“Best Practices” are a common tool of international development practitioners, used to identify factors impeding development; any practices that deviate from global norms are considered shortcomings or ‘deficits’. But are international best practices truly universal? Are the prescriptions that flow from them actually applicable across contexts?
This was the question facing the World Bank in 2012, as it examined its portfolio of governance programs in the Niger Delta, and specifically the PFM systems; the region has a long history of resource conflict and abuse of public power. To maintain stability and enhance development, the World Bank partnered with state governments to improve the quality and accountability of public spending. The World Bank found one ally in an especially reform-minded governor, and, on the strength of this partnership, wanted to determine how future investments could be better tailored to support PFM reform in the target state.
International experts had judged the state’s PFM practices to be in urgent need of reform, including revenue administration, budgeting, procurement, expenditure, and audit control systems. Local context, however, told a different story. Citizens from diverse backgrounds praised the state’s delivery of critical public infrastructure and services, which far surpassed those of previous administrations in both rate and quality.
The disparity in perspectives showed that developing a clear understanding of the state’s performance in public spending was foundational to determining future investments. Reboot was engaged to conduct an independent assessment of the state’s PFM system, building beyond best-practice scoring to instead develop a new toolset for understanding existing capabilities and extending and building on them.