What is the Most Important Feature Key Success Factor That will Make a Development Policy Succeed or Fail? | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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What is the Most Important Feature Key Success Factor That will Make a Development Policy Succeed or Fail?

Annie Namagonya
Principal Gender and Development Officer, Ministry of Gender, Children, and Community Development, Malawi
The most important feature that will make a development policy succeed is ownership of the policy. The process of policy development should be consultative, taking into account the needs of all the people, including the grassroots majority. This process will ensure that the policy has addressed the needs of the people and, as a result, they will push for its implementation since they have an interest in it. Most often a policy fails because there is a lack of political commitment, such as allocating inadequate resources for its implementation. A policy may also fail when it does not address the needs of the people it is intended to serve.

Rahul Sur
Chief, Conduct and Discipline Unit, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) 2006-2009.
My experience in Haiti brought home the fundamental importance of capacity for any policy to succeed. In my travels, when I asked why mountain after mountain lay denuded, they replied that the trees had been cut for fuel. When further asked why electric plants could not supply the power, the reason given was that there were few engineers to maintain them. This lack of skills was mirrored in every profession essential for development. The weakness in each generated its own vicious cycle and  malevolent externalities. I think that without skilled people essential for implementation, a policy irrespective of how elegantly conceived is not much better than squiggles on a paper. All successes in development policy ultimately flow from this lodestone.

Olubunmi Dipo-Salami
CEO, LaRen Consulting, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria
In my experience, the key success factor for a development policy is the political will for implementation. In my part of the world, although policies that could influence social change are formulated on a daily basis, the implementation is fraught with lip service and lack of commitment. A policy would surely fail where the perspectives of the citizens are not considered. Lack of participation would lead to lack of ownership and commitment.

Ibrahim Makram
Director, Evangelical Organization for Social Services, Egypt
Development policymaking is a means of achieving common benefits that have been agreed upon by the citizens and the governments or the private sector. This agreement provides a foundation for official decision making by government authorities and the relevant institutions. In the development context, public policies can be defined as a series of interrelated choices, actions, and results. Successful policies require community participation in identifying the most important issues, designing proposals, providing feedback, clarifying their expectations, and identifying the expected results. Participatory approaches depend on the availability of accurate information, direct communication and public dialogue with the citizens using various mechanisms for public and individual communication to help them understand the policy and its implications. The cultural, economic, legal, social, and political contexts should all be taken into account when designing policies. Civil society can play an important role in raising public awareness of citizens’ rights and responsibilities, empowering citizens, and overseeing the policymaking process. The experiences of countries in the region can help identify the kind of roles played by civil society. Obstacles include:

  • lack of trust, shortage of information,
  • limited democratic practices,
  • increasing conflicts,
  • a lack of coordination between the three sectors (the government, the private sector and the civil society), and lack of awareness regarding the public benefits that the policy will yield.


Linus M. Nthigai
Programs Manager Policy and Development, Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, East Africa
A development policy will succeed to the extent that it actively involves all stakeholders, incorporates gender issues, uses scientific research as its basis, incorporates disaster preparedness, and builds the knowledge and technical capacity of policymakers, civil society leaders, and the policy’s beneficiaries, on issues that are relevant to the policy’s success. Development policy that fails to understand how local power dynamics shape policy outcomes, that reflects little understanding of the key constituents that either hold, contest, or are excluded from power, and that fails to clarify the opportunities and risks therein or fails to incorporate disaster mitigation strategies, is likely to fail.

Dr. Thant Zin
Consultant/Advisor (Freelance), Public Health and Development, Myanmar Development is not only economic growth.
It is a holistic process whereby vulnerabilities are reduced and capacities are increased within societies. External assistance is important for speeding up the development momentum, but people’s capacity (empowerment) to set their own priorities based on their own values, and to organize themselves will be the most important determinants of development. It is time to start the transformation from a one-way top-down approach to external assistance, to a multidimensional development program with capacity building as the primary focus. This would include building intellectual, organizational, social, political, cultural, material, market, and financial capacity, and not simply a set of prepackaged technical interventions targeting predetermined outcomes.

Valeria EnrIquez
Researcher, Transparency and Accountability FUNDAR, Center for Analysis and Research
In my opinion, the key to making a development policy succeed is “territorialization.” By this I mean that it is crucial that policy formulation take into account every aspect of the area where it will be carried out, especially the people who will be affected. It is therefore imperative that communities participate from the planning phase, have complete and accessible information, relevant training, access to accountability mechanisms, and the means for ongoing monitoring and evaluation throughout the entire process. Policies keep failing because the approach to planning and implementation doesn’t change to reflect experience. Inertia can be very strong, even after repeated defects have been identified; and evaluation often tends to be more of a requirement to comply than a real mechanism to identify and correct problems and improve policy effectiveness.

Dr. Habib Benzian
Managing Director, The Health Bureau Ltd, Global Health Consultants, United Kingdom
Policies can be appropriate, justified, and evidence-based from a technical point of view, but if they are not checked against a stakeholder analysis and embedded in a comprehensive advocacy approach they will fail. Ideally, the policy results from such a process of analysis that creates ownership and identifies the interests of different stakeholders. These interests can be used creatively to generate incentives for supporting the implementation and action on the policy.

Melania Mujutywa
Chief Economist, Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, Zimbabwe
Development policies bring change and the first requirement is for change in the national mindset and for commitment to the task. There is also a need for stakeholder buy-in and for national institutions capable of implementation and monitoring. This should be combined with enhanced accountability on the part of all stakeholders, and alignment of the development policy, as well as all other development programs, with the aspirations and long-term vision of the country. Most development policies fail because they normally follow an emergency situation, for example, to solve an economic crisis facing the country. As such, programs are normally set up in a hurry and policy implementers are unable to manage them. Policies normally fail because of policy reversals. From my experiences policymakers are impatient and do not wait for the adjustment process to be completed and the fruits of the policies to be realized. Taking a piecemeal approach to economic policy development (partial implementation) is also a major cause of failure. Development plans often set unrealistic targets that cannot be adequately funded because most people do not earn enough to save or invest. Furthermore, development policies are often affected by volatile political environments which prevent sustained implementation.

Dr. Oluwatoyin O. Togun, MD, MPH
Research Physician, Viral DiseasesProgramme, Medical Research Council (UK) Unit, The Gambia--West Africa
With the advent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we have seen perhaps the most intensive international global commitment to eradicating poverty and improving livelihoods, and with greater emphasis placed on development policymaking and partnerships between developed (donor) countries and developing countries. For developing and least-developed countries, the most important factor that will make a development policy succeed is the extent of country ownership, from conceptualization through implementation. While strong assistance–both technical and financial–is needed from development partners, how a country takes ownership of the development policymaking process will strongly influence whether the policy succeeds or fails. A major challenge, and thus a priority area for operational research and policy analysis, is the feasibility of country ownership of development policymaking in the context of high-levels of donor aid.

Milwida M. Guevara
President, Synergeia Foundation, Philippines
Businesses need to be in tune with and listen to their market. They have to ensure that the products and services that they produce are responsive to the needs and preferences of their customers. Knowledge of the market is key to developing products that consumers will like and buy. Likewise, Policy makers also need to listen to their market. Development policies that are demand-driven are seen as relevant, and responsive to the needs of communities. The people, especially the poor, are the best source of information on the kinds of programs and measures that will answer their needs. They are able to set their own priorities, define the services that they need, and provide feedback on policies that work and those that do not work. Technocrats risk policy failure when policies are merely products of theory and research. Their first job is to listen intently to as many sectors as possible and understand how they feel.

Sophie Havyarimana
Burundi Director, ACORD / Women Economists Association
A development policy succeeds when it answers a need, and responds to the social, political or economic demands of the community; when the needs  assessment studies reflect multiple perspectives; and when there are accountable implementation mechanisms in place.

Consultation with stakeholders. Development policies have long been the business of leaders and decision makers at different levels, often in connivance with donors. In the best cases, an advocacy process would take place to help local stakeholders understand and implement the policies. The decade of the 1990s brought with it an awareness that populations should participate; as a result, a series of participatory methods were introduced, without worrying too much about their effectiveness.

Development policies have been more successful when built on the real-life experiences of the affected populations, and these populations being quite diverse, had different interests in these policies. In Africa one ethnic group would initiate a policy, which would be seen as being aimed at extinguishing another ethnic group! Rumours about children’s vaccination often reflected this view.

I myself witnessed an agriculture policy in Burundi in the 1980s requiring populations to establish coffee plantations in certain regions. The overzealous agricultural supervisors would not allow any other crop at all to be planted next to the coffee.

The supervisors would spend their days distributing plants and providing technical support. But when they came back one or two weeks later, the plants had  dried out, even during the rainy season! The reason given was that the region’s micro climate was unfavorable to coffee. But in reality, coffee owners who were unaware of its utility compared with bananas or any of the other crops they knew, were spending the night pouring hot water on the plants, or bringing in parasites which destroyed the young plants in a single day!

Needs assessments with multiple perspectives. Needs assessment studies to guide the implementation of policies should be multidisciplinary and include the views of the target groups and institutions. They would also benefit from being carried out by respected scholars, by development practitioners who have hands-on experience, and by CSOs with alternative perspectives. Thus, the policy would benefit  from a multidimensional perspective including the key actors. It’s true that there has been great progress in this respect because of the revolution in communications. It is also because of the role and capacity of civil society, and a concern for the inclusion of diverse communities which came about gradually as policies were being conceived and implemented in environments dominated by political and civil conflicts--something inconceivable 15 years ago!

Finally, a development policy succeeds better when it is supported by management and implementation mechanisms in which the beneficiaries are involved, and when their knowledge and know-how is valued. (Translated by Auriane Mortreuil)

Syed Harir Shah
Executive Director, International Institute for Disaster Risk Management, Pakistan
Successful development policies should be holistic, comprehensive, and user friendly. Those sitting at the helm of policy development must understand the realities on the ground with respect to tradition, culture, marginalization, and vulnerability as well as the capacities of the people and implementing agencies. Development policy makers must use multidimensional and multipronged approaches that reflect an understanding of all aspect of the policy initiative; and policies should be developed and designed to serve the people and not vice versa. Bottom-up approaches to policy development, with professional and technocratic support from the top down, will support successful policies. If the people take ownership of the policy intervention, there is no way for it to fail.

Kedar Khadka
Director, Good Governance Project, Pro Public, Convener: National Coalition against Corruption (NCaC), Vice-President: National Election Observation Committee (NEOC), Vice-President: Human Rights Home
Failures of overall governance and inefficiency in public service delivery are endemic characteristics of Nepal. Nevertheless, after ten years of armed insurgency, a window of opportunity for peace and reconciliation in Nepal opened up in November 2006 with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. Now the country has been struggling to draft a new constitution, through a Constituent Assembly, by April 2010. In this type of situation it is very difficult to identify what would make a policy succeed. I have noted that in recent years, development science has been reluctant to proclaim any single factor that contributes to  making development a success.

However, a deeper consultative process using tools to promote accountability and transparency, such as public hearings, public audits, citizen scorecards, and community scorecards, would help develop more realistic development policies. Also, the policymaking process has to begin with citizens themselves who have to be involved. Nothing will change unless people get involved. Public discourse is also vital in shaping development policy because the public requires time to digest anything new that will affect them. People also require time to conceptualize and decide on suitable approaches. In my almost 15 years of experience as an advocate for good governance in Nepal, I have realized that citizens are never the problem but always the solution. So, I would strongly urge policy makers to be inclusive and listen to different political points of views rather than imposing their own views.

Policymakers should also understand that public discourse is essential for preparing citizens for new policies. Citizens need to understand the vision and objectives of the policy as well as the facts, but they also need to express what they require and what they value most. Stakeholders must be understood and provided enough room to be engaged. Setting criteria against which to measure success also goes hand in hand with results-based monitoring. Finally, monitoring tools should be simple and useful for measuring progress--and they should be intensively applied.

As a proponent of good governance, I believe that experience is the best teacher. As a development practitioner from a third-world country like Nepal, I have seen that policy makers usually do not appreciate the importance of including citizens in the conception stage of a new policy initiative. Policies should neither be filled with jargon nor be copied “as is” from one place to another, or they will fail. People must be given opportunities to read, listen and analyze, and to test their opinions in discussion with others. Having said that, public discourse is not an end in itself, but rather a means of ensuring ownership by a larger representation of citizens.

John Nagella
Chairperson, Association for Rivers and Coastal-Ecosystems Conservation, India
To my mind the most important features in making a development policy succeed are committed collective action by stakeholders, along with sufficient human and financial resources. These should be corruption free if the policy is to yield results. Without these features a policy will most often fail.

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