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Module 3 - Contracting Extension Services


With the recognition of the limitations of public agencies in efficient and effective delivery of public services, a trend has developed toward increasing separation of functions of financing and delivery of public services. Governments typically must continue to finance many rural extension services, but provision of services is more commonly contracted to private advisory service firms, NGOs, universities, producer organizations, and other groups. Alternative arrangements assign procurement responsibility to central or local government or to clients themselves. Competitive procedures can improve the quality of services, make providers more accountable for results, and improve efficiency. Contracting allows for specialization and selection of service providers according to their individual competitive advantage.

Many countries established public extension services in the 1960s and 1970s to promote agricultural sector productivity and rural development. These public extension agencies often produced positive results in early years but soon encountered a range of common problems, including difficulty in measuring impacts, lack of political support, lack of accountability to clients, lack of financial sustainability, and poor links to sources of new technology (Feder, Willett, and Zijp 1999). Many systems were unable to respond to changing priorities, needs, and opportunities, partly owing to the lack of incentives and flexibility within public agencies for the efficient delivery of quality services to widely dispersed rural people.

Although the public sector will continue to finance (at least an important share of) the costs of extension programs, the increasing diversity of extension service providers will mean that delivery of services will often be contracted out rather than provided by civil servants (box 3.5). Potential providers could include combinations of the private sector, NGOs, farmer associations, universities, and other entities with the capacity to provide the services. Contracting out extension services makes it possible to take advantage of all of the talent and experience existing in the field but does not eliminate a government role which, in addition to funding, ensures quality assurance, oversight, and provision of training and information to contracted services providers.

Contracting systems that separate responsibilities for financing, procuring, and delivering extension services rely on diverse contractual arrangements that underlie four types of contracting: private funding for private services, public funding of publicly provided services, private funding for public service provision, and public funding of private service provision (outsourcing) (Rivera, Zijp, and Alex 2000). Of these, public funding of private service provision is the most common strategy for reform. In such systems, the state usually retains responsibility for establishing criteria for use of funds, quality control, and monitoring and evaluation, while private entities provide services, define specific objectives for each locality, train extension staff, develop appropriate extension methods, and conduct monitoring and evaluation studies.

 

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