The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance'  (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:
- The governance and anti-corruption agenda is at the heart of efforts to secure concrete development results.
- The World Bank has come a long way in integrating the agenda into its operations around the world.
- The trust fund set up by Great Britain, the Netherlands and Norway - the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF) - has helped a lot, and is helping a lot.
From that broad consensus, the partners and officials in the hall focused on next steps. A wide-ranging discussion ensued, with country teams making presentations to senior managers. Leaving out the proposals internal to the World Bank, here are the parts of the agenda going forward that stood out for me.
- We still do not know anywhere near enough about how pro-poor change is produced on the ground. For instance, while political economy analysis is increasingly informing the design of interventions, it is not yet clear how to tackle the impediments to reform identified. There is a need, therefore, to build skills, improve methods, share lessons from the field more effectively and so on.
- While real progress has been made in the advancement of the governance agenda, progress is still patchy. Not everyone is on board, administrative bottlenecks exist aplenty, and not enough redoubtable champions have mounted their horses.
- Then there is the results conundrum. Governance is a long term agenda. It takes time to reshape institutions. You don't alter debilitating political behavior in a few years. Citizen voice is far easier to call for than to secure, and so on. Yet in all donor organizations senior managers want results, and results, and results. And they want those concrete, demonstrable results as soon as possible. Trouble is this: not only do the results of even the best governance interventions take time, they are difficult to aggregate, and attribution is almost impossible to demonstrate in any conclusive way. Thus, while more rigor and a focus on results will be needed -- and will happen -- will senior managers simply have to live with intermediate outcomes?
- Finally, it came up again and again, that the governance agenda needs global partnerships and coalitions if efforts to improve governance systems around the world are going to succeed. A donor official in the room said to World Bank colleagues: 'You are not alone.' More work on global advocacy is needed. Ditto more sharing of lessons, joint training, joint-funding and so on.
I can report that the energy in the room was sustained till the end. Senior managers and the GPF donors stayed and participated in the discussions. There was an abiding sense of a mustering of vital energies, of a wave building, of boats powering up. It is going to be fascinating to see how the agenda evolves not only within the World Bank but globally in the months and years ahead. What is clear is that this workshop has been an important milestone in the journey.