The council's role in overseeing the performance of those
programmes and services that you have enacted is a more rigorous process. As
elected leaders the world over have learned, there can often be a sobering gap
between what a council legislates and what its staff implements. The
implementation gap, as it is often characterized, is nothing more than the
disparity between what the council wants in terms of performance, and sets forth
in policies and financial plans, and what actually happens once the policy and
budget are carried out. Let's look at some of the reasons why the implementation
gap develops and plagues a council's best intentions.
A small hole can sink a big ship.
1. Policy-making is relatively easy; implementation is
not. This may be the biggest reason why the gap develops and persists.
Policy discussions that do not consider the cold realities of what it will take
to carry out programmes and services are bound to lead to follow-through
2. Before any policy or programme can be implemented
successfully, there needs to be a strategy for implementation. A strategy
might be defined as a set of actions devised to achieve a policy goal. If it is
a simple initiative, the strategy may evolve out of a few meetings with the
local government's chief executive and department heads. At other times it may
require a lengthy set of discussions and negotiations to prepare the
organization to take on new responsibilities.
3. Policies are often under-resourced. The lack of
adequate resources may be the biggest reason why policies become
"underachievers" when they reach the implementation stage of development. Often,
it is the lack of funds that create the performance discrepancy between policy
and implementation. But, more money is not the only answer. The need for
additional staff and staff development is also a major performance barrier. Many
local governments believe they can expand their programmes without expanding
their staffs ability to deliver. Often new policies require new employee
knowledge, skills, and attitudes if they are to be implemented successfully.
4. Operating and maintenance costs are often underfunded.
The long-term costs of operating and maintaining new capital programmes and
services are so often overlooked by local governments that they have become a
major embarrassment, not only to these local governments, but to funding
institution s such as the World Bank. Developing countries have some of the
world's most exotic junk yards. We have seen scores of motor pools where
expensive equipment sits idle. Vehicles were wrecked because employees were not
trained to operate them. Others were "cannibalized" to obtain spare parts that
weren't available at the time. Local governments aren't always to blame for
these difficulties. Donors often make equipment available but ignore the need
for training in its operation and maintenance.
5. When those responsible for implementing new programmes and
services are not sufficiently involved in the planning process, they can become
a part of the implementation gap problem. Developing staff understanding
about new ventures and commitment to them must come at the beginning of the
planning/policy-making process. It is never too early to involve those who will
be responsible for implementation.
6. The same is true of programme or service recipients.
As you and the local government organization plan and implement new initiatives,
don't ignore the recipients of your efforts, the customers. It has become
conventional wisdom that community participation can enhance the planning and
development of new initiatives. What is less well known is the role community
members canperform in monitoring and evaluating local-government programmes and
services if they are properly trained and organized.
7. Don't ignore the need for staff and organization
development. Even though new skills or knowledge may not be essential to
undertake new council initiatives, there may be attitudes within the staff that
could slow or block implementation. Many local governments have used team
building as a means to overcome these kinds of barriers to performance. This is
a facilitator-led effort to assist a team to look at the way its members work
together, engage in some action planning, and consider organization-type
barriers to better performance. These barriers include such things as
unnecessary procedures, organizational units that are misplaced or not congruent
with task needs, an the lack of incentive systems to motivate better
performance. Individual and organization development interventions can be
critical to successful implementation. Investments in human resource development
can pay big dividends and should not be seen as frivolous expenditures or
unnecessary rewards to employees.
8. The-effective overseer needs a monitoring system to track
performance. The overseer responsibility of council can be greatly aided by
a good monitoring strategy. The strategy should include both quantitative and
qualitative measures. However, be cautious of those who are eager to promote the
collection of quantitative data. Sometimes lending agencies and agency staff
members get over-enthusiastic about the kinds of indicators they want monitored.
Collect only the data and information you need to track the progress of policies
or programmes being implemented. Involve those who be responsible for
implementation in the monitoring discussions and decision process.
Take a look at your monitoring and evaluation system from time
to time to s if it is providing the information and insights you need to operate
the programme. Try to isolate the monitoring and evaluation process from both
political and managerial interference. Maximize the amount of attention give to
performance data. While looking at the internal processes of implementation is
important, it is critical that you know whether you are achieving the outcomes
anticipated of implementation.
9. Everyone with a significant role in implementation needs
to understand the goals and strategies of the new initiative, including their
own roles and responsibilities for the new initiative, and they must be
committed to carrying them out. If understanding and commitment are not in
place before you start implementation, take whatever time is needed to reach
this state before moving on.
You may be saying that many of these issues have nothing to do
with the overseer role and responsibility of councils and everything to do with
policy-making. Yes and no. Yes, because they should be considered very early in
any policy discussion on new venture development. No, because they will come to
haunt you in your overseer role if they aren't addressed before implementation
begins. So, we risk redundancy by emphasizing again the groundwork that is
required during the policy and programme development phases if you want to ease
the burden of overseeing