In this blog, Bruno Meessen (ITM, Antwerp and facilitator of the PBF CoP) shows how Results Based Financing could be a lever for African governments in the battle for family planning … and even more so, when other influential actors in society are hostile.
On sticks, carrots and sermons
Whether you are a general, the leader of a gang, the boss of a big company, or a parent desperately trying to maintain authority, you have three main instruments to steer the behavior of your fellows and subordinates: sticks, carrots and sermons.
The metaphor of a ‘stick’ describes the variety of devices you have at your disposal to deter and, if necessary, punish behavior not in line with your objectives. This is the fine a policeman gives you if he sees you driving without a seatbelt, for example, or the shot in the knee (at best) for the villain who betrays his boss, the non-renewal of a contract for a supplier due to poor service,…
The ‘carrot’ is of course used as a metaphor for a reward. A medal for a brave soldier, for example, a diploma for a diligent student, the price paid to a baker for his delicious bread and of course, pay for performance, which I’m sure I don’t have to explain on this blog.
By ‘sermons’, we mean all strategies and tools of education and persuasion. Economists will tell you that these aim to change the preferences of economic agents. More prosaically, the aim is a situation where your fellows, convinced by the strength of your discourse, spontaneously adopt behavior aligned with your goals. This usually happens after you have offered convincing arguments, but if you also have a certain moral authority (like the mother has towards her child, the teacher versus his students, or the priest towards the parishioners), you have an additional advantage.
These tools all have their strengths and weaknesses, and need to be assessed in their particular situation. PBF experts, if they believe in the power of ‘carrots’, also know carrots can’t change all behaviors. ‘Sermons’ will be particularly useful when it’s impossible to verify behavior or when behavior that needs to be encouraged is also beneficial for the one adopting the behavior (example: usage of a condom). Note also that the times are changing: our societies cherish more and more individual freedom and responsibility. ‘Sticks’ are thus less and less tolerated and certain forms used in the past are now even prohibited by law.
Let's appreciate the opportunity offered by Results-Based Financing (RBF)
These are thus the three tools available to governments to influence the behavior of their citizens. In this respect, it is clear that RBF, by its very nature, is a significant enrichment of the toolbox of African governments. But my wish is that they use this instrument in an even more strategic way, more in particular when they face other leaders promoting views contrary to their own vision of development.
Let’s give an example. Imagine a country which faces a serious demographic problem, to the extent that the high birth rate puts more and more pressure on the economy and more fundamentally, undermines the opportunities which could be available to citizens in the future. Imagine that the government has identified family planning by informed parents as a human right, on the one hand, and as a necessity to boost the development of the country, on the other hand. Imagine then that a prominent religious leader promotes a totally different vision … with a sermon, of course.
What should the government do in this case? Should it opt for the ‘stick’ (eg summon the hierarchy of the religious leader, with the threat of a sanction), or for a confrontation of ‘sermon’ (by the president) versus sermon (of the bishop, for example) on the issue at stake? If I were president of this (imaginary) country, I would think twice. If the bishop (for example) has dared to challenge you over this issue, it’s no doubt because he knows that the balance of power is not exactly in favor of you for the moment. At certain times in the life of a politician, a public confrontation on a particular topic can obviously harm his (or her) goals: the church he/she faces can be very powerful; moreover, given the church’s commitment to social sectors (schools, health centers, …) it will remain a partner for the government to work with. So it’s important to choose your battles – but this, we don’t have to tell politicians.
Results-Based Financing: a powerful lever for change
Faced with this situation, are you powerless then? Before RBF, this was probably the case. However, I think RBF now offers new and ‘smart’ opportunities for government action. The first option, if it hasn’t been implemented yet, is to add family planning to the grid of PBF of health centers (i.e. to reward the health centre for each new woman adopting a modern contraceptive method). If family planning indicators are already present, the government could increase reimbursement rates (as it has been done in Burundi late 2012). This may be powerful, but not enough, especially if many health facilities are affiliated to the church challenging your national policy! I supect that the real breakthrough will come from involving the communities. First, the government could, like in Makamba (Burundi), contract community associations to refer women interested in family planning. But the government could go even further: it could decide to introduce a voucher system which would encourage women to adopt a modern contraception method. To distribute these vouchers in the community, we would mobilize of course the many female community health workers (with a small compensation for every woman they refer to the health center!). Being wives, mothers, sisters, friends and neighbors, I’m sure they would find the right words to convince their peers.
By mobilizing the women in communities in Africa and tapping a peer-to-peer educational strategy, it seems to be me RBF can mobilize hundreds of thousands of very persuasive agents who can even beat seasoned preachers, if need be!
Let us forward this message to political leaders of Africa.
Looking for more resources on RBF & family planning?
Reproductive Health Vouchers: from promise to practice, T. Boler & L. Harris, 2010, Marie Stopes International.
Voucher schemes for sexual and reproductive health services: a Marie Stopes International (MSI) perspective, factsheet.
Can incentives strengthen access to quality family planning services? Lessons from Burundi, Kenya and Liberia, L. Morgan, 2012, Health Systems 20/20, USAID.