Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba
Correspondent

A major challenge with devolution programmes in most countries lies in providing an enabling environment with the necessary capacities and systems to effectively implement the associated projects. Concerted efforts to address this shortcoming have identified the use of the 100-day project or Rapid Results Approach (RRA) as one of the best strategies.

Developed by a United States firm, Schaffer Consulting, the approach denotes a participatory results-focused learning process aimed at jump-starting major change efforts and enhancing the implementation capacity of key stakeholders. It is used to create breakthrough changes in larger projects through the achievement of highly ambitious short-term measurable targets within     100 days or less hence the term 100-day projects. In some quarters such projects are referred to as Rapid Results Initiatives (RRIs).

Explicitly, the implementation of 100-day projects or RRIs is a chunking strategy that entails breaking down big projects into smaller ones. The implementation of the latter is expected to catalyse the creation of a cycle of short-term successes that form the building blocks for the attainment of larger, longer term goals. The practice thus implies undertaking projects aimed at addressing the most pressing need in order of visibility and impact.

Generally, readiness for change is ordinarily small or completely missing in most entities making if fairly difficult to introduce new concepts such as devolution as such efforts are habitually met with resistance. With the approach, such resistance is addressed through small efforts, capable of demonstrating greater potential for change, combined with positive, tangible results plus the energy that derives from recorded success which also become the fuel for scaling up into larger efforts.

From a supplier’s perspective, the strategy offers a more attractive incentive than negotiation for a huge commitment of resources, emotional energy as well as time required to introduce a huge change effort.

Similarly, the experience with smaller projects allows for experimentation and innovation at lower risk and facilitates adaptation plus refinement of implementation strategies. In the same context, it expedites scaling up from a position of confidence from demonstrated success and value thus promoting the chances of greater success and motivation.

Moreover, the strategy can also be used implement the devolution programme itself. For example, in Sierra Leone the devolution from the central Ministry of Health to district health offices was planned and completed as a wave of 60-day projects in each district.

Because of its highly participatory nature, the 100-day project approach expedites capacity building among all key stakeholders, most importantly the grassroots.

The stakeholders are trained to generate information from their environment plus project monitoring processes and use it in planning, implementation as well as or purposes of learning and adjustment.

This entails fully involving communities at all stages of the project and also underwriting the effectiveness of project performance management function and ultimately success of the programme. Both literature and experiential evidence which show that the ultimate test of our performance management efforts is whether or not the information is used.

Stakeholders thus gain capacities for effective engagement as well as meaningful contribution to development programme processes that directly affect them.

This is a significant departure from the norm where capacity for service delivery is sought, though direct participation, rather than using conventional methods which often fall short or are out of reach for many stakeholders in developing economies.

It is also regarded as one of the major strengths of the 100-day projects approach. According to its founder Robert Schaffer, RRA addresses a major shortcoming associated with most change dreamers who design change plans without involving everyone and expect results.

Such participation and capacity building help stakeholders to fully understand and appreciation of the purpose and benefits of devolution, an element that fosters buy-in, commitment and ownership of all the associated initiatives. Literature shows that once stakeholders acquire the capacity to tackle problems in small ways, they habitually use that capacity and capability to deal with larger projects to deliver bigger results.

Availing the capacity during early stages of devolution also strongly supports local empowerment as well as strengthen inter-governmental systems and accountability.

Furthermore, the approach offers several other tangible benefits, that help to address most of the challenges faced in project management in general and devolution, in particular, hence effectively promoting success.

For instance, a significant challenge relating to devolution projects, reported in Zimbabwe, and many other nations worldwide, relates to the non-implementation of projects despite prior strong indication of readiness to commence by local authorities.

Such shortcoming is commonly attributed the lack of capacity; an issue that the approach, with one of its greatest strengths lying in its ability to regulate the change effort to organisational readiness can readily address this flaw.

In essence, the approach provides a systematic and intensive 90-120-day coaching initiative that helps to achieve tangible changes in people’s lives or their conditions, all towards improvement.

It has been used in the implementation of devolution projects with excellent results in Sierra Leone and as well as for other development projects in several African countries, including Kenya, Eritrea, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania. Typical areas of priority in implementing RBM encompass capacity building, water, sanitation, traffic flow, agricultural production and post-harvest loss, among others. To underwrite the success, the associated measurable targets for a specific population, to be achieved within an equally specified period of time, are clearly defined and communicated to all stakeholders.

For instance, in Sierra Leone, high-yield quick-harvest Inner Valley Swamp rice seeds increased yields by 4 000 bushels within 90 days in Pujehun District during the initial 100-day project cycle. One of the reasons for such remarkable success is that the approach facilitates effective monitoring and reporting of progress as well as assumptions made during the project planning phase.

The information derived is used to spur decision-making towards improvement in the project processes and ultimately, performance. Such a practice of setting measurable targets, taking into account the variations within each location, plus effective monitoring can prove to be invaluable in the implementation, for example, of the Pfumvudza and the Command Agricultural programmes.

Similarly, during the same initial wave of 100-day projects in Sierra Leone, travel time between Sewafe and Kono districts was reduced from 1 hour to 15 minutes and transportation costs were reduced from Le 5 000 (US$1.75) to Le 2 000 (70 US cents).

Such impressive results were achieved despite the fact that Sierra Leone had earlier been characterised by pervasive governance failures. The programme, particularly with the use of 100-day projects, helped to open doors for all round long-term governance transformation. Such an experience is encouraging as it shows that improvement is possible even in situations that appear to be beyond any form of remedial action.

In Kenya, the approach was introduced to cultivate a strong focus on results by accelerating the implementation of priorities as well as fostering support for large-scale change efforts. Subsequently, the design was refined and used in efforts aimed at fast-tracking improvements in service delivery. The approach, with its 100 days turnaround focus, succeeded in delivering tangible results to citizens and also helped to consolidate support for reform.

It may, therefore, be worthwhile to encourage and support stakeholders to adopt the 100-day project approach, in earnest, for the effective implementation of devolution projects.

Ensuring adequate capacity plus sound performance management through strengthening capabilities and institutional arrangements for result-orientation at all government levels is key for the success of the programme as a whole. This is because these factors strongly support sound practices that incorporate effective and simple monitoring and reporting activities, deliberate communication efforts to publicise stories of good local governance as well as failures to facilitate learning and improvement from both.

 Dr Rudo Gwata-Charamba is an author, development consultant and researcher with a special interest in management, governance and leadership.