As a follow up to the Joint Sector Review Cross-Country Exchange Initiative launched in 2017, when Malagasy and Chadian government officials met in Kinshasa to observe the JSR of the interim education plan, the GPE Secretariat has launched a new series of cross-country exchanges to support peer learning around JSRs.
The ambitious goal underpinning these exchanges remains unchanged: to support developing countries in improving their own reviews through exchange of knowledge and practices in preparing, conducting and following up on JSRs.
The exchanges are structured around mutually defined objectives, with a group of representatives from three or four countries participating virtually in a series of technical discussions, followed by a mission in one of the countries (“the host country”) to observe the organization of the JSR there.
The host country as “laboratory” for observation and exchange
In July 2019, the main organizers of reviews in Burundi, Comoros, Chad and Burkina Faso visited Madagascar to participate in peer learning activities and observe the JSR. The ministerial delegations for Burundi and Comoros were accompanied by representatives of the coordinating agency (UNICEF-Bujumbura) and the grant agent (UNICEF-Moroni) who also participated in technical discussions throughout the week.
Prior to the review, the GPE Secretariat organized a day of discussions during which participants familiarized themselves with the five dimensions of an effective joint sector review. The visiting delegations also used the self-assessment tool to systematically analyze their country’s review processes, identifying strengths and weaknesses and considering possible improvements in the short and longer term.
The participants discussed the main difficulties encountered during JSR preparation, such as the data collection process, or preparation of the annual report on sector plan implementation, as the key reference document for an evidence-based JSR.
The representatives of the visiting countries met at the end of each day to exchange on specific aspects based on their observations of the JSR. Technical discussions emerged during these sessions with respect to organizational aspects, managing the debates and setting the agenda to meet expected outputs, as well as the role and engagement of various stakeholder groups.
The use of technical and financial data was highlighted frequently by participants and all pointed to the critical importance of data-driven discussions. Use of quantitative and qualitative data makes for more productive dialogue, and enables participants to assess the challenges encountered and progress made towards objectives during the year under review.
At the end of the review, the visiting countries shared their observations with the organizers, including their recommendations that could help to improve Madagascar’s JSR next year.
The delegations also shared their own practices related to the formulation and monitoring of recommendations from the JSR, and how these could best be carried forward in appropriate mechanisms for operational planning and sector dialogue.
The participants plan to meet again to discuss the follow-up of the Madagascar JSR and what each team hopes to implement in their own context to improve the effectiveness of their own JSRs and sector monitoring more broadly.
For this kind of capacity building to have an impact, it is essential that the participants report back the lessons learned to their own ministries and members of the local education group. It is also important that they remain in contact with their peers to continue to exchange views when they are organizing their own JSRs.
Mutually beneficial exchanges
During the JSR in Madagascar, the JSR organizers invited participants from Burundi and Burkina Faso to also share their experiences on specific aspects that were relevant to ongoing sector reforms and sector dialogue in Madagascar, and which were discussed at length during the JSR and/or part of the regular sector dialogue agenda within the local education group.
Participants from Burundi shared their experience with implementation of key primary school reforms, which had led to a reduction in the repetition rate and improvements in internal efficiency. Participants from Burkina Faso spoke about the introduction, implications and management of its pooled fund in support of basic education. This mechanism has helped promote alignment of development aid with government priorities, systems and procedures, including strengthened monitoring, and better harmonization of external support to the sector, with the JSR being a regular milestone for the review of progress and annual planning.
Why does GPE finance and facilitate this type of exchange?
The sharing of knowledge and best practices through exchange across countries lies at the heart of the GPE Strategic Plan, GPE 2020. It is a method for capacity strengthening that is used by a number of international organizations.
Not all developing countries have the same JSR experience. Some countries, such as Burkina Faso, have been organizing JSRs for more than 15 years, while others have never organized a review or have not organized one for many years.
This range of experience is the cornerstone of the initiative, as it makes it possible to bring together countries that can learn from one another.
The GPE Secretariat is placing reviewed emphasis on cross-country exchanges in this area because of the importance of paying closer attention to implementation challenges. GPE’s country-level evaluations suggest that much attention is paid to the preparation of sector plans with inadequate subsequent focus on ensuring planned activities are actually carried out.
Moreover, as indicated in the 2019 Results Report, the number of JSRs organized by GPE partner countries is limited and has stagnated over the past three years. Organizing a review takes time, and few countries manage to conduct a JSR on an annual basis.
When JSRs do take place, they often do not contribute to the monitoring of sector plan implementation or result in the adjustments needed to achieve better results in education, two of their essential functions.
This initiative is recent but is generating interest in JSRs across participating countries. It is also part of an overall approach by GPE to improve the scope of JSRs in order to enhance mutual accountability, improve dialogue on education policies, and better monitor implementation of the sector plans and associated operational plans.
Another peer learning group bringing together The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia met on the occasion of the Ghana JSR. An upcoming blog post will look at some of the key take-aways of these exchanges.