Rome, 7 - 11 May 2001
Follow-up to the Synthesis of Recent Field Project Evaluations
1. In reviewing the Synthesis of Recent Field Project Evaluations the Programme Committee, at its 83rd Session in May 2000, noted with concern that, despite the overall trend for improvement of field project performance, weaknesses in project design had been highlighted over a number of years. The Committee endorsed the lines of action proposed by the Secretariat in document PC 83/4 ("Synthesis of Recent Field Project Evaluations"), in particular paragraph 24, in which it is recommended that further efforts be pursued in the context of decentralized arrangements for the operational activities with regard to: (a) preparation of updated guidelines for project formulation (b) training of FAO staff, especially those in the decentralized offices and (c) strengthening the existing mechanisms for reviewing and appraising project proposals, both at the decentralized offices and at Headquarters.
2. In this Note, the Secretariat wishes to respond to the Committee's request for information on progress being made in implementing the above recommendations. In so doing, it also wishes to report that due note has been taken of the importance attached by the Committee to the project evaluation process as a means of improving the quality of the field programme, as well as of the guidance it provided in respect of the selection of future topics for project evaluations according to the priorities of the Strategic Framework. The Committee's request for greater specificity in evaluations recommendations will be taken into account for the submission of findings and recommendations arising from future project evaluations.
3. The Secretariat has reviewed the three interrelated issues raised in the context proposed by the Committee, that is, the decentralization of operational activities to the country level. The Committee will recall that a report on this issue was submitted to the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees at their September 2001 session (JM 2000 INF/3). The report emphasized the unprecendented novelty of the new arrangements and the phased and gradual approach to their implementation adopted by the Secretariat, which was endorsed by the Committees. It is also suggested that the present Note be read in conjunction with the document "The Level of FAO's Field Programme - Progress Report" (PC 85/7), which provides greater detail regarding the field programme situation and prospects as well as on the current restructuring process.
4. As the Committee noted last May, the results of project evaluation over a number of years have pointed to persistent weaknesses in the formulation and appraisal process. The Committee's concern over such situation is fully shared by the Secretariat and a series of remedial measures are under consideration. Among them, the Secretariat believes that it is of fundamental importance to provide for a sharper focus on the initial phases of the project cycle (identification, formulation and appraisal) within the organizational structure. One of the objectives of the re-organization of the Technical Cooperation Department, now under way, is to arrive at a clearer designation of responsibilities over the various phases of the cycle while concentrating responsibilities and increasing accountability over project operations through the designation of a budget holder for each project. New procedures will be introduced, in harmony with the new distribution of functions and responsibilities, to ensure a close monitoring of the project cycle and quality control of the various outputs, in particular project documents and technical and financial reports.
5. During the transition phase, projects continue to be identified, formulated and implemented and measures have been taken to ensure that improved formulation techniques are utilized pending issuance of a set of guidelines covering both the formulation methodology aspects and the institutional setup in which the process will take place in the future. Such measures are summarized below:
6. With regard to the mechanisms for project formulation and appraisal (see para 4 above) the evolution and development of such mechanisms will take take place in the context of (a) the structural changes within the TC Department, which includes the issuance of new procedures and guidelines and (b) the new distribution of responsibilities for project operations and the increasing role to be played by country representatives over project preparation and negotiation with donors. As a first step, the Field Operations Division (TCO) has been reorganized with a view to strengthening its capacity to monitor and analyse field programme trends and develop systems and procedures. Significant progress has been made through the creation of the Field Programme Management Information System (FPMIS), which is a database designed to support the entire project cycle, from the project idea/pipeline level through project closure. The System provides comprehensive information at the different levels of aggregation to support field programme monitoring and management.
7. Within TCO, a new service has been created (Field Programme Monitoring and Coordination Service, TCOM) to carry out the functions described above. TCOM will also ensure feedback from project evaluation into the formulation and appraisal phases of the cycle. Further efforts will be made to disseminate the findings of evaluation missions to ensure that lessons are drawn with a view to improving project quality.
8. Efforts are also being made to redefine the responsibility for field programme development at the regional and sub-regional level, with more emphasis on the role of the Policy Assistance Division and its Policy Assistance Branches/Units (PABs/PAUs), especially as concerns the identification, formulation and appraisal phases. As part of the ongoing TCA review, a seminar with the Chiefs and Coordinators of the PABs and PAUs was held in January 2001, and a review of the role of the Investment Centre Division (TCI) in the project cycle process will be undertaken later in the year.
9. In summary, the problems identified in the course of the evaluation process, as underscored by the Committee, are receiving attention and remedial measures are being worked out. In the midst of a profound reform of FAO's field programme management, such measures are necessarily provisional and subject to further testing and adjustment.