Africa is undoubtedly doing better than a few decades ago. More people have access to better job opportunities, health care and other public services as well as more freedom to make their own choices. But only one in four countries in Africa are on track to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, and there are a few that are going in the opposite direction. We know that food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger are on the rise globally. We can and must do much more to improve this.
Sustained economic growth and even rapid structural transformation in some African countries has not always translated into tangible outcomes. And it is not just a matter of mobilising more resource to developing countries or spending more. In fact, although still far from optimal, private and official financial flows to developing countries have been increasing in the last decades.
A large part of the solution lies in turbo-charging public-service delivery, which will help transform resources into development outcomes.
The Covid crisis made even more apparent that global and local strategy, policy and delivery mechanisms are far from ideal and that there is an urgent need for “doing delivery differently”.
As public-service delivery expectations from citizens increase, there needs to be a whole-of-state approach to tackle complex problems that don’t have simple technical solutions. For instance, agile, adaptive, and user-centric practices and skills from the private sector, such as tech companies, are well suited for this.
The private sector is not only an ally of government and other development partners because of implementation efficiency, for example in infrastructure, but also an invaluable partner for bringing about new ideas and innovative techniques to co-shape and co-create the future of delivery.
Academia can also play a much more active role on mainstreaming data and evidence into the policy mix and implementation efforts. And to bring systemic and sustainable changes, the guiding coalition has to be better assembled, bigger, smarter and politically savvy.
In the past two decades, many governments in Africa and across the world have increased their focus on effective public-policy implementation, including the set up and strengthening of delivery units.
For example the Government of Rwanda introduced target-based commitments, as part of Imihigo, their flagship governance policy, and linked them to formal planning, monitoring and evaluation, and accountability systems to improve decentralised service delivery.
One of these targets was to increase contraception use as part of a broader push to improve health care, including protecting against sexually transmitted infections, and to promote development. The government introduced a well-coordinated public family-planning service-delivery system with community health workers and nurses filling different roles in meeting client needs at the local level. The integration of contraception into other maternal and child health services is now the norm. As a result, in one district contraception use more than doubled from 7.2 to 18.4 percent in less than a year and nationally it increased from 17 to 53 percent between 2005 and 2015.
Although this delivery-unit trend is likely to continue, current efforts in some African countries are not enough to achieve sustainable and timely results that are meaningful to all citizens. This is why we set up the annual Africa Delivery Exchange (ADX) event, which brings together leaders from African governments and development partners to share their learning and experiences in public-service delivery. This year the event is taking place from 5 to 12 October in Cape Town, with the first three days dedicated to climate, and is co-hosted with the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town.
The future of delivery will inevitably require overhauling how governments collect, process, curate, use and re-use data for decision-making. Iterative user-centred design (which needs a good amount of data) and problem-solving as well as more decisively mainstreaming digital technologies will be critical in moving from static evidence-based policy to enabling dynamic and agile policy discovery.
Governments will also need to move from piloting and testing to leveraging knowledge and resources, including for better public-private partnerships, to achieve outcomes at scale. And citizens also have a huge role to play, in feeding into inclusive policymaking processes and holding governments accountable to their promises. For this to happen a new trusting relationship between citizens and governments must be forged.
Assembling the knowledge and experience from TBI’s partners and government counterparts will not only deepen and enrich this conversation but also lock in strong commitments to deliver better.
Photo credit: Getty