
In these circumstances, it may very well be wasteful to plunge into multisectoral programmes. It would be better to take a gradual approach and assist the Governments to develop capacity as well as the habit of working properly in a multisectoral fashion. It should be added that the evaluation team observed with pleasure that the multisectoral approach is more fruitful when the programmes are active at the decentralized level.
One of the major claims of the programme approach is that it enhances the sense of ownership. Since the national entities are involved from conceptualization to implementation, monitoring and evaluation, the identification process becomes complete. Moreover, since the programme approach brings together UNDP, the central governments, local governments, NGOs and other CSOs, in a sense, the identification is not only governmental but also national.
While the sense of ownership was observable in varying degrees in all the countries visited, one cautionary remark is in order. Since the NEX modality and the programme approach started simultaneously, it is difficult to apportion the creation of the sense of ownership between these two modalities. Certainly, they are mutually fortifying, but caution is necessary in attributing the development of the sense of ownership to a particular cause.
Within the framework of the programme approach, ownership must not be understood to apply only to nationals or national entities. The evaluation team strongly believes that UNDP is an important stakeholder and that as a stakeholder, it shares responsibility for programme delivery with the totality of the nationals. The previously widespread notion that UNDP funds belong to the Governments or other national entities and that under the programme approach and NEX, the nationals are in charge and UNDP is barely more than an observer is erroneous. This is true particularly since the Target Resource Assignment from the Core (TRAC) system replaced the IPF system. UNDP enters into development partnerships with programme countries and it should carry out its responsibilities with regard to the funds entrusted to it by the donors and in accordance with its mandate.
MONITORING AND EVALUATION
Monitoring and evaluation were rightly perceived as being even more critical in programmes than in projects. A set of guidelines was produced for designing monitoring and evaluation systems in the context of the programme approach, including the use of benchmarks in the PSD and PSIA, output-budgeting, and the principle of supporting national monitoring and evaluation systems and capacities.
The picture that emerged from most of the country case studies shows that benchmarks constitute a useful planning and monitoring tool. They help to foster more precise, formalized planning of programme activities and they are simple to track and verify.
The situation is different with regard to output-budgeting. As noted earlier, in some cases it was not tried, or it was abandoned after being tried, or it was used during the planning phase but not in verifying real versus projected output costs. The main reason for this state of affairs is that delineating inputs per output was found to be very time-consuming in all countries. Furthermore, UNDP financial information systems proved rather difficult to amend to take output-budgeting into account.
The team concluded that although output-budgeting looked like a good idea, in reality, its cost in terms of UNDP and programme staff time is much greater than the benefits derived from its use as an oversight tool. It recommended that:
The issue of who should monitor and evaluate programmes is a more complex one. From a theoretical perspective, the evaluation team concurred with the position expressed in the guidelines that for any programme, a single monitoring and evaluation system should be designed that caters to the needs of all programme partners.
Furthermore, since the programme approach should support national programmes, the monitoring and evaluation system should be in national hands whenever they can maintain adequate transparency and accountability standards. However, UNDP and other external donors also need to maintain adequate levels of accountability. Therefore, they should always be prepared to undertake monitoring and evaluation functions themselves if they are unsatisfied with the national reporting system.
As noted earlier, in practice, examples of a common monitoring and evaluation system designed to cater to the needs of all the various stakeholders are fairly rare. Quite often donors tend to establish parallel monitoring and evaluation systems, which denotes the lack of full integration of programme components funded by different donors.
The establishment of a common system will involve give-and-take from all the partners involved in a given programme, particularly from UNDP and other donors. This principle does not altogether preclude the possibility of a donor's fielding its own independent evaluations of a multi-donor programme if it thinks that its concerns as a donor are not being adequately taken into account in the common monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Building national capacities in the areas of monitoring and evaluation is obviously a desirable aim. However, it is often futile to try to build capacities in the civil service if the preconditions for retaining capacities are not in place.
Additional guidelines are needed for all those concerned with the setting up of monitoring systems geared specifically to large, multi-donor programmes, with a strong emphasis on user-friendly, dynamic, connected information systems. A basic principle for monitoring and evaluation in the context of the programme approach should be that since programmes tend to be more complex and involve more funding and implementing partners than projects, their monitoring system should remain simple and connected.
More generally, the implementation of the programme approach - and NEX - often requires stronger capacities from executing agencies than are needed under the project modality. It implies additional support tasks and a more substantive role for UNDP and the country offices, which should be fully equipped to play this new role.
COSTS AND BENEFITS
Based on the experiences of the countries in the sample, the advantages and disadvantages of the programme approach in terms of its costs and benefits can be summarized as follows.
On the cost side, a distinction must made between start-up or fixed costs and variable costs. The fixed costs (learning curve, policy dialogue, training, etc.), which are undeniably high, are due to the operational aspects or modalities rather than to the concept of the approach, with one exception, its multisectoral nature. Insistence on that aspect may not be suitable for countries where the government structure is highly sectoral.
On the benefit side, the programme approach provides flexibility and connectivity and enhances the sense of ownership in the country and development partnerships among the cooperation agencies. Another important value of the approach lies in the economies of scale that can be realized in the management of related projects. Budgeting is more effective and efficient since budget requests for individual projects do not need to be submitted individually to headquarters. Flexibility in budgeting and budget revisions represents an additional advantage. Furthermore, programmes are generally easier and less costly to evaluate than scores of projects.
The evaluation team concluded that the ratio between benefits and costs is likely to be greater than one, especially as the programme approach becomes the modality that is fully understood and accepted by the Governments, UNDP country offices and other development partners. It is also worth noting that over time, the fixed costs of the programme approach are likely to decrease per programme, thereby making the ratio greater than one even if the benefits were to remain the same.
At present, there are no known ways of assigning numerical values to each of the costs and benefits to arrive at a benefit/cost ratio greater than one. However, the evaluation team shared the view of the majority of the persons interviewed, both in UNDP country offices and in national organizations, that there are more benefits to the approach than there are costs associated with its implementation.
Doubtless, some fine-tuning of the approach is necessary. It is hoped that the recommendations contained in the present report will contribute to this fine-tuning process.
ANNEX. COUNTRY PROGRAMME HIGHLIGHTS
Bolivia: Fertile Ground for the Programme Approach<
UNDP interventions under the programme approach were strongly demand-driven. While Bolivian decision-makers were grappling with the formulation of the policies and strategies for development, UNDP assisted the Government to conceptualize a new approach to organizing national development activities.
Bolivia was one of the first countries to experiment with the programme approach. In the period 1989-1990, the country, faced with the fragmentation of national assistance into more than 600 individual projects financed from 40 different sources, realized that it was impossible to manage, monitor, evaluate and follow up on these projects. Searching for an alternative, the Government borrowed the programme approach idea from UNDP. The approach helped the Government to control the management of development cooperation, providing fertile ground for the full introduction of the programme approach with the UNDP fifth country programme. The Government was able to take advantage of the advocacy role of the United Nations system by incorporating many of these ideas into the mainstream of Bolivian social and economic policies and strategies.
First Steps. In 1991, UNDP initiated an umbrella project to assist the Government in the formulation of thematic strategies to guide the conceptualization of the new national programmes. The project also supported activities to help develop consensus among national actors and international donors with regard to the new programmes. As a result, five programme areas were defined to form the basis for grouping and coordinating the previously fragmented technical cooperation efforts.
Conceptual Clarity. The high level of early understanding of the new approach on the part of the UNDP country office was important to the success of the programme approach in Bolivia. The office saw the approach as a logical framework within which to formulate integral, multisectoral programmes to be jointly financed by UNDP, other donors and the Government.
Bolivia Views the Programmes As Its Own. From the beginning, as a result of the formulation process and the Government's original desire to consolidate development assistance, the five programmes have been, and continue to be, seen as government programmes despite the external assistance with their formulation and financing. Bolivia suffers from a lack of middle-level management, which is required for the coordination of the programme approach. With assistance from UNDP, the Government provided extensive staff training on how to carry out the new approach.
Donor Coordination. Coordination among the United Nations agencies worked effectively in support of the programmes although UNICEF stressed its own programme approach. The IFIs still find the programme approach an alien concept for development assistance in Bolivia, owing to its emphasis on themes rather than sectors. Overall, however, the approach has helped Bolivia to increase its management control over the multiple sources of official development assistance.
Summary. As a key principle of development management in Bolivia, the programme approach found fertile ground. It showed the Bolivian decision-makers the way to conceptualize and address key development problems and issues. It allowed the Government to group over 600 projects into consistent programmes. It helped the Government begin to internalize technical cooperation. Combined with the SHD stand of UNDP, it had an impact on the democratic development of the country, especially regarding the participation of indigenous peoples. As elsewhere, the high start-up costs of introducing the new system constituted the major disadvantage of the approach. For Bolivia, however, the benefits of stronger ownership and sustainability appear to compensate easily for early delays and problems.
China: The Project Mode Continues
The country programme in China continues to operate in a largely project mode to assure timely, effective annual delivery of approximately $35 million of technical assistance and training to a nation with one fifth of the world's population.
From a practical perspective, the country programme, which for the most part is nationally executed, has been successfully delivering and implementing its enormous and diverse set of activities for years in the face of daunting constraints. With such a large programme and country, major rapid changes in the programming mechanism carry an unusually high risk in terms of slowing delivery or hurting performance. Both the Government and the UNDP country office are reluctant to push a quick change to the programme approach despite the potential benefits from more effective horizontal linkages among UNDP-assisted activities.
Government View. This reluctance is perhaps stronger on the part of the national counterpart agency than the UNDP country office. The China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchange (CICETE), the Government's designated counterpart for UNDP-assisted programmes since 1985, manages the mammoth UNDP programme with increasingly tight resources. The labour-intensive effort of introducing the programme approach could seriously strain CICETE's capacity. Furthermore, CICETE is financed in a manner unique to China in that it receives its payment from the national implementing agencies in the form of a percentage of the project budget. Changing to the programme approach would require a major effort to restructure the system by which the national executing agency is financed, a restructuring that is not in concert with the prevailing system in China.
There is a strong sense of competition among public agencies since each agency is required to generate independently a large proportion of its budget from external grants and even from entrepreneurial activities. The cross-agency cooperation implied in the concept of the programme approach would face understandable resistance in the competitive environment of the Chinese public sector.
Country Office Actions and Options. In this situation and within the nationally empowering guidelines of the national execution modality, the country office's options for promoting the programme approach obviously are limited. Also, the promotion of SHD issues in China is rightly a higher priority for the country office than the adoption of the programme approach.
Nonetheless, the new country cooperation framework (CCF), while stopping short of imposing the full programme approach modality, incorporates two important general principles that animate the programme approach concept: focus and thematic emphasis.
Summary. Behind the focused and thematic curtains of the new CCF, the national actors still employ a largely project-style mode of delivery of technical assistance, technology transfer and training.
Ethiopia: Facing Multiple Constraints
After assuming power in 1991, the Transition Government launched a review of development cooperation and found that most of its projects were donor-driven with negligible impact. The Government welcomed the twin concepts of the programme approach and national execution and fully embraced the programme approach, embarking upon the detailed formulation of six ambitious, multisectoral, national programmes. However, this ambitious effort struggled with multiple constraints in this extremely poor country just beginning to recover from years of civil war and environmental degradation.
Extended Period of Formulation. The UNDP-guided, nationally executed, highly participatory (and decentralized) process of programme formulation progressed very slowly, seriously delaying the implementation phase. It took over two years to formulate the programmes, the programme support documents (PSDs) and the programme support implementation arrangements (PSIA) document. This delay was a serious problem for a government anxious to demonstrate practical evidence of its development efforts to the leaders and populace of its diverse regions. The delays also brought UNDP delivery of resources for one of its largest country programmes (revised fifth country programme indicative planning figure (IPF) was $107 million) almost to a standstill.
Inadequate Capacity. The programme approach was introduced at a time when government capacities were severely constrained. Although there were impressive, but uneven, human resources at the central level, the bulk of the implementation of the national programmes was intended to take place regionally. Capacities there remained seriously inadequate despite the Government's effort to shift staff from the centre to the regions. The complexity and subtlety of the multisectoral national programmes exacerbated the capacity constraint and slowed implementation after its belated beginning.
Inadequate Resource Mobilization Brings Programmes to an End. Other donors did not rally to support the six programmes. The exceedingly high profile of UNDP in the formulation process led other donors to view the programmes as UNDP programmes rather than as truly national programmes. Donors also found the multisectoral programme approach too complex and confusing. Furthermore, with their own pressures for delivery, they had already begun their own programmes by the time the UNDP-guided programmes were finally formulated. Mounting doubts about the financing of the six multisectoral programmes led the Government to change its course and abandon them in favour of a sectoral development/investment approach. UNDP-financed activities, painstakingly formulated and begun under the fifth country programme, are being continued within the Government's new framework for development and investment.
Accomplishments of the Efforts to Introduce the Programme Approach. Despite the delays, problems and discontinuance of the six national programmes, many important accomplishments are attributed to the ambitious effort. Three of the basic objectives of the programme approach were achieved.
Focus. The focus and concentration of development assistance were enhanced: UNDP has come a long way from the days of the fourth country programme with its 150 separate projects.
Ownership. The long formulation process created a strong sense of ownership among a wide range of national personnel. This heightened commitment and understanding of the complexities of development assistance planning and implementation have outlasted the programmes where they were generated.
Summary. Emboldened as well as chastened by the experience of the fifth country programme, the Government is succeeding in setting its development objectives and persuading major donors to invest in the Government's current development/investment programme. Donor-driven development in Ethiopia is now greatly diminished.
Ghana: Programme Approach Welcome, but Only for UNDP Cooperation
The UNDP programme approach was first proposed to the Government in 1989. Since the Government was eager to rationalize the UNDP portfolio by clustering the then-existing 54 projects into more manageable entities, it readily welcomed the new UNDP approach. The many previous projects were grouped into four multisectoral, thematic programmes: Participatory Development, Poverty Alleviation, Science and Technology, and Capacity-building. In subsequent years, some of these themes were combined (Participatory Development with Poverty Alleviation, Science and Technology with Capacity-building) and two new programmes were added (Governance and Capacity 21). However, the pattern of formulating and implementing the UNDP portfolio largely within the framework of four multisectoral programmes endures.
UNDP Programme Approach Is a Success. The programme approach in Ghana is well on track to accomplish most of its objectives. The country office has used the approach to turn a scattered, unmanageable collection of projects into a small number of more coherent, effective programmes with demonstrable impact on their spheres of activity.
The programmes are multisectoral yet effectively focused on clear tasks, serving well-defined sets of beneficiaries. The current programmes focus on small enterprises, community development, governance, and Agenda 21. They also target their activities to the same set of districts, enhancing focus, facilitating coordination, maximizing impact and allowing effective impact monitoring with district-level baseline data. Care has been taken not to make the programmes excessively complex or to overburden them with all-encompassing mandates but rather to concentrate resources and external assistance on a few tasks that are concrete and strategic.
The one criticism of the programme approach from those involved is that the programme support document, especially its new software, has become increasingly detailed and rigid, taking away some of the flexibility originally promised by the programme approach.
Broad Donor Cooperation Has Not Materialized. Although the programme approach successfully rationalized and improved the programming of the UNDP-assisted portfolio, UNDP has been unsuccessful in using the approach to create a broad, nationally defined set of development programmes to provide a framework for the coordination of the very significant levels of official development assistance that continue to pour into Ghana. With few exceptions, the approach remains largely a UNDP affair.
Other donors find the UNDP emphasis on thematic and cross-sectoral programmes idiosyncratic and problematic. They are more comfortable with a traditional sectoral approach, especially when the levels of grant funding and/or loan financing are as high as they are in Ghana. Negotiations among donors are difficult enough, they say, without adding the process of elaborately defining programme substance and boundaries. Similarly, donors would prefer to avoid having to negotiate with multiple ministries. Given the problem of relatively low public-sector managerial and coordination capacity, most donors prefer the simplicity of traditional sector-specific programmes.
Summary. UNDP has found its programme approach to be an effective mechanism for simplifying its development programming and securing the national commitment and ownership necessary to assure the effective, sustainable delivery of its modest resources. It is a success for both Ghana and UNDP.
India: National Development Planning and a Project Approach
India adopted a planned approach to economic development half a century ago and although the policy content has evolved considerably, the planning process retains a strong sectoral planning focus. The national planning framework provides the reference point for all external assistance. Not surprisingly, external actors have little influence over the planning process for this nation of almost one billion people.
UNDP has been able to introduce certain elements of the programme approach for its own portfolio, especially the grouping of many discrete activities into fewer but broader programmes. However, India's established sector-focused planning framework will continue to define national development planning far, far into the future.
First Country Cooperation Framework (CCF). The first CCF for India (1997-2001) focuses on three broad issues: growth with equity, poverty alleviation, and human development within the framework of the Government's development plan. Building on the progress initiated during the previous country programme, which had introduced national execution and the beginnings of the programme approach, it stresses key UNDP issues within the priorities set by the Government.
Still a hybrid of the programme and project approaches, the CCF consists of 10 mutually reinforcing programmes made up of 150 discrete components that greatly resemble projects. These programmes include: Small Industry Development, Food and Nutrition Security, Economic Reforms Support, Capacity-building, Community-based Pro-poor Initiatives, Technology, Energy and the Environment, and an Umbrella Facility for Innovative Initiatives in Capacity-building and Cross-cutting Issues. The 10 programmes clearly show the combination of the SHD issues of UNDP with the Government's issues of economic reform and sectoral development.
Programme Approach Processes. The participatory process of programme formulation and the discipline of the programme support document have produced some of the results anticipated from the programme approach concept. The programme formulation exercises have brought State representatives into the process, increasing the ownership and geographical reach of UNDP-assisted activities. However, the formulation process, in India as elsewhere, is time-consuming with its layers of added consultation for broad agreement on implementation details. Country office staff and national personnel questioned the value added of the additional formulation time. They also expressed concern that the process might actually harm programmes by introducing complexities that are not truly required to address a problem. The programme approach concept leans towards an unwieldy incorporation of all possible interrelationships and options. In an already complex land, this can have negative consequences for effective programme management. Also, the detailed programme approach instruments risk being perceived as simply more paperwork within a bureaucratic tradition that is already overburdened by paper.
Summary. Despite the overriding national commitment to sectoral planning and continued doubts on the part of some UNDP and government participants regarding the utility of the programme approach in the Indian context, several important programme approach elements are being established with the UNDP portfolio, even in India.
Lebanon: Special Conditions Warrant Special Modalities
Recent historical circumstances created an extremely segmented political and institutional landscape that is unfavourable to the cross-sectoral, highly integrated type of assistance that the programme approach promotes on a global basis. The prevailing conditions in Lebanon required different modalities to materialize the approach.
In this vein, the first effort was the integrated rural development project (LEB/96/100) of the Baalbek-Hermel region. A second programme support document-based endeavour was launched as late as 1997 with the Basic Education Development Programme (LEB/96/006). Leaving aside a number of other projects in the areas of administrative reform, good governance, poverty alleviation, etc., a look at these two programmes reveals that they are very different in nature. LEB/96/100, through its vertical coordination structure, links local, regional and central levels, cutting across the irrigation, credit, health care, sanitation and energy sectors, while LEB/96/006 aims to reform and rehabilitate Lebanon's basic education system.
Country Office Commitment. The basic thrust of the programme approach is well appreciated by the country office. At the same time, many UNDP staff feel that given the country's particular circumstances, the approach can be applied to programmes as well as projects. Within the country office, there is a strong sense of the intimate connection between the programme approach and NEX. However, the weak governance capacity in the country makes NEX a difficult modality to apply, especially when it comes to national management of complex and multisectoral programmes.
Conscious of the benefits of the programme approach, the Government appreciates, even demands, more focused programmes. Nonetheless, at present, there is no clearly identifiable government programme framework within which full cooperation can take place in line with the tenets of the programme approach. In other words, there is some demand from the Government, but basic preconditions for the full implementation of the approach are lacking. The question in Lebanon at this juncture relates not so much to the understanding of the approach as it does to how to remedy the absence of the preconditions.
National Ownership and Participation. Lebanon's recent history and prevailing institutional environment are not favourable to strong national ownership of programmes or to programmatic approaches in general. Thus, the efforts of UNDP to promote nationally owned programmes with more programmatic cross-sectoral emphasis on development cooperation may get some attention but no action. Weak cooperation among Government ministries and limited institutional capacities hamper national ownership and national management.
Mechanisms Burdensome under Present Conditions. In general, the Government's development management and cooperation can be described as weak, especially in those areas that are not directly related to overall reconstruction efforts. Given the monumental task it is facing, UNDP itself lacks both the substantive and the managerial capacity to compensate for this weakness in the public sector. The issue in Lebanon is not whether or not the country office can design and implement the programme approach - it certainly can - but how to cope with a number of special constraints that the country's current conditions impose upon it.
UNDP views the programme approach as an improvement over the top-down project approach in as much as it forces UNDP to seek better integration of its development assistance with national development priorities and programmes. In the meantime, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on the mechanics of preparing the programme support document when other day-to-day activities of the country office are very pressing. Project/programme management, monitoring, evaluation, budgeting, etc., are the burdens that fall upon the country office to a greater extent than in any other country.
Summary. At present, Lebanon's segmented political and institutional landscape seems unfavourable to the cross-sectoral and highly integrated type of assistance the programme approach is intended to provide. The prevailing conditions make it necessary for the country office to opt for innovative modalities to promote ownership and emphasize focus and coordination rather than those afforded by the PSD. The consequence is a different materialization of the programme approach.
Madagascar: Programme Approach with Agency Execution
Madagascar was early in implementing the programme approach but late in introducing NEX because of the scarcity of national managerial staff. The country's first experiences with the new programme approach maintained the old system of agency execution by FAO, ILO and UNIDO. As a result, the country programme of the UNDP fifth programming cycle illustrates a range of programming modalities and planning tools in various combinations.
Programmes focused on three themes: capacity-building in economic planning and management, small and micro enterprises, and fisheries. The agency-executed programmes were instituted while a number of earlier discrete projects continued.
Hard Times in Antananarivo. The programme approach was first introduced during a period of economic progress, but the sudden political changes and economic downturn of the early 1990s altered the landscape and the assumption on which the programmes were predicated.
By 1989, economic growth had finally outpaced population growth and macroeconomic indicators had begun to stabilize, but this progress came to a halt abruptly in the early 1990s. Political stability was in jeopardy as the people of Madagascar attempted to re-institute democracy. In 1991, the economy contracted by 6.3 per cent; the political situation deteriorated further; and the IFIs withdrew their financial support. Political difficulties, administrative inertia, and economic uncertainties continued on and off for several years. Nonetheless, for the UNDP-assisted programmes and projects, there were some successes (especially in the area of fisheries) as well as failures and dogged progress for others, but little hope anywhere for sustainability.
Current Programming. The country office and the Government have developed three programmes that continue the previous areas of emphasis: Poverty Alleviation at the Community Level (Including Small and Medium Enterprises); Protection of the Environment and the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources; Governance and Economic Management.
A key attribute of all new programmes is that they are nationally executed in the hope that this will address the problems of weak ownership and sustainability that characterized the earlier programmes.
A Model Programme? The new UNDP/Global Environment Facility (GEF) programme Support to the National Environmental Action Programme provides perhaps the strongest example of how the programme approach should work. The overall Environmental Action Programme, initially issued by the Government in 1990, has been gaining the support of major donors and international environmental NGOs. It has developed strong government ownership, including the legal establishment of its implementing structures and it has gathered support from multiple donors. The programme combines policy and grass-roots work with coordination mechanisms at the national and local levels. It is focused on a number of key themes but also works to mainstream environmental issues into regular sectoral policies. The implementation plans for the programme are incremental and the programme support document is technically sound, with a frank assessment of capacity and a manageable set of indicators for effective monitoring. In summary, UNDP/GEF supports a specific set of activities within a large, coherent, multi-donor, national programme focused on a crucial multisectoral problem.
Summary. It may not be fair to blame (as some do) agency execution for Madagascar's mixed record in the first round of the programme approach; a multitude of political and economic problems existed at the time. However, both conceptually and in its operationalization, the programme approach marches best paired with NEX, which squarely identifies the country, not the donors, as having the responsibility for programme success and paying the price of programme failure.
Malawi: Breaking New Ground
Malawi was one of the countries that broke new ground by compressing more than 100 projects of the fourth programming cycle into 28 components and four programmes. This major clustering was done even before the programme approach guidelines were issued.
Programmes' Complexity Slows Implementation. There were four major programme areas in the fifth programming cycle: Smallholder Agricultural Programme (SHP); Small Enterprise Development Programme (SEDP); Social Development Programme (SDP); and Management for Development Programme (MDP). They were supported and linked by several cross-programme strategies based on the UNDP themes of gender, environment, job creation, etc. The programmes were too complex, too broadly defined and covered too many sectors. The lack of a coordinating ministry made their management all the more strenuous.
The fifth programming cycle was beset by notable delays, especially in the Management for Development Programme, owing to significant political changes in the country.
Gradual Understanding of the Programme Approach. It was not easy for the Government to move from the project to the programme approach. Initially, there was an uneasy feeling that the programme modality was the idea of UNDP. However, this notion was dispelled with the programming of the fifth cycle and the Government began to perceive the advantages of aggregating the disparate projects into logical clusters that were much more program-matic. Nevertheless, the UNDP staff observed that the radical switch to a programme modality could only be implemented through several shortcuts, resulting in numerous unsustainable practices.
The dramatic style change of the fifth country programme was not understood or accepted by many in the Government. A less ambitious programme is being pursued during the present programming period and the Government has a much better understanding of the tenets of the programme approach.
The UNDP staff also experienced a learning curve. The issues raised during the fourth and fifth cycles have made the staff well versed and seasoned in the programme approach.
Capacity Is a Continuing Challenge. The major deficiency in implementing the approach is the absence of a systematic monitoring system for its assessment. UNDP understands the problem quite well and does not spare any effort to remedy the situation. It is also well aware of the measures that are necessary to remedy the deficiencies in the Government. However, the bureaucratic mechanism is not in a position to respond quickly to such remedies. Problems are likely to persist because neither the Government's organizational structure nor the human resources available in the public sector are at a level that would facilitate the holistic multisectoral focus that the programme approach implies.
District-level Participation Breaks New Ground. The programme approach was instrumental in the setting up of participatory planning systems and District Development Funds for the delivery of basic infrastructure at the district level. The Management for Development Programme, for example, focused attention on regions and districts and succeeded not only in bringing together district-level actors but also in stimulating the private sector and the NGOs to participate in implementation.
Summary. National ownership of the programmes has yet to be fully established. The Government agreed to the programme approach only on an experimental basis. At present there is no national programme framework as defined in the UNDP guidelines. A specially established Programme Management Support Unit, which remains outside the Government's organizational structure, supports the UNDP-supported programmes.
Mauritius: A Flexible Focus
Mauritius is at an important junction in development. It needs to reshape its national development model and policies. Bold steps are imperative as are policies governing external assistance. In 1993, UNDP designed an umbrella programme that allowed the approval of the bulk of the resources for use in a flexible manner in a number of policy development and capacity-building initiatives. The trend was set for less numerous but larger projects.
The January 1996 presidential address set the tone for a policy framework that was quite conducive to the programme approach. However, the government programmes were then, and continue to be, very sectoral and are not always compatible with the approach. A flexible venue had to be found. UNDP found it in designing a programme that aimed to bring together other development partners to co-finance downstream activities and combining them with its own main emphasis on upstream policy-level activities focused on a set of sub-sectors, such as education, health and sanitation, and the environment.
Understanding the Programme Approach Concept and Its Implications. At the conceptual level, UNDP understands the implications of the approach quite well. National ownership and national execution are especially well conceived and carried out. Flexibility in programming technical cooperation is perhaps the greatest contribution of UNDP to the programme approach since despite the Government's full appreciation of the approach, it insists on embarking on reforms in a sectoral way. United Nations agencies tend to follow their own programming system as do the bilateral donors. There is little coordination with UNDP, mainly because the programmes overlap.
Strong Ownership and Participation. A high level of national ownership prevails in all the activities funded by UNDP and other United Nations organizations as well as by other donors. UNDP has long been working with the Ministry of Economic Development and Regional Cooperation and the relations between the two entities are quite good. The Ministry is in strong command, which relieves UNDP of the burden of dealing with different line ministries on a one-to-one basis. This relationship also enhances the sense of ownership and is quite likely to lead the Ministry to come close to sharing the holistic vision of UNDP.
Capacity to Design and Implement the Programme Approach. Although no formal capacity assessment was undertaken, there is little doubt that the Government's technical and administrative capacities are strong. UNDP capacity to design programmes and support their implementation is good, particularly in terms of administrative support, which it provides very efficiently.
The country office has a keen sense of what the economic, social and political realities of the country are. The success of the organization's flexible focus on the programme approach is at least partly due to this sense. Monitoring and evaluation are not priorities in a small island like Mauritius. There are a good information system and a data bank for this purpose.
Flexibility Is the Key. A flexible programme approach is perceived as a great advantage, especially because of the high political volatility that characterizes Mauritius. With the current programme modality, UNDP and the Ministry are able to respond quickly to new requests. However, there is an inherent contradiction between flexibility and coherence. Coherent programmes function in a consistent policy environment. Frequent policy changes pose a major challenge to coherence. Flexibility enables a response to frequent changes, but at the expense of coherence. In Mauritius, the riskiest area of policy change appears to be sectoral plans. The flexible focus responded well to such changes, but coherence had to be sacrificed from time to time.
Peru: Supply Does Not Create Its Own Demand
The UNDP staff fully understand the programme approach concept, but they are of the opinion that it cannot be applied easily in Peru. Simply put, there is no demand for the approach.
Government Finds the Approach Unsuitable for Peru. The Government is extremely sensitive to any suggestion emanating from external agencies with regard to coordination or even to the facilitation of a multisectoral national policy. It is convinced that there is sufficient professional in-house capacity to design and implement programmes and projects without further assistance from any multilateral or bilateral agency. The Government feels that it owns the projects and that the programme approach has no added value for furthering the sense of ownership. The Government found the programme approach inappropriate for the overall planning of technical cooperation programmes. Rather, it considered it a tool for better project coordination and implementation.
Programme Approach Limited to UNDP Planning Process. As a result of the Government position vis-à-vis the programme approach, UNDP had no choice but to use the approach as an internal tool for the conceptualization of goals and strategies as well as for management methodology and project monitoring and evaluation but not for the national coordination of technical cooperation.
Consequently, UNDP clustered its projects into three major groups: strengthening of social development; consolidation of the modernization of the State; and sustainable development and conservation of the environment and natural resources.
Using the programme approach as an internal management tool, UNDP prepared quite capably several programme support documents (PSDs). These helped the country office to formulate a coherent programme, but their utility remained internal. The country office tried to create demand for a programme in the agricultural sector. For this purpose, it prepared a well-designed PSD, yet the Ministry and the counterpart organization never consented to the start-up of the programme. For conceptual reasons, not for lack of capacity, the Government perceives that the approach has little, if any, utility and no value added.
The country office has used the programme approach as a vehicle in its deal-ings with other donors in mobilizing additional resources. This is attested to by the fact that the co-sharing of several projects financed by other donors exceeds the UNDP budget several fold.
Summary. In Peru, the advantage of the programme approach lies exclusively with UNDP and its internal management, but the bureaucratic requirements of the approach are time-intensive and overburdening. The Government views the approach as appropriate for least developed countries, but not for Peru.
Sudan: A Community-based Programme Approach
Sudan's very large ($28 million from the fifth programming cycle IPF alone) Area Development Schemes Programme provides a mechanism for delivering sustainable assistance to the community level in a nation where the reach of government services and administration is sharply curtailed by geography and public-sector resource constraints. Formulated in the late 1980s, the area development scheme (ADS) is an innovative approach to development programming designed, in part, to free community-based programming from bottlenecks at the centre. The Programme selected five relatively remote areas to be the home of strongly community-based development schemes. Efficiencies were gained through funding and overseeing the five schemes through a single framework, but the basis of national ownership was established at the local, not the national, level.
For almost a decade, literally through drought, pestilence, flood and war, the five ADSs have been delivering effective and sustainable development assistance in a land where most projects fail outright and where few international donors remain on the scene.
Community-based Programme. The schemes provide micro-financing for community and individual projects in environmental protection (aforestation and agroforestry), appropriate technology (often related to water resources), and local income- generation. They make a strong initial investment in social mobilization to create local ownership, understanding and responsibility. The Programme continues to expand in a franchise-like fashion to new village development committees so that today, it reaches almost 500 communities in the northern part of the Sudan. This broad replication of ADS activities is an accomplishment that eludes many community-level development interventions.
The technical staffing consists of young Sudanese professionals willing to dedicate themselves to community-level development work. The programme support unit in Khartoum, with the cooperation of the five ADSs in the regions, has created an appropriate set of indicators with baseline data that allows for effective impact monitoring in the geographical areas of activity.
Recently, the Government in Khartoum pressed UNDP to establish a similar programme in communities currently under government military control in the war zone in the south. The fate of these area rehabilitation schemes (ARSs) depends on the fortunes of war or the progress of peace talks.
Programme Approach or Not? Normal enabling conditions for the programme approach do not exist in Sudan. A clear national programme framework is lacking; government capacity is almost non-existent; and there is a dearth of development funding. The ADSs Programme accomplishes some of the objectives of the programme approach concept. It provides a unified poverty alleviation approach that is applied with flexibility to diverse communities. Several discrete components (area schemes) are supported efficiently from a single unit in Khartoum despite the considerable independence of each ADS. There is a degree of coordination among various United Nations agencies that serve as cooperating agencies for one scheme or another. Although originally formulated as five projects within an overarching programme, using the project document format, recent phases are being formulated using the programme support document format, albeit with difficulty.
However, the ADSs differ from the programme approach, as currently conceived at UNDP headquarters, in some important ways. There is no national programme in the Sudan to guide these ADSs and by design, there is little national government ownership; ownership rests almost entirely at the community level. The weak linkage to the centre is intentional, not accidental, and may be a key to the successes of the ADSs.
Summary. Although the ADS approach is unique and not envisaged in the official programme approach guidelines, it does provide a model of how to assure that a significant proportion of development resources and capacity is truly invested at the community level, especially in countries facing extreme constraints. Its strong focus on community and local ownership has much to offer in a land where ministries, services, infrastructure and resources are scarce to nonexistent. The programme-approach style that the ADS brings to coordination and the ADS conceptual framework foster the broad replication of the development activities, a feat that has often eluded community-level development projects.
Turkey: National Development Strategies Precede the Programme Approach
Because Turkey is not a stranger to a programmatic approach to national development, UNDP found a sympathetic ear for its programme approach. Thus the design of the fifth country programme along the lines of the programme approach required minimum preparatory assistance. Moving quickly to an advanced stage, UNDP held a series of discussions not only with responsible government officials but also with academics, business leaders, and NGOs, in short, with the different strata of civil society. The advisory note emanated from these discussions.
The response of the Government was positive and reflected its clear understanding of the programme approach. The programming of the fifth programming cycle and the present programming was articulated in the spirit of the close collaboration between the Government and UNDP. Four programme areas were selected: implementation of the global agenda for development; urbanization and habitat; social development and disparity reduction; and strengthening Turkey's national capacity for technical cooperation with other countries.
Understanding the Programme Approach Concept and Its Implications. The programme approach and its implications have not posed any difficulty either for the Government or UNDP. The State Planning Organization (SPO) was quite articulate on programmes and their implications. UNDP was a totally competent organization with which to collaborate and fully capable of launching the approach. These are particular characteristics of the country that are not observable to that degree anywhere else. UNDP is staffed with professionals with post-graduate degrees who are well versed in the programme approach. The country office has hosted and participated in numerous training workshops to upgrade the capacity of various country offices in the Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States region.
Ownership and Participation. While neither the programme approach nor the national execution modality created the sense of ownership, both have played a role in enhancing it. In fact, Turkey was executing programmes nationally even during the fourth programming cycle. These projects and programmes, several of which have been financed from a multiplicity of sources, mirrored the development programme designed by SPO. Moreover, various levels of civil society participate to an appreciable degree not only in programme formulation but also in implementation. The prime example is the participation of NGOs in the implementation of the Southern Anatolia Project (GAP), a multisectoral and multi-dimensional regional programme financed from both national and external sources. The ultimate aim of the programme is sustainable human development by way of hydro-electricity, irrigation, development of small enterprises, and consideration of gender issues.
Capacity Is Not an Issue in Turkey. UNDP is fully capable of designing programmes that adhere to the guidelines of the approach. Nevertheless, some staff members consider that these guidelines are not very user-friendly. A task force known as ISDPC (Inter-Agency Social Development Programming Committee) established by the Resident Coordinator facilitates the implementation of the programme approach. The task of ISDPC is, inter alia, to bring together all United Nations agencies and international financial institutions engaged in GAP. However, the United Nations-led coordination among multilateral and bilateral donor agencies is limited at present to GAP projects.
Contributions of the Programme Approach to Turkey's Development Planning. The programme approach found fertile ground in Turkey. SPO, the technical interlocutor of UNDP, was ready, capable and willing to follow the tenets of the approach, which aimed to bring under a general umbrella a multiplicity of projects that may or may not have been interrelated or interconnected. This is a principle advantage for UNDP in designing programmes. It is also a fundamental advantage for Turkey in managing nationally implemented programmes and projects. The approach also facilitated the active participation of national and local stakeholders to a great extent. No permanent disadvantage of the approach is observable in Turkey other than the cost of start-up operations. Both the Government and UNDP are fully aware that this is a fixed cost that will decline appreciably as time marches on.
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMSACC - Administrative Committee on Coordination
The United Nations Development Programme is the UN's largest source of grants for development cooperation. Its funding is from voluntary contributions of Member States of the United Nations and affiliated agencies. A network of 132 country offices and programmes in more than 170 countries and territories help people to help themselves. In each of these countries, the UNDP Resident Representative normally also serves as the Resident Coordinator of operational activities for development of the United Nations system as a whole. This can include humanitarian as well as development assistance.
UNDP's main priority is poverty eradication. Its work also focuses on the closely linked goals of environmental regeneration, the creation of sustainable livelihoods and the empowerment of women. Programmes for good governance and peace building create a climate for progress in these areas. Country and regional programmes draw on the expertise of developing country nationals and non-governmental organizations, the specialized agencies of the United Nations system and research institutes. Seventy-five per cent of all UNDP-supported projects are implemented by local organizations.
Ninety per cent of UNDP's core programme is focused on 66 countries that are home to 90 per cent of the world's extremely poor. UNDP is a hands-on organization with 85 per cent of its staff in the countries that it supports.
United Nations Development Programme
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Tel. (212) 906-5847
Fax (212) 906-6008