Report: Select-Group Roundtable on Implementation Capacity

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Wednesday 14 Nov 2018, 09:00 – 13:00
Protea Hotel, Midrand, South Africa



Effective implementation of strategies, policies, programmes and projects and other development interventions is a major constraint in Africa’s progress. Unfortunately, however, ‘implementation capacity’ has rarely been sufficiently addressed consistently and holistically, independent of ‘projects’.

As a contribution to efforts to address this critical challenge, Transformative Development Capacities (TDC) and its partners are developing an initiative themed Implementation Capacity Imperative (ICI) with the aim to develop systematic knowledge about, and build practical skills on how, to implement programmes for success with regard to desired outcomes and impact.

The objective of the Roundtable was to assist in identifying some of the key areas that need investment in order to entrench effective implementation practices in Africa.

Participants were carefully selected with the aim of getting key stakeholders with experience in programme implementation. They were drawn from senior-level stakeholders in the development space who have responsibility for delivery on programmes and projects.

There were twenty (20) participants at the Roundtable drawn from the following institutional categories:
▪ National, Provincial, and Local Government
▪ Pan-African organizations
▪ Private-sector stakeholders
▪ Non-Profit Organisations

This select group included directors, managers, and other decision-makers who play strategic roles in the implementation of various development interventions. Importantly all the pan-African institutions considered critical to the Imperative were represented and made contributions that underscored the urgency to address this very critical area of capacity development in Africa.

The event was organized as a consultative discussion against the backdrop of the objective. Deliberations aimed at soliciting and together setting the frame for an interactive discussion focusing on experiences of participants in implementing various projects and activities. The programme was structured to help in identifying some of the critical challenges that undermine the delivery of well-intended programmes and projects.

Discussions were facilitated by resource persons with many man-years of experience in results-based management programme/project design and management, and monitoring and evaluation, business processes and cross-sector project implementation, knowledge management, and capacity development. Participants discussed and contributed ideas for developing and strengthening approaches towards addressing a serious challenge that persists on the continent.


Perspectives on Programme Implementation

From an evaluative perspective, the highlights and discussions were on recurring reasons why well-crafted development frameworks have failed against their intended transformational impact aims. It also underscored the need for implementation capacity development targeting programme managers and implementers to equip them with the appropriate skills in the effective and efficient utilization of resources to achieve planned results.

Identification of Critical Implementation Challenges

This was a facilitated discussion that engaged participants to discuss and identify, from their own experiences, some critical challenges that impede successful and effective implementation of programmes and projects. The discussion sought to answer the following question:

i. Why do supposedly well-formulated development programmes fail to achieve their desired objectives, results and impacts?
ii. How can implementation processes and outcomes be improved, and  capacities sustained?

Perspectives on Building Implementation Capacity in Africa

This presentation and discussion focused on the role and strategy of The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) as a partner for countries, regional and pan-African institutions to strengthen transformative and implementation capacities to ensure that Africa advances its economic transformation agenda.


The discussions and contributions from participants highlighted key issues and recommendations for developing effective implementation capacity in Africa. Among these are:

Effective coordination remains one of the oldest an d most critical challenges for development practitioners, but it has become even more important as the challenges confronting them changes. Both vertical and horizontal coordination is essential in order to strengthen implementation capacity and avoid duplications, contradictions, displacement etc.

Technology and accountability
Considering the 4th industrial revolution we are in, technology plays a vital role in improving implementation systems as well as the ability to enhance accountability in programme implementation. Accountability is a good way to firm up agreements, document actionable items, identify risks/challenges and hold all stakeholders accountable to follow through to produce results. The emphasis is also on accountability for both resources and results.

There are no projects that are completed successfully without the efforts of other stakeholders. Any great leader knows that the success of their programs and projects is attributed to the team effort.

Leadership skills
To put in place talent with the right project leadership skill sets to manage projects. Some of the important soft skills are: emotional intelligence, self-leadership and self-awareness which continue to be essential skillsets for project leaders in addition to technical knowledge and skills.

Listen to lead
Project leaders don’t have crystal balls to see the future to avoid unknown risks and challenges, however, what they can do is tap into the collective knowledge of their teams. Leadership is about relying on others’ input and feedback and being prepared to filter out any information that doesn’t add value to progress. Above all leadership in implementation is about the ability to learn from both positive and negative experiences so as to inform further action.

▪ Buy-in from core stakeholders
Executives must be able to effectively communicate to sponsors, program or project managers, and the beneficiaries of such projects what they want to be done and, more importantly, why they want to do it. The views, interests and participation of beneficiaries must be central to both programme development and implementation.

Research and knowledge development
There is need to undertake research to develop and contextualise knowledge about implementation practices as a science in Africa.

Champion a new reality
Like many causes on the continent such as the environmental movement, anti-corruption, education of the girl child, mother and child mortality, monitoring and evaluation processes, Implementation Capacity should also be championed as a cause in its own right with buy-in from key stakeholders. Implementation should not be approached as an ad hoc to programmes.

Institutionalize ICI
To integrate Implementation in strategy will ensure that ICI gets institutionalized. This will entail liaising with Higher Education and research institutions to incorporate the ICI into their programmes and to build a field of study out of it.

The general consensus of participants was that the initiative is very timely and that it should be further developed in collaboration with various stakeholders.


In a call to action, the Executive Director of TDC referred to how other nations have built capacity to execute flagship programmes and projects in times of ‘urgent needs’. He used an example from the US space programme to emphasise the necessity for practical steps towards the achievement of seemingly unreachable goals, citing the audacious challenge issued by the US President to the nation to “… commit … to achieving the goal [within 10 years] … of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth”. He emphasised the commitment to the vision that was demonstrated by various stakeholders in order to achieve the goal, and highlighted some practical ‘capacity building’ steps that were taken in this example, including the passing of appropriate legislation, development of requisite knowledge, building fit-for-purpose institutions, developing relevant systems and procedures, etc.

He called for a similar commitment to action and results in respect of Agenda 2063. He stressed that resolving implementation capacity challenges towards the achievement of national development visions as well as the Agenda 2063 aspirations would require deliberate and on-going commitment to conscious, consistent, holistic, and practical actions. These include developing the core knowledge, building operational understanding and skills, developing systematic Afro-centric approaches independent of projects, and investments in developing capabilities aligned to Africa’s development trajectory.

Participants called for the building of partnerships and collaboration in order to strengthen and institutionalise systemic and operational implementation capacities, build a continent-wide movement and platform of practitioners to support the implementation of national development agendas, and the need to cultivate and entrench a culture for sustainaining development results in Africa.