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April 12, 2018

The IMF’s Online PFM Course

An Interview with Sophie Brown, Manal Fouad and Caroline Van Rijckeghem[1]


As the Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF gets ready to launch the second offering of its online PFM course, Richard Allen (RA) interviews Sophie Brown (SB), Manal Fouad (MF), and Caroline Van Rijckeghem (CvR) on the first course offering and what it meant for training in the PFM area.

RA: Manal, you oversaw this project. Can you tell us why the course was developed?

MF: There are very few precedents for a comprehensive online PFM course, and lots of potential demand both from public finance practitioners, and from within the Fund and other development agencies. USAID was interested in training their staff in field offices and offered funding to develop the course. One of the main objectives of the course was to be able to train large numbers of people from all countries, including fragile states, that were normally out of reach for training events.

RA: Sophie, you coordinated the development of the course. What were the challenges you faced?

SB: The preparation involved an enormous amount of work. It was a collaborative effort by the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department and its Institute for Capacity Development. Developing an online course is very time-intensive. Drafting scripts, creating slides, developing problem sets, and then checking and rechecking everything, and that is before you launch the course. The preparations took more than nine months. The course is the result of a huge team effort—not only by the individuals who prepared the 15 teaching modules, but many others too. We needed beta testers of all levels. When the course was launched, we had six people monitoring the discussion forum. To ensure we replied promptly to questions one of them, Magda Tomczynska, who is based in Poland, covered the forum while those in Washington were asleep. Others worked on weekends.

MF: Before the online course was launched, a face-to-face course was prepared, as a pilot exercise, and presented in a series of workshops, two of which were given in Washington, and the others abroad. It was a challenging experience, because our colleagues also had to go about their daily tasks, and travel on technical assistance missions. Developing online modules presents very different challenges compared to face-to-face courses. You have to keep participants engaged, and find ways to make the material interactive, through a screen! Standing in front of a camera was also not easy for many of us. Fortunately, we had a great team in the studio.

RA: Yes, Absolutely, it was a very new experience for me too, as one of the instructors. How was the course designed?

SB: We wanted to show how the IMF treats PFM as an integrated system, closely linked to the Fund’s surveillance activities, with mutually reinforcing and fully consistent aspects. We wanted to cover conceptual approaches but also enrich them with practical examples. For example, the course contains many interviews with ministers of finance, PFM practitioners, and civil society representatives. We also wanted to focus on PFM priorities, reform objectives, implementation risks, and how citizens can hold governments accountable for their decisions and actions.

MF: The course focused on why PFM is a valuable tool to implement public policies, and how PFM institutions support macroeconomic stability, economic growth, the Sustainable Development Goals, and good governance. The content was designed for participants who already have a basic understanding of PFM systems. It was split into five parts which comprised: (i) an overall introduction to modern PFM; (ii) how to elaborate a policy-oriented budget; (iii) budget execution and managing resources effectively; (iv) fiscal responsibility, including the role of supreme audit institutions, and the importance of fiscal transparency; and (v) reform challenges, including how to manage donor funds in a PFM system.

SB: All relevant areas of PFM were covered in the course’s 15 modules, including PFM and fiscal policy, preparation of the annual budget and the medium-term budget framework, management of tax revenue, budget execution, cash and debt management, public investment management, fiscal and financial reporting, fiscal transparency, and PFM reform planning and sequencing.

RA: Caroline, you worked on the assessments for the modules, and the case study. How did you do that?

CvR: That was a very exciting assignment for me. I have taught and helped develop the IMF’s online debt sustainability analysis and financial programming courses, but this was the first time I had worked on PFM topics. To prepare the assessments, I viewed all the modules, and had to find questions that tested the knowledge gained by the participants. The passing grade for the course is 60 percent, and the questions had to be balanced, not too challenging, but not too easy either, and had to be machine gradable while remaining interesting.

Developing the Mozambique case study was also fascinating. It was about how diagnostic tools can help identify PFM weaknesses, and how to implement reforms, with all their political economy aspects. Participants were asked to identify reform priorities and planning challenges in the case study, using diagnostic tools such as PEFA, the Fiscal Transparency Evaluation, and the Public Investment Management Assessment tool.

RA: What is different about this online course?

CvR: A unique feature of the course was the addition of many interviews with current and former ministers of finance—including, for example, Sri Mulyani Indrawati from Indonesia and Trevor Manuel from South Africa—a central bank governor (Dimitar Radev from Bulgaria), and other stakeholders from many countries. The discussion forum,  an interactive platform used in online courses so that participants can ask questions and share views and country experiences, was used intensively. Gender budgeting was a much-debated topic! We didn’t know the PFM community would be so passionate about debating issues.

SB: Another feature that we really like is that once a participant has enrolled, they have access to the materials on the edX platform. That means they can review them later. It’s a nice feature of edX and something face-to-face teaching doesn’t provide.

RA: How many participants took part in the course? How satisfied were they?

SB: This first course offering was open only to government officials, and staff of development agencies. Over 1,200 government officials registered from 141 countries, including 162 from fragile states, such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq and Somalia. The number of government officials registered in the course (889) set new records for an IMF online training program. Almost 700 participants (close to 80 percent) successfully completed the course.  There was also strong interest from development agency staff -  including the World Bank, USAID, DFID, and the European Commission. In this way, the course created a forum for donors and government officials to share views on PFM, as well as capacity building challenges.

RA: What are the next steps?

MF: The course is about to be offered again, as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), so this time, anyone will be able to register for the course. We think that people from civil society organizations, parliamentarians, and students of public administration may find it especially interesting. Remember, it’s about whether citizens and tax payers have clear and reliable information about the government’s policies, and understand how decisions about the public services they rely on are made.

The course will start on May 9, 2018 and will open for 8 weeks, so that participants have more time to complete it. Many participants found that there was too much material to cover in five weeks given demands from work or home. We understand competing demands and we hope the extra time provides participants with more flexibility – but we also hope they don’t drop out! You can find the links to enroll at the end of the post. 

RA: Any final words?

MF: We would like to thank the participants who took the course for their engagement, feedback, and enthusiasm. It was a big effort for us to prepare the course, but it was heartwarming to see how much people appreciated it.


The online course (PFMx) will be offered as a MOOC on edX, open to government officials, civil society and the public from May 9, 2018. Registration closes May 2, 2018.

To enroll:

 If you are a government official or work for a development agency please use this link to register

 If you are from a civil society organization or are not affiliated with government, please use this link


[1] Manal Fouad is the head of the Public Financial Management Division II of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department. Sophie Brown was the course coordinator and one of the instructors, and Caroline Van Rijckeghem was a consultant to the course.

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.



It is really wonderful course so far, a question from few colleagues: When this online course will be open again for enrollment?


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