Making Public Expenditure Monitoring Newsworthy

I love workshops that begin with people telling me that they don’t really have the time to be there, and finish with them asking me to ‘make it longer next time please’.

I’m on my way home from New Delhi, where I was running another two-day Research Communications workshop, this time for researchers involved in one of the Global Development Network’s global research projects looking at Public Expenditure Monitoring (PEM).

CommsConsult is, happily, a regular provider of training workshops for GDN’s network of southern researchers, having delivered Policy Influence training for AERC researchers on Africa-China trade, and Presentational training workshops for its Awards and Medals finalists before the annual conference.

The PEM project has great potential to help governments make the best possible ‘value for money’ decisions on how to deliver the kinds of basic services its people need and – increasingly – believe is their right.

The research uses some quite specific methodological economics approaches (Programme Budget Analysis (PBA); Budget Incidence Analysis or BIA; Cost Effectiveness Analysis (CEA) for those economists who’ve found your way here) to explore exactly how effectively government monies are being spent on delivering these basic needs to its poorest people. It reviews spend on water, health and education by government departments over the last decade, and makes judgements on how effectively the money has been spent. It also makes recommendations on how and what policies would improve the quality and outcomes of service delivery for the poor.

Delivering basic services effectively and efficiently is a massive challenge: in some countries, such as India, the sheer numbers of people involved is staggering. India has a population of nearly 1.2 billion, of whom some 440m men, women and children qualify as ‘poor’ according to the Planning Commission of India. How effectively is this done, and how can it be improved? The GDN PEM project has the potential to provide some of the answers. So, great content with which to hold governments and other public service deliverers to account.

So, back to the workshop and its researchers – the reason I was in India.

The workshop was organised to help researchers to identify messages emerging from the research, as well as the potential audience for the messages. We gallop across the vast landscape that is policy-making, media, and strategic communication tactics at breakneck speed, but in a way – we hope – that allows the participants to stop and rest for water breaks while they reflect on what they’re hearing and how it can help them to build their own engagement strategies.

Policy and Media panels convened on each day and presented some of the challenges that policymakers and journalists facee in accessing and using research. We know these – and often the researchers know them – but hearing them explained plainly, with examples, from ‘real-life’ decision-makers somehow makes a big difference. For many, these sessions were the most useful. One participant said in his evaluation; “Before, I was very under-confident in interacting with the media. Now I have a better understanding of ‘the nature of the beast’”.

Another popular session was one of the practicals where the groups conducted a Stakeholder Analysis using the Influence and Alignment matrix. This technique – a variation of which we’ve been using to train development workers for more than 20 years to be more strategic about the audiences they’re trying to reach and engage, and for what purpose – is experiencing a bit of a revival. Like most really effective communication planning tools, it’s not complicated, and the miracle happens because the researchers invest time thinking through audiences and their likelihood to be receptive to research results.

Access to health services, a good education for your children, and safe drinking water are all basic needs, whether you are rich or poor. Most governments sign up to international conventions and treaties that promise to deliver these to their people: we look forward to the PEM researchers telling us how well this has been done in the future.

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