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Can leadership development training for public agency staff lead to improved utility performance and community-level service?

We talk a lot of about systems change in IRC. We have spent years thinking about why some systems are effective at achieving their purpose and others fail. We have developed 'building blocks' for WASH service delivery to help illustrate all the key processes and sub-systems that contribute to service delivery. As an engineer, I think a lot about how these different moving parts work together (or don't) to make water accessible, available, affordable, and safe for the people who use it. An effective water service delivery system requires a healthy financing system, decent policy and regulation, a monitoring system, asset management, processes for learning and adaptation, and a supportive ecosystem and resource base. But regardless of how well the system and systems processes are designed, we must keep in mind that the water service delivery is a part of a complex socio-technical system—a coupled human environment system. The behaviour of the system is the result of a large number of decisions and actions made by individual people at all stages. These sub-systems or building blocks are driven by institutions, and effective institutions depend not only on well-structured processes but also on motivated people who are pro-active, reliable, and empowered to execute activities as intended and to initiate improvements for adaptive management.

By the late-1990s it was evident that public agencies around the world were struggling to provide services and there was a global push toward public private partnerships to increase available capital and to take advantage of profit-making as a motivator for service delivery. At the same time, the question was raised about why government agencies were under-performing and unable to match the service delivered (in some cases) by private enterprises. Could public agencies be motivated to perform better? Technical investments and infrastructure in public utilities were failing. One idea was that instead of fixing broken infrastructure with more infrastructure, perhaps it would be more effective to invest in the people in the institutions and leave it in their hands to decide the best way to improve utility performance?

The Change Management Group (CMG) was born. With support from the World Bank, UNICEF, and other partners, the CMG began taking contracts with public utilities to diagnose the problems faced at the community level and to develop customised leadership and motivational trainings to support the agency staff to become motivated to address the issues in their own ways. In 2006, a major change initiative was conducted with the engineers of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage (TWAD) Board, India. Citing a need to improve utility performance, water conservation, and community-level inclusion, the Change Management Group invited engineers and public servants to participate in a multi-day workshop to inspire change from within using a carefully designed workshop based on the Change Agent Network (CAN) model for change management.

As a leader in innovative monitoring with experience in change management in WASH, IRC was contracted to conduct the impact assessment. It was decided that the best evidence of change would be change at the community level—had engineers' behaviour changed sufficiently that it could be perceived by the communities that they serve? IRC's Dr. Christine van Wijk (now Dr. Christine Sijbesma) worked with Dr. A.J. James (Pragmatix) to develop an innovative assessment tool that would make it possible to quantify a large amount of qualitative data collected through a participatory process using focus group discussions. The novel method build on Dr. Sijbesma's previous work and was called Quantified Participatory Analysis (QPA). QPA made it possible to integrate knowledge from stakeholder perspectives along with data from a number of mixed methods assessment tools to develop questions and benchmarks for information to be collected in Focus Group Discussions. The method was flexible in that it could be well-adapted to the local context but also made it possible to observe large-scale community level change using a relatively small number of focus groups, and to capture and present the findings from these focus groups on simple histograms that could be presented to decision makers. The method also created a sort of visioning exercise where stakeholders had to agree on the collective definition of the 'ideal' that would serve as a benchmark for the score of 100. Using QPA alongside traditional performance indicators, it was observed that 'treatment' communities (those served by engineers whose TWAD Boards received the change management trainings) experienced more holistic and inclusive water management, and the TWAD engineers were perceived to have significantly higher value to the community compared to  engineers who did not receive the training.

Example Results Histogram from TWAD QPA 2006:  Note the higher scores for the trained engineers (blue bars) compared to the untrained engineers (white bars). Taken from a Presentation by Dr. A J (Viju) James, Dr. V. Suresh, and Dr. Vibhu Niyar at IRC Netherlands, 22 June 2006.

The QPA method also proved valuable and was adopted within IRC and more widely throughout the sector, eventually taking the shape of Qualitative Information Survey (QIS) that is often used today. Its ability to capture community-level impacts in a cost and time effective manner has led to its repeated use in impact assessments to support change management training, as a way for the World Bank to further investigate the efficacy of such trainings within public utilities.

IRC has recently had the opportunity to re-engage with a World Bank-supported change management initiative to carry out the impact assessment of the leadership development trainings in two more government agencies—in Meghalaya, NE India and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. As the Change Management process has been successful in Tamil Nadu, this is the first opportunity to bring the Change Agent Network (CAN) Model for institutional change into two very new contexts; IRC is again using the QPA Methodology for the evaluation. The testimonies from public utility staff who have received the training have been inspirational, so we look forward to finding out, through the QPA assessment, if these changes have been felt at the community-level. The impact assessment is ongoing, and we hope that the flexibility of the QPA will serve to not only evaluate the success of the training but also provide useful insight into if and how such trainings in the study locations can impact field-level behaviour and overall agency performance.

It has been said that change management might be a key ingredient for igniting the systems change process, so through these impact assessments we will better understand if and how the methodology has been effective outside of Tamil Nadu in these two new contexts. The findings from the impact assessments will be useful to inform utility decision makers, change management trainers, and the World Bank about how individual and organisational change processes can impact agency performance and service quality at the community level.

Dr. A.J. (Viju) James and Dr. Rema Saraswathy discussing the benchmarks for QPA scoring on the way back from a pilot QPA survey and field visit in Ri Bhoi, Meghalaya, India.

 

 

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