Last week Natalia Adler made an important comment in response to my post on using birth registration rates as a governance indicator. Hopefully I will do it justice in the following summary: How can you use an indicator that governments have so little influence over?
Natalia notes that governments can supply all the processes and offices they want to in places like Nicaragua and Mozambique, but the rates will still stay low if the people don't have an incentive or desire to register their kids. The demand side kills any chance at better performance. She notes further that Unicef (where she works) and others find this demand side limitation extremely difficult to work with. It is a real constraint on many things.
I love the comment, and in many ways it gets us to the limits of prevailing governance indicators and of the thinking behind these indicators.
- So many of the indicators center on things governments produce--directly--like drivers license tests, regulations, or schools, or budgets, etc. The supply side, if you will...what we can 'attribute' directly to the administrators, bureaucrats and politicians in what we call 'government'.
- These things only account for a small fragment of the solution to most complex problems in developing countries. So we end up with 'good governance' governments that cannot solve the problems their citizens face.
- Delhi has great drivers license regimes that very few citizens take (having worked out other ways of getting a license).
- Georgia has deregulated but still finds its economy languishing (partly because there is still limited creativity in an economy dominated by monopolies).
- Many countries have built schools for students to attend, but have not been able to ensure that teachers actually teach or that children actually learn.
- Afghanistan has a budget process that donors like DFID (the British government) compare with 'middle income countries' but that falls short of fostering effective service delivery or fiscal stability.
In all of these areas--and in all areas where problems are complex--'good governance' involves using authority to do things that are not only within the direct production authority of a government. Achieving change requires that politicians. adminsitrators and others exercise facilitative authority and political and social authority as well. They must, by necessity, engage on the demand and supply sides of social problems. This means working on incentives, social and cultural constraints, etc. Just doing the supply side stuff makes governments that look better...but are not necessarily better at doing what they were authorized to do.
In the birth registration domain, I would venture that developed countries that now have high rates of birth registration also faced demand side problems. I would venture that governments in these contexts used their authority to address these issues--engaging with religious and traditional groups, building coalitions, etc. This is good governance in my book: When those given authority use it to facilitate or produce the changes needed to move their people forward. (don't hold me to the quote as a definition, but my understanding of good governance is emerging along these lines).
Natalia closed her email asking if anyone out there had ideas about how to deal with demand side issues. My recommendation: PDIA. Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation.
- In places like Mozambique or Nicaragua, start constructing the problem in a way that garners attention. Point to the low rates of registration and show how this limits access to services, for instance. This is an effective way to bring people into a 'governance coalition'.
- Break the problem down at the same time, identifying demand and supply constraints to producing the output or outcome in question. Identify where the best entry points are for action and craft the problem message to draw people around this. If, for instance, parents are resistant, show them how the failure to register for birth registration limits their kids' access to services.
- Construct some experimental interventions to address specific entry point issues. Think of changing the access rules to schools, for instance, or procedures for accessing early innoculations. Experiment, get quick feedback on responses, and adjust. When looking for feedback, ask about the things you are interested in: When we made school enrolment contingent on being registered, did parents come and register?
- Forget the idea of easy or generic or best practice solutions across all the places we are working in. If we define the problems and pursue solutions iteratively, with clear goals, we will find solutions that work. It just takes time and energy.But that, too, is an often forgotten rule of the 'good governance' agenda.
Thanks to Natalia for the question, and for the inspiring work she and others at UNICEF do to make the world a better place.