CoST Business Plan sets out knock out path for increasing its global impact

CoST has published the results of recently completed Strategic Review and Business Planning exercises. In our latest blog, CoST Executive Director Petter Matthews reflects on these exercises and explains how they will affect our approach in the future.

“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” This was the response of former Heavyweight Boxing World Champion Mike Tyson when asked about his strategy going into a title fight. As both a boxing fan and a planner (at least by education), I had reason to reflect on ‘Iron Mike’s’ advice recently as CoST undertook strategic review and business planning exercises.

The strategic review involved: “a fundamental review of all key aspects of the CoST programme including its vision, delivery model, governance arrangements, financing, partnerships and sustainability.” This meant that nothing was off limits. Every aspect of our approach would be subject to scrutiny and where appropriate, reccomendations made for how they could be improved.

With members across Europe, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and a range of international stakeholders, CoST is as much a movement as it is a programme and an organisation. For that reason, we wanted to open-up the review process and give voice to as many stakeholders as possible. This included convening an Advisory Panel of international experts to oversee the process. Its membertship was drawn from the African Development Bank, World Bank, GIZ, DFID, European International Contractors, Bechtel, Open Contracting Partnership, National Construction Industry Council of Malawi and Transparency Ethiopia. These experts were joined by members of the CoST Board and International Secretariat. Leading international developmnent consultants IMC Worldwide were appointed to undertake the review.

The final report brought together findings from a desk-based review, a survey of 200 individuals, interviews with 30 key respondents and in-depth discussions with CoST Country Managers. The results showed that CoST was widely acknowledged as helping to improve transparency and accountability in the delivery of public infrastructure. Multistakeholder working was seen as important and valuable and the support provided by the CoST International Secretariat was widely appreciated. Areas of relative weakness were also identified including a lack of clarity around our Vision and Mission, insufficient ‘demand’ for the information disclosed and concerns about the membership model being too rigid.

The meetings held between the consultants and the Advisory Panel were at times impassioned. Many points were disputed and every reccomendation meticuously examined. Eventually a consensus emerged and the final report reflects the rigour of this process. Once completed, the priority then shifted to translating the reccomendations into a detailed Business Plan.

The CoST Business Plan 2017-2020 explains how we will substantially increase the global impact of our work. It includes a series of ambitious strategic objectives and details of the human and financial resources needed to deliver them. And importantly, it describes the modifications to our approach that will help us achieve our ambition. They include:
  • Flexible membership model – In addition to ‘national programmes’ (e.g. ‘CoST Panama’ and ‘CoST Ethiopia’), applications will be welcomed by sub-national entities such as provinces, regions, districts and even municipalities. In addition, membership will be extended to individual procuring entities and megaprojects.

  • Promotion of tools and standards – We will improve the quality and extend the applicability of our tools and standards and promote their uptake by non-members. This is already happening to some extent. Global Infrastructure Basel for example recently incorporated the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard into its Standard for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

  • Develop strategic partnerships – CoST has built effective strategic partnerships with organisations such as European International Contractors, Open Contracting Partnership and the World Bank. We will develop this approach through building on existing and developing new partnerships.

  • Replace ‘construction’ with ‘infrastructure’ – A survey of donor attitudes undertaken in 2015 demonstrated that ‘infrastructure’ resonated more with potential supporters than ‘construction’. The strategic review revisited this question and suggested that a change of name might be necessary. Eventually the CoST Board decided to retain the name ‘CoST’, but drop the reference to ‘construction’ and in future use the tagline ‘Infrastructure Transparency Initiative’.

  • Review governance model – It has been the intention of the CoST Board to convene a Delegate Assembly (DA), comprised of representatives from CoST programmes and international stakeholders, to elect the CoST Board. However, until recently we have not had the resources to convene the DA. Discussions through the Strategic Review process suggested that although the DA was attractive in terms of its broad-based consultative approach, it was also expensive and could be perceived as a ‘top-heavy’ governance structure. The CoST Board has decided to review our governance arrangements to see if an approach can be identified that retains the best aspects of the DA approach, but secures them more cost effectively. 

When the idea of undertaking the review and planning exercises was first mooted, there were mixed reactions amongst those involved. Whilst some were excited by the idea of structured time to pause and think about our future, others were weary of it distracting us from urgent issues and making us appear too inward-looking. Most of us probably felt a combination of both.

However, now that the exercise is complete, we are experiencing a renewed sense of optimism about the future. We are confident that we have the tools, the people and the support necessary to implement the new plan. DFID has approved up to £5m over the next three years to support implementation, leaving us with a target of around £2m to ensure that the plan is fully resourced. Securing these additional resources will be a key priority over the next 6 months.

So, in conclusion, what can ‘Iron Mike’s’ boxing analogy tell us about planning? It isn’t that the prospect of being ‘punched’ should prevent us strategising. Rather it’s that we should develop the best plan possible, but also that we avoid hubris and understand that adjustments will be necessary during its application. Even the best plans can be thwarted by unforeseen events and shifting priorities and it is how we respond to them that will determine if we are successful. If boxing is ‘the noble art’ then perhaps the promotion of transparency and accountability is ‘the contingent art’. CoST has never been in better shape to meet the challenges ahead and I confidently predict a points win for the reformers.

Date Published: 23 June 2017
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