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How can DFID get better at programme management?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Democratic Republic of Congo, Other

Over the past 5 years we have almost entirely re-engineered the way DFID manages programmes and made some significant improvements. We have introduced, among other things: more rigorous design templates, tougher spending controls, better contract management policies, systematic quality assurance stronger use of evidence and a better focus on results.

But have these changes made DFID more rigorous and effective at delivery? Have we become better able to adapt to the complex and changing environments in which we work?

Development Secretary, Justine Greening, has commissioned an internal review of the programme management cycle to look into these questions. At recent meeting of DFID’s senior managers, we agreed that the review needs to lead to faster programme design and approval; clearer and more streamlined guidance; and, more time spent on delivery and implementation.

In turn, this will help us retain the flexibility and dynamism to deliver multiple objectives; deliver quantifiable results while continuing to invest in changes that will unfreeze longer term processes; build and strengthen our reputation for innovation and agility as one of the world's leading development agencies.

I am proud (and not a little scared!) to have been asked, with my colleague, Tom Wingfield, to co-lead this review over the next five months.

While this is largely an internal process, we are also interested in external stakeholder perspectives of DFID’s programme management cycle and thought we might be able to elicit views through this blog.

We would welcome comments below or direct contact ( and/or setting out what you think about how DFID manages programmes and are particularly interested in:

1) Innovation and flexibility.

  • How good are we at taking risks, being flexible and innovative?
  • Do we share lessons in an open and transparent way?

2) Capabilities:

  • Do we have sufficient country knowledge for the contexts in which we work?
  • Do we have sufficient implementation management skills and at the right levels?
  • Are DFID staff you interact with able to make decisions and judgements themselves?

3) Operational Processes:

  • What needs to change in our systems to make them simpler, more agile and more appropriate for working in fragile states?
  • Does it feel as though all our processes add value?

Of course, I would be interested in other thoughts on what you think would make DFID a better development partner either direct to me or in the comments section below.

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  1. Comment by Jeremy Hopkins posted on

    1) Innovation and flexibility.

    In the context of Yemen I have been particularly struck by DfID's ability to manage risk and in fact to take risks. The guidance and rhetoric at the global level from the World Bank as well as large donors such as DfID is very much that we should be taking risks in fragile states if we want to see results. However, it is rare to see such risk being managed so pro-actively and DfID in Yemen is an excellent example of the right balance being struck between risk management and control.

    Whilst we have not had much occasion to share lessons learned with DfID colleagues at this stage in our partnership, the extent that we have done so is entirely transparent.

    2) Capabilities:
    DfID in Yemen is constrained by its own security restrictions which severely hampers its ability to gain good in depth knowledge of the country and the context. However it is in recognition of this that DfID has embarked on an ambitious partnership with UNICEF and this recognition is part of the transparency that we value in our relationship with DfID.

    Management skills appear to be sufficient for the work and our interaction with all the different team members is coherent and sensible and with a view to achieve results for children which is, after all, what we are here to do.

    In terms of decentralised decision making we have had no challenges in this regard. The colleagues from DfID with whom we interact have been empowered to take the decisions that we have been looking for without any undue delay or complication.

    3) Operational Processes:
    We have not yet come up against any operational barriers imposed by DfID's operational processes. The process of developing the partnership, whilst rigorous, certainly added value to the design of the programme whilst leaving enough flexibility to make changes as we move forward. However, what probably underlines the process and causes it to succeed is the attitude and approach of the invididual colleagues from DfID who have taken a very collaborative, learning centred approach that results in a jointly agreed process and implementation plan throughout. It would be important to ensure that DfID colleagues on the ground remain as a 'buffer' for the operational processes that DfID requires in order not to overwhelm the partners with whom programmes are being implemented.
    ?What needs to change in our systems to make them simpler, more agile and more appropriate for working in fragile states?
    ?Does it feel as though all our processes add value?

  2. Comment by John Maris posted on

    One interesting idea raised at the DFID Supplier Conference yesterday (in the session by Peter Hawkins, the new head of profession for Programme Management) was how to better leverage DFID's political connections and nous at the programme launch stage. Several suppliers complained about arriving in country to begin work and finding that local government counterparts had never heard of the project. Could a"staging" phase be introduced between the submission of the business case and eventual contracting during which the beneficiary counterparts are kept "warm" and there is an ongoing exchange of information and new developments from DFID side and the counterpart ministry side. This results of this staging phase could be introduced into an updating of the TOR that gets included in the supplier's contract, or some other formal output could be considered.