RBM is good for you – or is it?
A big advantage of Results Based Management as compared to other logframe methods is that it tends to be less top-down. RBM puts a lot of emphasis on participation, not just during project design (like PCM and LFA) but also during the execution of the project (including monitoring). At the same time, this is exactly what makes this approach a bit unwieldy. All this participation is fine for creating feelings of ownership and making sure your objectives are relevant, but it also takes time and effort. As a consequence, RBM is easier to handle for big organisations than for smaller ones.
But even small organisations can benefit from the many practical tools that RBM provides. This approach provides you with a clear and detailed way of designing and executing your project. Although it takes time to go through the step-by-step instructions, they do lead to a well-designed project with clear and relevant objectives. The notion of ‘performance’ has the additional benefit that the link between the resources (funding) that you use and the results that you get is clear. This is one reason why RBM is favoured by donors.
The risk management tools included in RBM help you to do something concrete with the often neglected fourth column of the logframe. Instead of just imagining what could possibly go wrong (‘we run out of money!’), this method allows you to identify real risks and assess what could be the effect should they materialise.
However, RBM does suffer from the same problems as its cousins, LFA and PCM. It is based on a linear cause-and-effect concept that tends to simplify what are often very complex realities. RBM may force you to identify cause-and-effect relations where there are none (or they may be questionable). It doesn’t take into account that you may not be the only organisation in the vicinity that has an influence on this problem.
And then there is the question of RBM-as-it-is-meant-to-be versus RBM-as-it-is-pushed-by-donors (and big organisations). The participatory design process may lead to a project proposal that is well founded, but once a contract with a donor is signed, it is cast in concrete. Away are the flexibility, the learning cycle and the possibility to adapt your activities according to what you measure and learn. Upward accountability becomes all important and sharing information with beneficiaries, partners and other stakeholders comes in second place – or in third place, or fourth, or… And the focus may shift again from achieving the intermediate results (purpose of the project) to financial management and executing the activities as planned. But these problems are not inherent to the approach itself, but to the way it is used or to how organisations are forced to use it.