This is the first post in a 3-part series on education joint sector reviews.
Over the last decade, joint sector reviews (JSRs) have emerged as an important forum for coordinating stakeholders, enabling data gathering for sector performance analysis, joint learning, and decision-making, as well as building consensus and mandates for action.
There is no single definition of what constitutes a JSR, but the mechanism essentially represents an opportunity for a broad range of sector partners (including government, development partners and civil society representatives) to meet and review progress against planned policy implementation and towards key sector objectives. As such, effective JSRs can serve as an important tool for enabling flexible and responsive sector planning.
Ever since its creation, GPE has placed considerable emphasis on the development of sound national education sector plans (ESPs). The review of sector progress, particularly via JSRs, has gained prominence as a central part of effective system reform and evaluation of the credibility of a country’s commitment to education.
GPE studies effective joint sector reviews
The GPE Secretariat has continued to support the implementation of JSRs through various modalities, conducting and commissioning internal and external evaluations to gather evidence on JSRs and identify areas for improvement.
Building on this work, the Secretariat recently undertook extensive research into the functioning of JSRs, in an attempt to arrive at a more evidence-based definition and measurement approach to JSR effectiveness. The study, titled “Effective joint sector reviews as (mutual) accountability platforms” is the first comprehensive review of JSRs in education published to date (also read the key takeaways)
Its contribution is unique in its scope in that it gives voice to a variety of stakeholders across multiple countries, and includes a systematic variable-based review of JSRs in 39 countries or states.
Our research focused on the role of JSRs in fostering mutual accountability, which we define broadly as a compact under which two or more parties hold one another accountable for agreed commitments they have voluntarily made to one another.
We selected this lens given the central role mutual accountability plays in the development context, which is characterized by the division of sector roles and responsibilities across a diverse range of stakeholders.
Furthermore, the international aid environment has seen an increasing shift over the past two decades from an almost exclusive emphasis on financial accountability to more meaningful partnerships, in which all partners are held mutually accountable for development results.
The GPE 2020 Strategic Plan mirrors this shift, and strives to support mutual accountability through inclusive policy dialogue and monitoring.
Stakeholders view JSRs from different angles
To better reflect on how JSRs can serve as an accountability platform, we first undertook an assessment of how key education stakeholders view accountability in the context of a JSR. While there is general agreement on the value of JSRs as a forum for accountability, interviews with key stakeholders – government, development partners, and civil society representatives – show that they do not necessarily share an understanding of what the concept means in practice.
Their perspectives call for a more nuanced model of mutual accountability than is commonly applied in the development rhetoric. Stakeholders in the study largely agreed that primary responsibility for improved education outcomes rests with governments; as such, we contend that plan implementation is ultimately the domain of government. Development partners are primarily accountable for the provision of financial and technical support, and CSOs for serving a constructive challenge function built on their knowledge grounded in school realities.
The JSR is then a vehicle that creates space for each of these stakeholder groups to coordinate and assess their efficacy in fulfilling their respective roles.
Of course, the JSR itself needs to be effective if it is to support mutual accountability; this provides the basis for our second research focus.
What makes a joint sector review effective?
While the literature points to a relatively homogenous understanding of a well-performing JSR, experience suggests otherwise. We propose five interconnected dimensions of effective JSRs, employing a model that comprises three key characteristics, namely that a JSR should be (1) participatory and inclusive, (2) aligned to a shared policy framework and (3) evidence based; and two core functions, namely that it should serve as (4) a monitoring tool and (5) an instrument for change embedded effectively into a policy cycle.
We conducted a thorough review of the performance of a large sample of JSRs in GPE developing country partners along these dimensions. While the study discusses a number of operational shortcomings of JSRs in the education sector today, it also points to tractable solutions that would strengthen JSR effectiveness and ultimately plan implementation and sector results in a mutual accountability framework.
Our recommendations point to three broad areas for improvement:
1. Ensuring the JSR process is truly participatory and reflective of all stakeholders. Achieving this objective requires a balance between ‘the right people’ and ‘the right number of people’ in order to facilitate quality policy discussions and the inclusion of all perspectives. It is particularly important to explore avenues for meaningful CSO engagement, as well as securing participation by other key ministries, notably the ministry of finance. Logistics, including professional moderation and facilitation, have an important role to play in supporting more effective dialogue.
2. Supporting the development and use of more robust planning and reporting instruments. Given the important role of the ESP in creating a shared platform for discussion, greater effort should be invested in ensuring coherence between the planning document and the scope of the JSR proceedings.
We also argue for more robust application and construction of the annual implementation report, especially given its centrality to JSR proceedings. There is considerable opportunity for technical partners to engage in capacity building around developing the JSR evidence base, particularly with respect to financial reporting.
3. Leveraging the JSR as a tool for more responsive sector planning. This study envisages an effective JSR as providing a platform to facilitate flexible and adaptive planning.
By fully exploiting its potential as both a backward- and forward-looking multi-stakeholder diagnostic tool, the JSR can serve as a valuable interim forum that enables timely remedial changes and course correction to the sector plan.
In particular, the monitoring function should be seen as more than simple “education accounting” or review of sector implementation, and should also encompass a learning function. Greater attention should be paid to the development of tractable follow-up mechanisms to systematically review previous JSR recommendations, and care should be taken to align JSR processes with the timing of sector ministries’ planning and budgeting cycles.
Moving forward, the GPE Secretariat is working on issuing a common set of guidelines for conducting effective JSRs, based on recommendations from across the partnership and supplemented by the research effort outlined in the working paper.