1st November – Aspirational Districts Programme is a laboratory for governance reforms

The Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) is one of the largest experiments on outcomes-focused governance in the world.

Details –

Spread across 112 of India’s socio-economically challenged districts, the ADP is Niti Aayog’s flagship initiative to improve health, nutrition, education, and economic outcomes. Initial evidence suggests that the ADP has already contributed towards improving lakhs of lives. If successful, the ADP can present a new template for governance. It is therefore critical to try and get it right.

The foundation of ADP –

  • The ADP’s theory of change rests on three pillars: Competition, convergence, and collaboration. Competition fosters accountability on district governments for final outcomes (instead of inputs) using high-quality data.
  • Convergence creatively brings together the horizontal and vertical tiers of the government. Collaboration enables impactful partnerships between government, philanthropy and civil society.
  • Of the Aspirational Districts, Niti Aayog plays a mentoring role in 27 districts in eight states, home to about 60 million people. Twelve central government ministries have similarly adopted the remaining districts.

Outcomes –

Health outcomes in the mentored districts reveal significant improvements between the first and second third-party household surveys (in June-August 2018 and January-March 2019). We see increases in registering pregnant women into the health system (from 73 per cent to 86 per cent), institutional delivery of babies (66 per cent to 74 per cent), and anti-diarrheal treatment via ORS (51 per cent to 67 per cent) and zinc (34 per cent to 53 per cent). These rates are significantly faster than the usual trajectory for these indicators.

How did it become successful?

  • One, pioneering state and district-level initiatives in both the ADP and non-ADP districts in areas prioritised under the programme.
  • Two, spurred by competition on outcomes, local governments target their efforts and improve programme implementation and design.
  • Three, the focus on outcomes enables local experimentation based on a firm appreciation of ground realities.
  • Four, partnerships between various philanthropic and civil society organisations with district governments augment local capacity.

Way forward –

  • A simplified ranking index — with few but carefully chosen output and outcome measures — will more clearly signal national development targets, while providing autonomy to local governments.
  • High quality administrative data is critical to improve programme implementation and design at the local level. To help improve data quality, we can use independent surveys to validate administrative data. Building each district’s internal capacity to produce reliable and actionable data, and promoting a culture of data use, can be made a priority for the ADP.

Conclusion –

ADP is different from previous experiments. First and foremost, the programme has shifted focus away from inputs and budgets to outcomes, such as learning and malnutrition. It has also introduced non-financial incentives to encourage government officials to deliver results and actively encourages forging partnerships with philanthropies and civil society to create better impact using the same amount of budgetary spends. The programme has also developed a lean data infrastructure that smartly exploits complementary strengths of administrative and survey data.

SourceThe Indian Express

QUESTIONAspirational Districts Programme is an improvement over previous poverty alleviation programmes. Discuss.

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