LAHORE, Pakistan — Sir Michael Barber is today’s education reform superhero. He has served as an adviser and education expert to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, as global head of education practice at Mckinsey and now works at Pearson as Chief Education Adviser. His decades of reform experience have evolved into a methodology he calls deliverology, a methodology that has been implemented and used by scores of other reformers around the world.
What is Deliverology?
Barber developed deliverology while heading the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU) under Tony Blair. His job was to enact reforms for education and health (among other sectors) and, namely, to deliver results. The struggle, Barber says, was to produce short-term results to ensure credibility while also committing to long-term solutions. To him, reform must be “irreversible,” or it isn’t reform at all.
Barber’s methodology relies on data; it is the most important tool, he says. The ability to see which problems persist or crop up during reform allows a reformer to establish clear, ambitious goals that remain realistic.
In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, Barber and his team earned raves for their education reform, which relied on deliverology. Data-collecting methods were set up. Indicators — statistics that point toward progress — were agreed upon. Goals were established in consideration of the data. Only then did Barber begin the nitty-gritty details of reform: incentivizing accountability in a top-down approach that heavily involves local leadership.
The Punjab Roadmap, as it was called, is a characteristic example of Barber’s method — a method which earned him knighthood from the Queen after reforming the British education system.
Does it work?
The Punjab Roadmap achieved huge gains in the wealthy province’s primary enrollment rate, primary school completion rate and teacher presence rate. Also, under his leadership, more facilities were fitted with running water and electricity, and a large number of girls began to attend school.
However, Jishnu Das, Lead Economist at the World Bank, has concluded that no data supports Barber’s claims of progress. Barber used his own data-collecting agency to track improvement; but since not one third-party source has independently verified Barber’s data, Das remains skeptical. The data available to him fails to show the dramatic progress that deliverology self-attributes. Das does agree with Barber on one point however: accurate and regular data-collecting is imperative to the reform process.
“Incentive” is the big word used in modern methodologies, like deliverology. Barber himself admits that the long-term solutions necessary for proper reform can only proceed if the big funders — often politicians who want election-ready results — see short-term results.
The London School of Economics (LSE) in 2009 reviewed and analyzed 51 separate studies on financial incentives and found evidence to conclude that performance-related pay actually decreases performance. If this were true, it makes one wonder whether incentives at all — those of pay or status in particular — can be trusted to encourage performance.
In the case of Barber’s Punjab Roadmap, school administrators were strictly promoted or demoted based on the monthly performance of their schools, according to the chosen indicators of progress. According to his data, these incentives worked — at least during the short two-year period his report recounts.
Das also questions the indicators themselves. It could be that some indicators don’t actually measure the quality of instruction all that well, in which case any “progress” seen by deliverology tactics could be artificial.
– Shehrose Mian