Cover Image
close this bookTraining for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Overseer (HABITAT, 1994, 16 p.)
close this folderPart I. Essay on the councillor as overseer
View the documentDefinition
View the documentSummary
View the documentReflection
View the documentConcepts and ideas
View the documentGeneral benchmarks and targets
View the documentOverseeing policy development
View the documentOverseeing implementing
View the documentOnce implementation is underway
View the documentKey points
View the documentReferences

Overseeing implementing

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.
- Russian proverb

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 problems.

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 implementation.