Exploring implementation practices in results-based financing: The case of the verification in Benin
Bertone, Maria Paola
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Antony, M., Bertone, M. P. & Barthes, O. (2017) Exploring implementation practices in results-based financing: The case of the verification in Benin. BMC Health Services Research, 17:204.
Background Results-based financing (RBF) has been introduced in many countries across Africa and a growing literature is building around the assessment of their impact. These studies are usually quantitative and often silent on the paths and processes through which results are achieved and on the wider health system effects of RBF. To address this gap, our study aims at exploring the implementation of an RBF pilot in Benin, focusing on the verification of results.Methods The study is based on action research carried out by authors involved in the pilot as part of the agency supporting the RBF implementation in Benin. While our participant observation and operational collaboration with project’s stakeholders informed the study, the analysis is mostly based on quantitative and qualitative secondary data, collected throughout the project’s implementation and documentation processes. Data include project documents, reports and budgets, RBF data on service outputs and on the outcome of the verification, daily activity timesheets of the technical assistants in the districts, as well as focus groups with Community-based Organizations and informal interviews with technical assistants and district medical officers.Results Our analysis focuses on the actual practices of quantitative, qualitative and community verification. Results show that the verification processes are complex, costly and time-consuming, and in practice they end up differing from what designed originally. We explore the consequences of this on the operation of the scheme, on its potential to generate the envisaged change. We find, for example, that the time taken up by verification procedures limits the time available for data analysis and feedback to facility staff, thus limiting the potential to improve service delivery. Verification challenges also result in delays in bonus payment, which delink effort and reward. Additionally, the limited integration of the verification activities of district teams with their routine tasks causes a further verticalization of the health system.Conclusions Our results highlight the potential disconnect between the theory of change behind RBF and the actual scheme’s implementation. The implications are relevant at methodological level, stressing the importance of analyzing implementation processes to fully understand results, as well as at operational level, pointing to the need to carefully adapt the design of RBF schemes (including verification and other key functions) to the context and to allow room to iteratively modify it during implementation. They also question whether the rationale for thorough and costly verification is justified, or rather adaptations are possible.