Jun 1, 2015

Why Delivery Challenges Matter: Scrutinizing implementation for better solutions

Daniel Ortega Nieto , Operations Officer

How many times have you worked on or heard about a project that was carefully designed, technically sound, and properly negotiated – but that ended up not achieving its full potential or performing below expectations? It’s very likely that when discussing what precisely went wrong with the project you heard some of the following reasons:

"There was lack of political will"

“The implementing agency had little capacity.

“There’s an institutional weakness issue.”

“There were political economy obstacles.”

While these stock phrases might capture something about problems in implementation, they often have limited analytical or practical value since they are overly broad, and ultimately fail to get at knowledge that is useful for practitioners on the ground. Nevertheless, they have become a common reflex when identifying the reasons why implementation doesn’t go as expected. In the process, these catchall concepts have also become embedded in the way we do business. They are therefore part of a broader analytical problem – when they don’t identify in detail what went wrong, they don’t help to get delivery right. There is a clear need to capture challenges that impact the implementation of development projects in a more meaningful and consistent way.

To help address this issue, the Science of Delivery team has introduced the concept of delivery challenges. Delivery challenges are the non-technical problems that hinder development interventions and that prevent practitioners from translating technical solutions into results on the ground. A few illustrative examples include electoral cycles, poor existing technology, language and cultural barriers, lack of monitoring skills, and inefficient inter-governmental relations. These are certainly not new issues, and are of course known to practitioners. However, in a nutshell, we’re trying to bring the discussion about implementation problems a few notches down so that instead of referring to catchall concepts, we’re able to be much more precise. By identifying specific delivery challenges at a more granular level we will develop analytical categories of delivery challenges – putting like challenges with like we will be able to see patterns and subject them to analysis- that will help produce knowledge that directly speaks to practitioners.

The Science of Delivery team recently launched the Delivery Challenges work stream, with a team charged with identifying delivery challenges at a granular level. Specifically, the SoD research team employs a three pronged strategy to systematically identify, classify, and understand the most common delivery challenges (see the 1-pager attached to this post for more information). We anticipate that the development of analytical categories of delivery challenges will serve as an eye opening exercise. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to learn from operations for operations. As this research is designed to arm frontline staff with knowledge to make more informed decisions, we encourage you to send us your feedback on which are the most common and difficult delivery challenges you’ve dealt with.