Posted by Gordon Ferrier1
Human resource aspects of public financial management (PFM) reform strategies are given less than their due in the literature. Yet they are fundamental to the success of such strategies, as a recent initiative by the Government of the Philippines (GOP) to develop a Competency Framework for some 60,000 government employees exemplifies.
In March 2013, the GOP embarked on an ambitious new strategy for reforming PFM systems. Its PFM Reform Roadmap aimed to “clarify, simplify, improve and harmonize the financial management processes and information systems of the entire government machinery for improved public service delivery”.
Making these reforms sustainable required strengthening the capacity of government, a critical challenge. That led to a request for tenders to develop a PFM Competency Framework, which was won by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), working with its partner WYG International (WYGI). The work done by the CIPFA-WYGI team was made possible by the support of a group of committed senior officials, including the Department of Budget Management, the lead sponsor, the Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service Commission. This relatively small number of individuals was indispensable in providing the leadership required to ensure the acceptance of the Model by the GOP.
The main features of the Competency Model
The Competency Model that CIPFA and WYGI designed covered five main groups of PFM disciplines: Budgeting, Procurement, Accounting, Auditing and Cash Management. Within each discipline competencies were identified at five levels. These levels reflected increasing amounts of discretion with regard to how a job was done and the complexity of the operating environment. Although the development team took full account of the existing job and grading structures that applied to staff, the quality of the personnel information was insufficient for the team to create a structure that replicated these existing grades. In practice this proved to be a helpful simplifying device. Basing competencies on existing jobs would have meant that the model would have been out of date almost as soon as it was published.
A key early task during the design phase of the project was to generate consensus on what was meant by “competence”. The team defined a competence as “a cluster of related knowledge, skills and attitudes that affects a major part of one’s job (a role or responsibility), that correlates with performance on the job, that can be measured against well-accepted standards, and that can be improved via training and development”. To this the team added ”behaviors” to the set of “knowledge, skills and attitudes”, to reflect the fact that competence is as much about what someone does as what they know, do or are pre-disposed to do.
Although the majority of Competency Statements were expressed in terms of the abovementioned five PFM functional groupings, an additional set of common competencies that are relevant to all staff was defined. These competencies consisted of Maintaining PFM Understanding, Applying Internal Control, Use of IT Systems to Manage Public Finances, and Effective Collaboration and Relationship Management. The final Competency Model therefore comprised six Competency Frameworks.
The various Frameworks were developed through discussion with more than 1,000 members of staff in a series of Focus Group Discussions. Once developed the Frameworks were validated along three dimensions, namely:
• Face Validity: did the competency statements make sense to the people to whom they were intended to apply;
• Construct Validity: did the statements help to discriminate effective practitioners from the less effective; and
• Content Validity: did the statements cover all critical aspects of PFM.
The CIPFA-WYGI team also carried out a rapid assessment of the amount of PFM training and development that had taken place over the previous five years, and the current capacity of the market to deliver future training and development needs. Several important gaps were identified during this exercise.
The final report produced by the team included a roadmap identifying the key actions that would be required to implement the Model. These included:
• developing an initial set of training and development interventions, to help realize the benefits of using the Model;
• integrating the Model into the Government’s wider system of human resource (HR) policies and procedures;
• mapping the elements of the Framework onto the existing grading structure, to align individual job descriptions with Statements drawn from the appropriate levels;
• addressing the shortages of supply-side capacity that had been identified;
• determining the balance to be struck between internal and external provision of training; and
• creating an environment in which members of staff took responsibility for their own learning, thus reducing dependence on supply-driven training, and creating a more effective learning and development environment.
The implementation of a Competency Model on the scale envisaged in the Philippines is a substantial task. It is likely to be several years before implementation could be considered complete and periodic reviews of the Model are likely to be necessary. The GOP will not be able to successfully implement the Model without external assistance, something they have readily acknowledged. Sustaining the drive to change will therefore be important.
How applicable is the Model to other countries?
In principle, many of the Competency Statements developed in the Philippines are likely to be applicable to other countries. However, the critical factors affecting implementation of the Model are unlikely to lie in the technical content of the framework. Rather they include:
• the extent to which it is possible to provide the long-term financing necessary to adapt the Model to the needs of the country concerned, and to commit to its leaders to implement the necessary changes;
• the extent to which the market is able to provide the kind of training, learning and development interventions that would be necessary to close the skills gap that are likely to exist;
• the nature of the government’s existing HR infrastructure: in particular the extent to which there is an HR team with the competence to cooperate effectively with the Competency Model development team, helping to ensure that the Model design integrates effectively with current and planned HR development policies; and
• the presence of senior counterparts in government, representing the full range of PFM functions, with the authority and standing to take the decisions necessary to support an effective design-develop-implement approach.
For further information on the Competency Model please visit the following GOP website.
1 Assistant Director (International), CIPFA.
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