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Public institutions in a post-2015 world: it’s time for a game change

Jan. 15, 2016

The Effective Institutions Platform, hosted by the OECD and the UNDP, is launching its first blog series in response to the challenge raised by Sustainable Development Goal 16. The series will focus on new ways of working to increase the effectiveness of public institutions and uncharted waters when it comes to supporting public institutions.

The blog series builds on discussions held during the Annual Meeting in November 2015 in Singapore and will include think pieces from governance practitioners from both low and middle income countries as well as thought leaders in development agencies.

For the EIP, a multi-stakeholder approach is essential to achieving “inclusive, effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels” by 2030. It recognises that public institutions contribute to a system that is complex. Taking the area of accountability, each institution contributes to a more resilient system as a whole, composed of a variety of actors: parliaments (political accountability), courts (legal accountability), citizens, civil society, ombudsmen, anti-corruption agencies, the media (social accountability) and external audit institutions (regulatory and results accountability).

The actors involved need to innovate and break away from their institutional silos and collaborate more effectively – for example to hold government to account. The system is only as strong as its weakest link. For example, while a Ministry of Finance may often be a well-capacitated institution, it cannot alone be the guardian of sectoral policy-making nor ensure funds are well allocated and spent.

At the request of its members, the Platform is investigating i) why and when collaboration is not sufficiently effective and institutionalised, identifying blockages for engagement; ii)  innovative practices in countries to share with and inspire others; iii) the mechanisms underpinning the benefits of a multi-stakeholder approach to problem-solving.

Peer learning is the tool underpinning the multi-stakeholder approach. Development agencies have traditionally supported public sector reforms through technical assistance, provided in most occurrences by governance experts from the global “North”. The EIP argues that this is an outdated model and promotes a different kind of experience sharing; one which encourages countries to learn from each other.

The premise behind peer learning is that no one knows the challenges facing development practitioners better than the practitioners themselves. Each practitioner is privy to a wealth of knowledge and experience, but their experiences are rarely transferred to others. By passing this expertise on to practitioners in other countries and ensuring it is shared within one’s own country, practitioners can build on past experiences.

Peer learning enables to move away from the normative principles often promoted in the field of governance, based around so-called “best practice”. “Best practice” is often inspired by Northern models - Westminster or Latin-based governance systems - which entail a defined set of public institutions with pre-defined mandates, roles and responsibilities. These institutions are in turn defined by legal frameworks and procedures. Supporting governance in such a way can cripple innovation and cultural adaptation in institution-building and can misplace the importance of informality in governance systems. Peer learning is not a copy-paste approach but a process based on trust and respect which recognises the importance of the individual in leading change. This learning needs to happen within a country and within a region, but also increasingly needs to happen across regional divides.

Indeed, emerging evidence suggests that peer learning is effective in supporting public sector reforms. But there is a need to carefully design and facilitate peer learning initiatives. Development agencies need to consider what their role is in this approach, which lessons they can share from their own experience and they fundamentally need to adapt to the realities brought to light by the Financing for Development agenda and the rise in relevance of climate finance.

Emilie Gay, Governance Advisor, EIP Secretariat, OECD

Tell us what you think in the comment box. If you would like to participate in the blog series, please drop us an email (emilie.gay@oecd.org).

Emilie Gay by Emilie Gay

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