Focus on doing: The Delivery Approach to education

Blue banner with the words Think Education: Facing the learning crisis in eastern and Southern Africa


When it comes to implementing education sector policies, educators across Sub-Saharan Africa face a common set of challenges. These include:

  • Lack of clarity as to the practical steps needed to turn national policy into tangible outcomes.
  • Poor co-ordination at national level means policy priorities vary between councils, boards and agencies with unclear accountability for results.
  • The challenge of ensuring quality service delivery locally (the national government is often blamed for poor local results).
  • Focus on process and procedures rather than outcomes with little sense of urgency to make a positive difference within schools.

What can be done?

In recent years there has been a growing interest across governments, multilateral and bilateral development agencies in looking beyond the formulation of best practice policies and focusing on implementation and ‘getting things done’. At the heart of this interest has been a set of ideas and structures which can be termed the ‘Delivery Approach’. The Delivery Approach can involve the set-up and operations of Centre of Government Delivery Units (at either Presidential, Prime Ministerial or Ministerial level) as well as the application of a set of best practice principles initially popularised in the early 2000s by the UK Government’s Prime Ministerial Delivery Unit.

The Delivery Approach is intended to bring about a transformative shift in attitudes and behaviour towards public service delivery and therefore needs to be viewed as more than just a narrow, technical approach to implementation challenges.

Two girls in mid-air as they skip-rope together as a young boy looks on.
© UNICEF/UN0224449/BongyereirwePupils of Bright Centre Early Childhood Development Centre, in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district in northern Uganda play. The centre with over 515 pupils, supported by UNICEF providing integrated early childhood development, child friendly space and accelerated learning services.

Using the Delivery Approach in education

There are strong linkages between the Delivery Approach and wider education sector planning. It can be helpful to see the Education Sector Plan (ESP) as an overall framework for educational improvement whereas the Delivery Approach is a set of specific tools and approaches which can be used to deliver results within the ESP framework. It is important from the start of the planning process to recognise these synergies and align the two rather than view them as separate or parallel processes.

The Delivery Approach focuses on a small number of key priorities within an identified sub-sector of the education system. It therefore has an exclusive rather than inclusive focus and operates on a short-term timescale – aiming to bring about meaningful and measurable results over a period of months (up to a maximum of 3 years). This brings explicit focus on transformational change in delivery and working culture to address areas of underperformance in the education system.

The potential drawbacks of this approach are the possible loss of focus on non-priority (but still essential) areas of the education system, a concentration on short-term, easily measurable results and the possible generation of new sets of activities without adequate financing or resource planning.

Aligning ESPs and the Delivery Approach can help ensure that countries benefit from the advantages of both approaches – with a transformational set of culture-changing activities nested within a broader, comprehensive and fully costed plan for education systems

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Robin Todd is a Senior Education Adviser at Cambridge Education. Robin served on a government delivery unit, assigned by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown. He has since worked with governments in Tanzania and Sierra Leone on the Delivery Approach. Robin is currently Team Leader for a DFID education programme in Ghana.


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