Launching reform is difficult for a number of reasons: unknowns are at their greatest near the beginning of a new initiative, new teams have not yet earned credibility with stakeholders, momentum has yet to be accrued and routines have yet to be established.
In response to the various obstacles and uncertainties which characterise the beginning of reform, many reform efforts consume significant (and precious) time in an attempt to understand and analyse all the variables involved and devise their approach, before initiating any implementation.
Such reform efforts typically follow a classical approach to developing solutions, where the initial phases of the approach focus on understanding the problem, conducting analysis and formulating a plan, with implementation finally following later in the final stages (Figure 1).
Though reforms which follow this blueprint can be successful, the approach has a number of drawbacks, for example:
Taking longer to achieve results: While time, effort and resources are being directed towards the review, analysis and planning phases of reform, the problem which the reform seeks to address is left to perpetuate.
Losing momentum: In some cases, initial planning can take in excess of two years. It is not uncommon for momentum to fizzle out completely and for implementation to never begin.
Generating insights which may lose relevance overtime: Insights generated at the beginning of a lengthy analysis phase, for example, may no longer be relevant when reform is finally implemented years later.
Losing stakeholder interest: Stakeholder engagement is fleeting. It is often best captured by reforms which can demonstrate quick wins.
Overspending: Funding spent in the review stage, for example, could be redistributed to implementing changes and seeing results.
The best reforms launch implementation sooner rather than later, keen to have an impact in the quickest, most efficient and effective way possible.
Such approaches to reform include:
Delivery combines elements of iterative, experimental and systemic approaches. It is defined as a set of approaches, tools and guidelines used to help governments improve implementation. Most successful Delivery efforts combine rigorous prioritisation with effective use of data, continuous monitoring of progress, regular routines and stock-takes and effective engagement with political leadership.
Uses an iterative approach to quickly learn what reforms work and scale these up accordingly for a wider impact.
Locates bright spots (parts of the system which already work) within the system and replicates these elsewhere.
Prioritises achieving quick and visible successes during the first few months of launching reform. This allows reform efforts to take advantage of the brief window in which political interest can be captured and transformed into further positive action.
Starts small: by focussing on a few key priorities, reform efforts avoid stalling in the planning stages and move more quickly towards implementation.
Richelle George is a research expert with expertise in public health, gender and development.