Over the past two decades, the global emphasis on development planning has increasingly focused on improving the social sector outcomes in developing countries across the world. There are three chief reasons for this. Firstly, in spite of significant progress in poverty alleviation, there continues to be inequality in both opportunity and access to social sector services, therefore requiring a fresh look at development policies. Secondly, since resources are scarce there is a need to prioritize them and finally, there is a need to identify cost-effective service delivery models within the socio-economic and political framework of the developing countries. In this context, the Global Development Network (GDN) launched a five-year Global Research Project on Strengthening Institutions to Improve Public Expenditure Accountability in 14 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in 2008. The fundamental goal of the project is to improve development outcomes by increasing the effectiveness with which governments allocate and use their resources for health, education and water. Notably, the research project aims to build and strengthen institutional capacity for public expenditure analysis. It also explores and analyses the effectiveness of public service delivery in the three sectors and intends to provide feasible policy options for pursuing identified development goals.
Following the project's Final Global Workshop on 7-8 April, GDN in partnership with the Ministry of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS), Indonesia hosted a Policy Dialogue in Jakarta on 9 April, 2013. Mixed panels and substantial Q&A sessions provided a platform for the project’s researchers to interact with policymakers from Indonesia, India and Nepal.
The key objectives of the Dialogue were to share good practices, including successes and challenges, in effective public expenditure and service delivery in health, education and water. The Dialogue sought to understand the similarities and contextual differences in planning, financing and implementation of effective programs and schemes for service delivery among developing countries to improve the outcomes. It, particularly, gave a platform to discuss modalities through which the policy community and research institutions can best work together and leverage each other's expertise to address social and development challenges.
Speaking at the panel on 'Improving Access and Quality of Services in Health, Education and Water', GDN researcher Arief Anshory Yusuf, from the Center for Economics and Development Studies (CEDS), University of Padjadjaran, Indonesia stated that "There is a global trend of rising inequality which derives from rising inequality of opportunity in education and, thereby, productive employment." Dr. Yusuf said that, despite all efforts, there is still room for improvement in quality of services, especially in education. He mentioned that, although the average teacher-student ratio for Indonesia is quite high, there are wide variances across regions. Moreover, a study undertaken as part of the GDN project by Dr. Yusuf's team also highlights that teacher certification programs often do not have lasting impact on quality of education and learning outcomes. He surmised "Reforms are, therefore, required for such quality assurance factors and adequate incentives for performance need to be put in place."
While discussing the challenges faced by researchers, during the panel on 'Translating Research into Effective Policy Inputs', Suren Poghosyan, the project coordinator at Advanced Social Technologies (AST), GDN's partner for the project in Armenia, pointed out that getting a budget sanctioned for research continues to be a challenge. He held that donors could play a key role in helping translate research into policies, citing the case of Asian Development Bank which showed interest in one of his proposals on the water sector and is continuing the dialogue with the government.
The Policy Dialogue ended with closing remarks by Her Excellency Dr. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Minister of National Development Planning, Indonesia. Thanking GDN, she said "The benefit of strengthening the relationship between researchers and policymakers through Dialogues such as this is to improve the quality of policy formulation." She went on to expound that it was critical for researchers and policymakers to have an on-going open two-way communication for knowing what was needed and what could be offered, highlighting that "The institutionalizing of this open communication is one of the key findings of the GDN Indonesia project."
The Dialogue was attended by over 90 participants, consisting of researchers, government officials and representatives from civil society organizations and donors, including AusAID, Friederich-Ebert-Stiftung, Ford Foundation, the World Bank and USAID.