RDI: Takeaways from First Sri Lanka Country Visit

Members of the Results Data Initiative (RDI) team kicked off our country study in Sri Lanka in December. The purpose of the trip was to start understanding how the Government of Sri Lanka collects, manages, shares, and uses results data. Sri Lanka has participated in the MfDR initiative for over a decade, including leading the MfDR Community of Practice in Asia, making the government’s perspective quite pertinent to our study. While we were there, following a series of meetings with central government, donors and civil society in Colombo, we met with provincial and district government staff in Trincomalee, Ampara, Matara and Batticaloa.

Here are some of the initial insights about the situation of results data in Sri Lanka:

Defining “results” remains a challenge. As a general point, there is a lot of ambiguity around the results terminology. This includes outputs and outcomes, indicators, etc. While this was often clarified through a short discussion, it’s an important note for us to remember as we begin to look at findings of our work that the outcomes and results conversation does not necessarily flow through/between all levels of central and decentralised.

Decentralization complicates an already-complicated environment for data. The strong push towards decentralisation means that understanding the decision and funding flows within the decentralized system starts at the district level. Districts receive funding from both the central government and the provincial government. However, the main budget source for many districts is from the central government special projects, through national line ministries, dwarfing the provincial budget that has been specifically developed based on District needs and planning. But as special projects are often not included in provincial or district plans, it makes it difficult to verify the project against provincial/district development targets. Therefore, despite strong provincial planning, officials cannot measure the entire situation . Even if provincial officials are able to get ideal results data from district projects, these data may only immediately tell part of the story and provincial/district reporting needs to evolve to give a holistic picture of all funded initiatives.

Officials want Zero-Based Budgeting to lead to better results data but there are obstacles. Sri Lanka has adopted the Zero Based-Budgeting (ZBB) method for 2016 onwards. For successful ZBB implementation in Sri Lanka, line ministries will need to quantify Key Performance Indicators and have concrete outputs and outcomes. This is where both the ambiguity of results terminology and the evolving decentralized planning and budgeting processes will both provide challenges.The UNDP/EU supported district planning programme (“Governance for Local Economic Development Programme”) is providing timely support to several Districts on a pilot basis with the initiative in Ampara District, led by the District Secretary, showing positive progress.

The World Bank is pushing (some of) the conversation towards results data. While the role of donors is relatively small in the health sector in Sri Lanka, the World Bank’s results-based $200 million Second Health Sector Development Project came up in a number of our initial conversations. In order to receive the annual disbursement for HSDP, provincial and district health authorities must achieve targets in the disbursement-linked indicators that are validated by the World Bank. Elsewhere, the Iranamadu Irrigation Development Project in Kilinochchi District, funded by IFAD and focussed on improved irrigation and production/marketing facilities for smallholders has developed a Results Based Monitoring and Evaluation System covering 7000 households, with clear ‘change focussed’ outcomes and a reporting framework taking household data and results through project level to District and Provincial authorities.

Judging by our initial observations, the results data environment in Sri Lanka represents the challenges we are seeing elsewhere. The results data environment in Sri Lanka has added a number of “big picture” questions moving forward for the RDI team: How does decentralization of governments affect results management and data collection/use? How can decentralisation lead to results data use? What are the linkages to finance and budgeting? What is the role of donors in encouraging good results management?

Image Credit: David Davies CC BY-SA 2.0

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