In 2008, Sierra Leone established a Strategy and Policy Unit reporting to the President. Its aim was to improve implementation of the President’s reform agenda using a range of delivery techniques. For the first two years, its staff worked hard but produced limited results. Then in 2010 the Unit was reformed and restructured. Its efforts then quickly began to yield real results on the ground. Comparing the two periods in the history of the Unit produces some useful insights about what works in Delivery.
The original Unit worked with all 22 Ministries. Confronted with deep challenges including poor information, low capacity, and variable will to reform, it was spread too thinly to be able to affect change. When it was reformed in 2010, the Unit was refocused on six priorities. Within each priority area, it focused on one project. The new focus allowed it to begin to deliver results.
2. Regular stocktakes
Though the original Unit reported to the President, meetings with him on each priority where infrequent and irregular. This lack of routine meant that the stocktakes were insufficiently regular and predictable to create accountability for delivery. The reformed Unit set up a regular schedule of stocktakes to review progress, and in doing so created pressure to deliver results to a predictable rhythm of deadlines.
3. Staffing and relationships
The original Unit was staffed with a large number of senior experienced figures from government. While this gave it experience to draw on, it also meant that many individuals in the Unit had both history and future ambitions which got in the way of doing the work. Collectively, they did not have the skills required to lead an effective unit (of which experience is just one). They also often saw their relationships with Ministries as hierarchical rather than collaborative. When the Unit was reformed, changed is staffing and relationships to focus on supporting Ministries collaboratively with the routine work of delivery.
Scharff, M., Delivering on a Presidential Agenda: Sierra Leone’s Strategy and Policy Unit 2010-2011, 2012.