Good Practices for Engaging Host Countries for Sustainable Education Programs
Education beats at the heart of development, and host country stakeholders are the key to maintaining the rhythm. It is impossible to think about sustainability without thinking about how we can effectively engage with the local actors responsible for achieving that result. But what are the best ways to engage them? And what are the long-term benefits of doing so?
Promoting positive and sustained change is most effective when it is locally owned and locally led, which means that all facets of education program design and implementation should be done in collaboration with system actors and stakeholders. These stakeholders help determine impact, maintain project gains, provide multiple perspectives and help ensure program longevity.
So how, exactly, do we effectively engage with networks of multiple actors at the same time? By employing systems practice: a way of seeing, analyzing and acting through systems.
Systems practice is an ongoing process, but can be usefully divided into four phases or tasks:
- Listening to the system to understand how it currently operates. For example, where are key opportunities? Who are the vital stakeholders?
- Engaging the system to prompt change, primarily through selected interventions designed to modify interactions in ways that produce desired results;
- Discovering the actual effects of those interventions on the system; and
- Adapting interventions in response to discoveries to promote interactions that yield improved results.
Using the Right Tools
USAID has an overarching Local Systems Framework and uses the 5Rs Framework as a simple and practical tool to promote good systems practice. This framework highlights five key dimensions of systems—Results, Roles, Relationships, Rules and Resources—which, when applied to the program design process, can help develop interventions that are informed by local context and more likely to influence the system to produce valued results that are sustained over time.
The 5Rs Framework provides focus to each of the four phases of systems practice. They help to identify what we should listen for, where we should engage, what we should discover and what interventions we may need to adapt.
As the above figure illustrates, interactions are at the center of any system. In the development space, those interactions occur between human actors, both organizations and individuals. Those actors assume certain roles within a network of various types of relationships. Those interactions depend on certain inputs or resources and produce certain outcomes, or results. And the whole process of transforming resources into results through the interactions of system actors is governed by a set of rules.
Host Country Engagement: A Malawi Case Study
Overview: The Education Decentralization Support Activity (EDSA), funded by USAID Malawi (2009-2012), built on the Direct Support to School activity and was the catalyst for the establishment of the national primary school planning and school grants activity: Primary School Improvement Program (PSIP). In carrying out this activity, Malawi exemplified how to apply the 5Rs framework.
During the first six months of activity start-up, EDSA took into consideration the recent changes in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), which were considerable. With the MoEST’s shift to a sector-wide approach (SWAp), EDSA’s work presented an opportunity to gain more insight into how a “project-based” system of technical assistance from the mission side could be deployed within a SWAp.
A focus on strengthening host country systems underpinned all EDSA activities. EDSA was also designed with a systems approach, based on the EQUIP 2 systems reform framework (e.g., based on the understanding that real change comes through the interplay between technical improvements in school and classroom practices supported by enabling institutional conditions of effective policies, procedures and practices, organizational capacity and adequate resources).
Navigating the new rules. The new “rules” governing the MoEST system dictated the need for a more holistic approach. Therefore, EDSA addressed the interplay between technical improvements in school and classroom practices and supported effective policies, procedures and practices at the institutional level, including resource planning. The assumption underpinning this approach was that the link between resources and results would be stronger.
Building roles and relationships. One track of activities focused on providing technical assistance in finalizing national strategies and guidelines, and developing targeted training and monitoring and evaluation materials to support activities at decentralized levels. Working with the MoEST-identified trainers, EDSA developed and implemented capacity building activities for District Capacity Building Teams, who in turn trained school-community representatives. These roles and relationships were vital to expanding and implementing EDSA’s work.
Indeed, on a yearly basis, EDSA worked with the MoEST (primarily the Directorate of Educational Planning and Directorate of Basic Education, as well as the Department of Finance), to identify what activities were required and how best to implement them. EDSA activities were linked to the National Education Sector Plan (NESP) and Education Sector Implementation Plan (ESIP), and the EDSA annual work plan was fully integrated into the MoEST Programme of Work to complement basket-funded technical assistance. The needs of the MoEST drove the activities and scopes of work for short-term technical assistance (which was approved by the MoEST).
Applying resources. The second track of activities focused on supporting the implementation of intensive planning, financial management and small grant funding support in 6 (out of 34) districts. This intensive and integrated set of activities—or “resources”—offered the MoEST six scenarios through which key stakeholders implemented, analyzed and reflected on the education decentralization framework through a set of targeted activities. Activities were integrated into the MoEST annual Programme of Work (PoW), and data were aggregated to document results contributing to PoW targets, which formed an important feedback loop. Briefing papers on lessons learned were developed and shared with the MoEST’s Technical Working Groups and System Task Forces to inform national guidelines and processes.
EDSA initiated the pilot school planning and school grants in 6 (out of 34) districts in 2009 and worked with the World Bank to develop financial management guidelines, which was a trigger for the release of World Bank credit and Fast Track Initiative (now known as the Global Partnership for Education, or GPE) funds to provide grants to EDSA districts. This process served as the model for the development of the system transferring funds through the National Local Financing Committee down to the District Assembly.
Seeing results. In 2010, EDSA disbursed grants to 223 schools to trial the school-bank account mechanism and to determine if schools were able to be directly accountable for grant funds or if the district needed to remain the key center for grant accountability. This was a critical trial, and one that served as a basis for a request to the accountant general for the establishment of school-bank accounts for government funding.
By 2013-2014, the results were promising: All 34 districts and all (5,641) primary schools were inducted into the follow-on activity, called the Primary School Improvement Program (PSIP). Since 2014, the Government of Malawi has fully funded the school grants line, with each school receiving an approximately $1,000 grant.