1.1. What is Results-Based Management?

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Resource Based Management Part 1

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Results-based management (RBM) is a broad management approach whose core focus is achieving results. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) defines RBM as a “management strategy by which processes, outputs and services contribute to the achievement of clearly stated expected accomplishments and objectives. It is focused on achieving results, improving performance, integrating lessons learned into management decisions and monitoring and reporting on performance.”2

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines RBM as “A management strategy focusing on performance and achievement of outputs, outcomes and impacts”.3

The United Nations Development Group defines results based management as “a management strategy by which all actors, contributing directly or indirectly to achieving a set of results, ensure that their processes, products and services contribute to the achievement of desired results (outputs, outcomes and higher level goals or impact). The actors in turn use the information and evidence on actual results to inform decision-making on the design, resourcing and delivery of programmes and activities as well as for accountability and reporting.”

CIDA holds that RBM “aims at improving management effectiveness and accountability by defining realistic expected results, monitoring progress toward the achievement of expected results, integrating lessons learned into management decisions and reporting on performance5

RBM is sometimes used interchangeably with managing for development results (MfDR). MfDR is about achieving development or sustainable rather than short-term results that have an impact on the lives of people.

It is about accountability for delivering results to the citizens on whom the interventions are focused.

Another commonly used term is results-based budgeting (RBB), which has a narrower focus than RBM and refers to “a programme budget process in which (a) programme formulation revolves around a set of predefined objectives and expected results (b) expected results justify the resource requirements which are derived from and linked to outputs required to achieve the results; and (c) actual performance in achieving results is measured by objective performance indicators”.6

RBM is about selecting a destination first, then deciding on the route, checking against a map and making adjustments as required, in order to achieve the desired results. The RBM approach shifts away from a focus on inputs, activities and processes to a focus on benefits and achievements that are a direct effect of the intervention. RBM also emphasizes using information on results to improve decision making. The RBM approach demands that management continually reflects on the extent to which that implementation of activities and outputs will lead to the achievement of desired outcomes. It is about effectiveness of implementation. Accordingly, management is supposed to continually make necessary adjustments to ensure that planned or desired outcomes or results are realized.

RBM is not a tool; it is a mindset, a way of working that looks beyond processes, activities, products and services to focus on the actual social and economic benefits of projects and programmes at the level of beneficiaries. RBM is a system, and like all systems its components must work harmoniously and cohesively for it to be effective.

What then is a result or a development result? A result arises as a consequence (intended or unintended, positive or negative) of a development intervention or humanitarian assistance, deriving from the utilization of products and/or services provided to targeted institutions and communities. Some of the key elements of RBM are:

  1. Focusing the dialogue on results at all phases of the development process;
  2. Aligning programming, monitoring and evaluation with results;
  3. Keeping measurement and reporting simple;
  4. Managing for, not by results; and
  5. Using results information for learning and decision-making.

Other commonly used terms for results are effect, outcome, expected accomplishment and impact.

A central tenet of results thinking is the results chain, which is an illustration of the causal relationship between various elements over time. A results chain can be summarized as a series of conditional statements: If A is done, B will happen; if B happens, C is also likely to happen. The diagram below is an illustration of a results chain.

Figure 1: The Results Chain


While a results chain shows a causal relationship over time, it is not a simple linear process. There are many external factors that may affect the results of the intervention, especially at outcome and impact levels.

Outcomes may be caused by factors both within and beyond the control of the programme – the intervention may be one of the many contributors to an outcome. In the value chain of results – or the intervention – the question to ask is, “Would the change have occurred without the intervention?” The intervention strategy has to have reasonable influence on the planned outcomes.

At impact level, it becomes increasingly difficult to attribute the observed development change to a particular intervention, as there are many variables and many actors or sources (i.e., the partner country, multiple donors and other stakeholders, both local and international) who may be contributing. At that high level, success or failure cannot be attributed to one specific programme intervention; therefore, reference is made to their contribution.

Multiple factors, events, conditions or risks beyond the control of the programme or intervention may negatively influence or threaten the achievement of intended results or changes. Accordingly, in any intervention, it is always important to analyse both internal and external risks that may hinder the success of the programme and attainment of planned results. Risks are closely related to results and should therefore be analysed against the results framework of a programme.

Risk management is therefore an integral part of results-based management. Internal risks are factors under the control of the programme that may hinder success, and include human and financial resource capacity, corruption, management capabilities, incentive structures, ownership, etc. External risks are factors beyond the control of the programme which could hinder the achievement of results and include political, institutional, economic, environmental, social and technological conditions.

2 Review of results-based management at the United Nations (OIOS )- A/63/268/

3 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “Glossary of Evaluation and results based management (RBM) Terms”, 2010 edition, page 34.

4 United Nations Development Group, results-based management Handbook: Harmonizing RBM concept and approaches for improved development results at country level” edited draft October 2011, p 2.

5 Results based management in Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), January 1999.

6 A/53/500 of 15 October 1998 – Office of Programme Planning Budget and Account

7 Within the UN Secretariat and UN-Habitat outcomes are referred to as “expected accomplishments”.

1.1.1. Results should be grounded in a sound Theory of Change

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly will require a strong RBM approach to the planning and implementation of development initiatives, including a strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system. Evidence shows that both planning and achievement of results increasingly receive attention at global, regional and country levels. However, when results are not explicitly factored into the planning and budgeting process, we often tend to let the projects/programmes manage us instead of us managing them. Experience indicates that clarity in direction invariably leads to enhanced effectiveness and efficiency for policy makers, planners and programme managers.

As donor assistance shrinks and internal financial allocations are shared among competing priorities, managers are challenged to prove that their programmes and projects produce the results that they promise to achieve.

RBM together with a changing mind-set and culture towards achievement of results is often positioned as an important part of management reform. It helps to connect policy, resources and programme designs with service delivery and their effect on communities.

At the beginning of a planning cycle, whether it is at programme or project level, it is important to determine what results need to be achieved, when they need to achieved, and what needs to be done right away, in order to successfully achieve set goals and objectives. Results should be based on a sound Theory of Change (ToC) that will guide the different phases of programme/project implementation.

The Theory of Change is not simply a ‘buzzword’; it represents an increasing desire for organizations to explore and represent change in a way that reflects a complex and systemic understanding of development. This desire stems at least in part from the “results agenda”, and this places the ToC at the center of RBM.

What is the Theory of Change?

The Theory of Change as an approach is a guiding framework for all stages of planning (thinking), implementation (action) and performance management (accountability and lessons-learning) when intervening in social change processes.

It is a method that organizations and groups use to think critically about what is required to bring about a desired social change. It is a process designed to depict how a complex change initiative will unfold over time. It creates an illustration of all the various moving parts that must operate in concert to bring about a desired outcome.

The ToC articulates and illustrates the causal relationship between the different level of results, from the immediate results/outcomes/preconditions to the intermediate results/outcomes/preconditions, to the desired change or long-term outcome. The ToC brings flexibility to and expands on the results chain. In fact, it could be called a results cloud.

In UN-Habitat, the ToC is used as a result-oriented approach for analysing the complex systems in which the organisation and its partners operate, and for planning actions that are likely to influence those systems in a positive way, and bring about change in the lives of urban dwellers.

Although ToCs exist in endless variations of style and content, the steps to follow in developing a ToC in UN-Habitat are presented in “Section 2.2.2 Preparing the strategic plan”, page 43 including a concrete example using national urban policies.

UN-Habitat distinguishes between the ToC as a way of thinking (overall approach); a process (a ToC analysis or enquiry); and a product (the result of a ToC process).

  1. ToC is a thinking and action approach to navigate the complexity of social change. It is a way of looking at the world that calls on and fosters people’s capacities for critical questioning, not taking things for granted, dealing with uncertainties, and acknowledging the inevitability of diverse perspectives.
  2. ToC is a process. If used well, a ToC enquiry is an ongoing process of analysis and reflection. It is not a one-off exercise in the design phase of a programme, but rather involves an ongoing action-learning cycle.
  3. A ToC is also a product because a ToC enquiry results in specific outcomes – in narrative and/or visual form – that represent the theory of change of an organisation, a team, or a project or programme. It is a ‘living’ product because it will change over time.
  4. A ToC is a temporary snapshot, a reflection of the thinking at a specific moment, which will not and does not need to be complete. As a product, a theory of change offers a framework for sense-making that needs to be used, revisited and adapted as the project or programme advances, other actors come in, changes in the context occur and learning takes place.  

Figure 2: Example of Theory of Change diagram


Why the Theory of Change?

In UN-Habitat, a number of reasons and expected benefits justify the use of theory of change as a tool to guide planning, implementation and performance management; among them:


  • understanding the context and situation as a starting point for planning programmes and projects; bringing critical thinking to bear on the assumptions around an initiative, to make views on how the initiative is expected to work transparent;
  • moving beyond ‘business as usual’, generic programme and project designs through a greater awareness of the context;
  • developing a common understanding of the work and surfacing differences in perspective in a positive way;
  • strengthening the clarity, effectiveness and focus of programmes and projects;
  • offering a more flexible alternative to working with log-frames for complex initiatives and contexts;
  • using theory of change as a framework within which to assess impact and improve monitoring and evaluation, test assumptions, demonstrate impact and learn from it;
  • improving relationships with partners and stakeholders by identifying opportunities for dialogue and collaboration;
  • providing a unifying framework for strategic decision-making, communication and reporting;
  • wanting to have a clearer conceptualisation of ‘results’ and understanding the intermediate changes that have significance for the organization and stakeholders, to enable strategies to be optimized for the context;
  • strengthening adaptive management and responsiveness to changes in the context; and
  • finding new ways of bringing rigour to the evaluation of complex and emergent change in difficult areas related to sustainable urbanization, such as legislation and governance.


1.1.2. Defining the pillars of RBM

Pillar 1: Planning (discussed in greater detail later under the sections on strategic & programme planning, Sec 2.2):

Planning in an RBM system is the process of identifying the goals or objectives to be achieved; formulating the strategies to achieve them; organizing or creating the means required; and establishing performance measurement frameworks, as well as determining the resources required. Planning lays the basis for implementation, monitoring, reporting and evaluation processes, and directs all steps in their proper sequence.

A basic principle of results planning is to start with the desired change (impact and outcomes) and then identify the outputs, activities and inputs required to achieve them – develop a results framework. This implies a thorough analysis of the problem that needs to be solved, the changes that are desired and the activities and inputs that are necessary to achieve them.

Key questions to be addressed during the planning phase are:

  1. What is the problem to be solved (the undesirable situation)?
  2. What do we want to achieve (the desired change)?
  3. How do we get from A to B (the strategy)?
  4. How will we know when we have arrived (the indicators)?
  5. What assumptions are we making if the desired change is to happen (what needs to be in place)?
  6. What are the risks and how will they be mitigated?

Pillar 2: Monitoring (discussed in detail later, under the sections on strategic and programme monitoring, section 3.2):

Monitoring in an RBM system is a continuous or periodic process that provides performance information on the degree of progress made towards achievement of desired change or results at a particular time. It involves systematic collection of data on selected indicators to measure performance against targets. Data on indicators provide management and the main stakeholders of an ongoing development intervention with pointers to the extent of progress in implementation and achievement of outcomes/objectives, and use of allocated funds.

Monitoring tracks progress and alerts management on whether actual results are being achieved. It focuses on the fidelity of the cause-and-effect relationships: Are inputs or resources leading to desired activities? Are activities producing the desired outputs? Are outputs being utilized by target users? The process involves making adjustments and tradeoffs. Monitoring checks to see whether outputs are of the desired quality and whether they are timely and adequate to lead to the desired change. If not, adjustments are required – that is adaptive management.

Monitoring provides records of activities and results, and identifies challenges and risks. It will not explain why a programme is not reaching its planned outcome or impacts. That kind of analysis, as well as questions of cause and effect, is normally dealt with through reviews and evaluations.

As part of monitoring, evidence of the reported results should be collected using indicators to verify what is reported.

Pillar 3: Evaluation (discussed in detail later under the section on evaluation, section 4.2):

Evaluation in an RBM system is the systematic and objective assessment of an ongoing or completed project, program, or policy, including its design, implementation, and results. The aim is to determine the relevance and fulfillment of objectives, development efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and sustainability. An evaluation should provide information that is credible and useful, enabling the incorporation of lessons learned into the decision-making processes of both implementers and donors.

More importantly, evaluations should be able to indicate whether desired results, especially outcomes and impacts were achieved, and if not why not? They should provide information that monitoring cannot adequately provide. Evaluation focuses on the achievement of desired results.

Pillar 4: Learning: Learning in an RBM system is a critical and continuous process that occurs throughout the cycle of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, all of which contribute to knowledge creation. Learning informs management and the organization at every stage about what is working well and what needs to be adjusted. It strongly influences strategy development, programme/project design and implementation. An effective monitoring system is critical to facilitating learning and accountability, which are essential elements of RBM.

Figure 3: RBM pillars

Figure 4: RBM cycle

NB: Learning takes place at every stage. Figure 4 emphasizes the importance of reflecting on and factoring lessons learned before and during the planning phases.

Within each of the pillars described above, methodologies and tools are developed to form the RBM nervous system. This notwithstanding, for the system to be effective and sustainable, the environment in which RBM is utilized is as important as the tools and methodologies.

RBM thrives in an environment that meets some basic success factors:

A results-oriented leadership to drive the results agenda: A major precondition of effective results management is leadership commitment. A results-oriented leadership ensures selection of clear objectives and strategies for the programme, demands information and documentation of results and uses performance information for decision-making. Results-oriented leadership demonstrates attitudes and behaviour that are essential for the success of the organization.

The focus on the desired change or results must be supported from the highest political or management level by demanding results and results information. Key to the development of a results-oriented culture is training for everyone involved in implementation, readily available RBM tools and reference materials, incentives that promote application of RBM and disincentives for non-application of RBM principles.

Incentives to institutionalize a culture of results: Managing for results represents a very different way of doing business. Traditional systems reward delivery of activities and processes rather than achievement of results. Research and the experience of organizations and countries that have mature RBM systems have demonstrated that an incentive system is important for consistent use of RBM and the embedment of a results culture. Incentive structures are important for motivating management and staff to change a traditionally compliance-oriented culture.

An organizational culture conducive to improvement and learning: Involving staff in the development and implementation of a results approach is important for creating the support for the necessary change of orientation. This implies training and provision of necessary tools, as well as participation in setting realistic goals and targets, assessing risks and reporting on performance.

A results-oriented organization ensures that knowledge and learning from reporting and evaluation are used consistently to improve decision-making. A key question to ask is “What should be changed in order improve achievements?” Emphasis on learning implies flexibility in responding to the situation.

Accountability and clear roles and responsibilities: Committing to results management requires that staff and management be held accountable for appropriate levels of results.

Inclusiveness: Buy-in and support for RBM can only be achieved by actively involving staff and stakeholders. People are inclined to resist any approach that is perceived as being imposed from above. When staff is involved in developing and implementing results, they own the process and appreciate the relevance of RBM and its related systems, processes and tools.

Resources: According to the UN Joint Inspection Unit, accounting for results is at the heart of the shift to RBM in the UN, where it is regarded as “a management tool that should enhance responsibility and accountability in the implementation of programmes and budgets”. Accordingly, harnessing the organization’s resources to achieve its desired results/objectives, and demonstrating the linkage between resources and results, is essential for an effective RBM system. Most accounting systems do not show the alignment of resources to objectives.

Linking resources to objectives enables assessment of a programme’s performance level in relation to resources provided, and enhances accountability. Most RBM systems include the following processes:

Figure 5: Main characteristics of RBM







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