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Why do governments adopt delivery approaches and what do they do?

Tue, April 19, 6:00 to 7:30am CDT (6:00 to 7:30am CDT), Pajamas Sessions, VR 135

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


While ample evidence exists on the types of interventions that effectively improve learning outcomes, less is known about the effectiveness by which these interventions are implemented. The 2018 World Development Report on education outlines how low learning traps in countries are often related to delivery challenges, and a review of 118 high-quality studies for the RISE program finds poor governance and accountability to be a primary barrier to translating inputs to outcomes in developing country education systems. Governments around the word are responding to this problem by adopting Delivery Approaches, innovative structures or set of processes that improve the way that bureaucrats implement policy, to achieve desired outcomes. Delivery approaches can take a variety of forms and in the past three decades, they have become increasingly popular and applied in a range of contexts. Their application can be traced back to the 1990s, when the New York City Police department introduced a new central management accountability model which successfully reduced crime rates. In the same decade, the UK’s Department for Education piloted a similar model, which in the early 2000s evolved into the UK Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. Interest in and use of this type of model—or an adaption of it—has spread, first to other high-income countries but quickly to developing countries including Malaysia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Brazil, Kenya and others as well.

Yet these approaches have rarely been the subject of peer-reviewed academic research, especially in developing countries. The little scholarly work that does exist is primarily focused on cases in the UK, US, and Canada. For decision-makers, there is also no objective policy-oriented evidence base of the conditions under which a delivery approach will succeed in different contexts. In addition, the proliferation of applications of these approaches has led to a variety of perceptions of delivery. There is no broadly accepted understanding of it or definition of its varied approaches. This matters particularly for the many countries (and donors) concerned about ensuring reforms reach marginalized groups that often see fewer improvements in learning outcomes.

The Education Commission and the University of Oxford, with funding from the FCDO, have partnered to fill this gap in the evidence literature, launching the ‘How to Deliver Education Reform in Developing Countries” (DeliverEd). The programme aims to generate evidence on effective Delivery Approaches and the mechanisms by which they enhance management practices among bureaucrats and therefore implementation of national priorities. The DeliverEd research defines a delivery approach as “an institutionalized unit or structured process within a government bureaucracy that aims to rapidly improve bureaucratic functioning and policy delivery by combining a set of managerial functions in a novel way to shift attention from inputs and processes to outputs and outcomes.” Delivery approaches typically introduce a new set of management practices or reconfigure existing practices in order to shift attention to a defined set of measurable results. Based on this conceptual definition of a delivery approach, the DeliverEd research team was able to identify around 152 cases of adoption worldwide (Mansoor et al., 2021). With such large and rapid uptake globally, the question regarding the effectiveness of such approaches is pressing.

Most research on delivery approaches draws on single historical case studies, where there is limited use of systematic process tracing and outcome data; and few structured cross-national comparisons. For this reason, our understanding of how delivery approaches change administrative routines, practices and cultures along a delivery chain from central government to individual schools is weak – despite mounting concern internationally with the implementation challenges that characterizes efforts to improve learning outcomes in many educational systems in low and middle-income countries. To fill this knowledge gap, DeliverEd aims to answer 5 main questions concerning the origins and effects of a delivery approach. These five questions include: 1) how and where was the delivery approach established, and what were the goals it sought to achieve? 2) how did the approach change management routines and practices among administrators? 3) how did the approach affect attitudes and behaviours of bureaucrats along the delivery chain? 4) what were the outputs and/or outcomes achieved by the approach? 5) what political economy or other contextual features shaped or influenced the adoption and execution of the delivery approach, as well as its accomplishments? To answer these questions, DeliverEd is conducting empirical research in several countries including Ghana, Pakistan and Tanzania.

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