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    An interview with Rob Swinkels, PSIA Expert of the month (July 2015)

    1170468 C4D Master

      How long have you been involved with PSIAs, the PSIA MDTF, and have things improved over the years?


      I only started doing PSIAs 2 years ago using MDTF money but I  have done a PSIA type of analysis before.


      Are PSIAs relevant to the new World Bank Group? What role can it play with the new twin goals?


      The way we applied them in Central Asia is very relevant for the twin goals. When I started looking at energy reforms in Tajikistan and the same for drinking water in Uzbekistan, we didn’t necessarily look at one policy issue, but we asked ourselves how do service conditions in this sector differ across the whole country? How does it affect people? How do people cope with that? How would expenditures burden if you include all the costs people use to cope with service conditions? Of course there was always a policy issue in the background like in Tajikistan, where I was talked about increasing the electricity terrace but people would take the opportunity of taking that issue by looking at the broader energy situation and that made a lot of difference because that sort of opened the eyes to the energy team and the CMU, and they said “we are spending all this time on electricity reform but actually the issue is much broader, a lot of people in rural areas are spending a huge amount of money to cope with the fact that the electricity hub become true. We need to do something, the situation is very desperate, you can’t just wait you need to do something now”. You know it’s cold, there’s no gas, there’s no wood so people have difficulty to stay warm, so the energy team said “we need to look at the poorest, the bottom 40%, how are they coping with energy service quality”.


      In a way, you sort of use the PSIA to take a strong focus in the sector of service conditions of the poorest and say what perform would be needed to improve this situation in the short term and in the longer term, so it brings out the complexity and the multi-sectoral picture that you didn’t get because solutions are not simple. It is trust-building between the suppliers and the users, it is transparency, it is social safety nets, it’s governance. Therefore you really appreciate that part because it gives some opportunity to discuss with the energy sector and say “You’re looking at few things, but there’s a lot more happening, more relevant even for the bottom 40% so that gives you an example of energy in Tajikistan.”


      What are the top three reasons you would recommend a PSIA to a TTL?


      This is similar to what I have just said: so if you want to have a project that tackles the issues that affect the bottom 40%, you need to know what the situation is, where are they, what are the service conditions like, what is their willingness to pay for improved services, how much can they afford, how much they’re willing to pay. You need to zoom-in, understand the situation and then use it to take off much more systematically. Many TTLs and sectors are not necessarily changing the way they decide to do projects because of the new twin goals, they get away with doing business as usual. Also, reaching the bottom 40% is more complicated, and of course other people outside that 40% also need help but people are not held accountable for doing that. I guess TTLs just don’t have time to focus on analytical work, they’re too busy, they are not necessarily given priority, but if a PSIA is done and you manage it properly it gives you a lot of insights in moving a portfolio around, in re-shifting it to the need of the bottom 40% and that makes them much more affective in contributing to the goals and constrain them to demonstrate the management how they’re doing that.


      You have worked on PSIAs projects before, so from a technical perspective, what is exciting about the PSIA approach and what are the main challenges?


      It is exciting in the sense that if you time it properly so that it can fit into an SCD or into a new pipeline project more narrowly then it can make a lot of difference, so that is exciting. It gives you opportunity to influence portfolio, influence priority settings in the SCD and the country partnership framework in project portfolio. What we noticed in Central Asia is nobody really knows how to use it but once they see what it’s like they get excited and say “we need this” and that’s exciting, getting the CMU in this sort of work that can demonstrate how investments can be more focused on the poor. We do also sector dialogue in the country. In difficult countries like Central Asia, even there PSIAs have shown added value, and nobody has ever done this type of work before.  When they see the work they find interesting having a systematic way of depicting the situation, something they seem to appreciate. That is what I see happening but you have to be careful, you have to involve them from the beginning if you can, and increasingly get them sort of comfortable that this data are not threatening and can increase their understanding, they all have anecdotal examples but nobody has done a systematic assessment as the PSIA does.


      What are the main challenges? The MDTF is closing, so that’s a challenge! We have a good story to tell the donors. I see the influence that we have had, and I am sure that other PSIAs are similar. If I were a donor I would put my money in the bank, this is really strategic, influence a whole World Bank program in millions of dollars. Another challenge is to get infrastructure colleagues onboard sometimes, and the same for country counterparts, and we have always explained how it works and how it can add value. It’s a challenge to get people understand what PSIA is. We PSIA people should be able to better explain what it is exactly, and how strategic it can be and focused around key issues, and how it can help SCDs, TTLs, and country partnerships.




      Rob Swinkels is a Senior Social Development Specialist with the World Bank. A development economist by training, he has over twenty years of experience in designing, conducting and managing policy-relevant analytical work in developing countries. His research typically serves to inform program design, country policy discussions, as well as the impacts of policy reform on poverty, inequality and social inclusion. He has also worked extensively on strengthening the poverty and results focus of national (and donor) development strategies and policies, and on the farm economics of agroforestry. Rob is well versed in both quantitative and qualitative research techniques. He has worked and lived in Bhutan, Kenya, Mali, Netherlands, Senegal, Thailand, USA, Vietnam and Zambia.