Learning Takeaways from the Regional Fiscal Implications of Structural Reforms Project
We talked to Melahat Kutlu, a local consultant in the EU-funded “Strengthening Line Ministries’ Capacities to Assess Fiscal Implications of Structural Reforms” (FISR) project. She shared her experience with the project, and how it has benefited her and other officials in Turkey. She concluded her thoughts on (the future of) learning.
How did you become involved with the CEF and the FISR project?
Three years ago, in March 2019, my former colleague from the Presidency of Strategy and Budget (PSB) informed me about the project and asked if I would be interested in it. On March 18, I was on the way to Slovenia to participate in the first regional event in Bohinj.
My previous experience has been closely related with what we have been doing in connection with SRs under the FISR project. More or less the same cycle and issues involving planning, prioritizing, budgeting, auditing, monitoring and evaluation have been on the table. It goes around spending public money in the most effective way for increasing inclusive growth and competitiveness by ensuring transparency, accountability and sustainability. When we talk about ERP and SR measures, we talk about the whole cycle of public finance management. The process of how the SR measures are designed, budgeted, implemented, evaluated and audited actually reflects the situation of the whole system more or less. So there is always a need for capacity building and change management projects.
These kinds of projects open the platform for people to learn. Can you share any examples that show change in how people communicated and collaborated as a result of the project?
I think that the appointments of the line ministry coordinators, the establishment of a network between them, and communication between the ERP coordinating team and the sectoral experts in the PSB are good examples of this. However, there are still shortcomings in working together and improving the coordination inter-institutionally or internally. As we have all observed the PSB approach and/or position during the events, they are quite active, displaying considerable improvement. They could have learned technical knowledge on their own, in one way or another. But this project provided the necessary platforms for them to come together and discuss together. The events allowed them to exchange views and experiences on how to handle issues. The project has been useful in bringing the related actors together, working and producing outputs jointly. It has helped improve collective working practices in the related public institutions, between departments and institutions.
What could be improved in the future?
In Turkey’s case, monitoring and evaluation need to be improved. The shortcomings identified in the Commission assessment reports are also related with impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation issues. These are all connected with accountability and clear definition of the activities. We put more emphasis on costing and fiscal integration, which is good, but the more important thing is designing really effective measures and targeting priority problems comprehensively. If you have an ineffective measure, you can still cost it properly, and integrate it into the fiscal framework. This is all related with accountability. If what is being done is evaluated, transparent, open to the public, and with the high ownership of related stakeholders, then there is a structure for increasing the overall quality of the interventions.
What improvements have you noticed within the ERP team in Turkey since the start of the project?
They started to present the SR measures in 2016. With the introduction of the FISR project in 2019, improvements have been recorded in designing the measures. The PSB coordinating department was also preparing pre-accession economic programmes before, in different formats, which did not cover the SR measures as specified now. At the department level, they have improved their competencies and they are eager to work. We have observed the improvements during the events. They display high ownership, coordinate and moderate the events.
How would you reflect on your experience working on the FISR? What has changed for you personally?
Starting to work with my ex-colleagues on this project made me feel like being at home. The people from the coordinating department knew me and I knew them. I was happy for being a part of the team. I like the CEF people and appreciate their approach, manner and cooperation. It is a very constructive and friendly environment. I also like working with an expert advisory group expert, Janez Šušteršič. I like being active and having a chance to contribute to the improvement.
When the team came to Ankara, I had proposed that we work on actual measures, and I had prepared my presentation accordingly. Working on actual cases is the most effective way. You can read something and think that you understand it, but when you are asked to do it, you find out that there are issues you did not understand or misunderstood. Since then, we have had November events (Knowledge Sharing on the Costing of SR), working on the actual SR measures.
I have also improved in designing events. I learned how to handle situations better and more constructively from Janez. I was not the trainer before, rather leading and observing the training programs. That is why I said that doing something is different from knowing something.
Is environment important for learning or not? How do you see learning in the future?
The working environment is important of course, and so are the people you work with. A creative environment can make also people creative by allowing them to feel comfortable, sensible and imaginative. So yes, the environment can trigger creative ideas.
Why not take people out of formal settings or procedures and make them feel more comfortable to express themselves more freely? One should always think about the tools, objects and means that can trigger more ideas, different than the usual ones. I have observed that people are more genuine, sincere and comfortable in informal settings.
I think that hybrid models are ahead. You cannot conduct everything face to face in this changing environment, and digitalization is proceeding with an enormous pace. You need to develop the necessary infrastructure and adjust people to the new settings. I believe that in the future, the number of distant events, meetings and trainings will increase. I prefer to be face to face, see people, and feel them better. We cannot isolate ourselves from the ongoing changes. We need to adjust to the conditions as well as adjust the conditions to us.