• The Inter-American Development Bank aims to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Each country needs its own delivery model but each requires support from the top
  • A delivery unit must not be seen as a political competitor to those doing the actual delivering

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) may have its headquarters in Washington, DC but its compass points south, deep into the heart of Latin America and the Caribbean. The bank’s mission is clear – to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean by promoting development across the region – and it deploys a variety of measures to this end, all designed to maximise the public impact and improve citizen outcomes.

Primarily, its operations are directed at providing financial and technical support for countries that are working to reduce poverty and inequality. The bank provides loans, grants, and technical assistance in order to help improve health and education and to advance infrastructure. But the scope of services is not just limited to matters financial. The bank’s teams also conduct research and offer advice to governments on how to strengthen their performance – which is where Mariano Lafuente comes in.

The governance of Latin American governments

As a senior public management specialist at the IDB, he works in a team that focuses on public sector management. “Within this division, our mission is to promote more effective, efficient and open governments,” he explains. “And one of the topics on our agenda for the past few years has been the centre of government, encouraging policymakers to strengthen their delivery mechanisms. At the same time we have been seeking to promote better governance, and we do this through lending as well as technical assistance and facilitating knowledge transfer.”

Lafuente is in prime position to help. Not only is he the co-author of the book Governing to Deliver: Reinventing the Center of Government in Latin America and the Caribbean but he has also led IDB teams providing technical assistance to several national and state-level governments across the region. From these experiences, he is well placed to identify the common trends and themes that have emerged in recent years.

“There are definitely common challenges,” he says. “We surveyed current and former practitioners in 17 countries in the region in 2013, and we also did a series of interviews with people who work with governments in Latin America. One of them was that many countries have published national development plans, but we found that they were completely divorced from reality. They look great on paper but the reality is totally different.”

He goes on to say that this disparity underlines another finding from their research – the lack of consistent management systems that can track performance. “Many countries have several versions of these systems – not just one that stands alone, and there is no political empowerment behind any of them,” he points out. “Another major challenge is the divide which exists between planning and budgeting. This means that countries have all these great plans for the future but no budget support to actually implement what they propose. Usually it is the budget that drives the process, as opposed to the other way around.”

Changing times, changing approaches

However, that was then – what about now?

Lafuente goes on to say that there has been a marked change of tack in recent years. The spread of ‘deliverology’ – first introduced by Sir Michael Barber in the UK – has penetrated Latin American and Caribbean borders and is starting to take root across the region. “Since we did the survey, we have seen several administrations start to address these challenges by moving towards a more delivery-based approach and away from a fiscal view of performance management,” he says. “For example, some state governments in Brazil started this trend in the region the mid-2000s and the Chilean government created a delivery unit in 2010.”

He goes on to explain that much of this is down to a new generation of leaders taking office, who are tempered by past failures and acutely aware of the need to improve citizen outcomes. “You need leadership and a particular leadership style for this to work,” says Lafuente. “But it is also down to learning from the experiences of countries in other parts of the world – the UK’s delivery unit is one example but also the CitiStat programme in Baltimore and Maryland under Martin O’Malley or Pernambuco’s Management Model in Brazil. This has provoked the interest of politicians because they realise that it can help them achieve their goals and get things done.”

Asked to pinpoint which elements of this delivery model are critical to success, Lafuente says that it is important to remember that each country has its own individual characteristics. This means that a government shouldn’t simply ‘cut and paste’ what worked elsewhere. Instead, nuance is important. Each country needs to craft its own delivery model – one that reflects its system of government, culture and administration – in order to stand the best chance of success.

However, he is also clear that some common factors transfer across borders. “There needs to be total buy-in and support from the top political leader,” he suggests. “Without this you’re not going anywhere. We’ve seen both sides of this play out in the region. You also need to be selective. This means you have to laser in on the specific goals you’re going to track as they get implemented. In addition, there needs to be early intervention – timing is crucial as you have to set the tone from the start.”

And there also needs to be a coordinating unit operating at the centre of government which sends out the credit for successes back to the line ministries and agencies. “It is crucial for this unit to not be seen as a political competitor,” points out Lafuente. “If those working in the ministries and agencies – i.e., the people who are doing the actual delivering – come to view the unit as a threat of some sort, then the approach is not going to succeed.”

Returning to the theme of performance management, he says that credibility is also important. “Without credibility – established through things like analytics and data metrics – then the delivery approach will be damaged,” he says. “I’d even go as far as to say that without this kind of performance measurement information, then you can’t call it a delivery approach.”

Early days, but early successes

Lafuente admits that delivery still has some way to go in Latin America and the Caribbean – “we’re still in an early phase and haven’t seen many results come through yet.” However, he remains confident that when they do emerge, they will be positive enough to help persuade more and more leaders across the region to adopt this new approach to government.

“What we see now is that many political leaders are elected to office and they are already aware of the importance of delivery,” he concludes, “We truly believe this leads to better government and so I am really optimistic that this trend will grow in the future – achieving better result for citizens across the region and aiding its economic and social development.”

 

FURTHER READING

  • The time to deliver is now. Few government careers have been as focused on delivery as Sir Michael Barber’s. Here, he tells Adrian Brown about lessons learned and challenges ahead
  • Data to delivery. Former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor, Martin O’Malley, tells us about a new approach to governance and delivery
  • If ‘delivery’ is such a good idea, why doesn’t everyone care? A renewed focus on the mechanics of delivery makes sense for governments around the world, says Donald Kettl. But more needs to be done to win over sceptics
  • Yes, Mr President. Falling energy prices may be hitting its revenues but Bolivia’s former president, Jorge Quiroga, says the future remains bright. He explains how to navigate the policymaking landscape
  • Mexico’s moment. Mexico’s President Peña is on a mission to shake up his country’s business, social and political structures. But no reforms matter more than those revolutionising its energy sector, explains Eduardo León
  • Driving the delivery of development. Overseeing the World Bank Group’s delivery unit is more than just keeping score, explains Melanie Walker
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