Background: Performance-based financing (PBF) is often proposed as a way to improve health system performance. In Benin, PBF was launched in 2012 through a World Bank-supported project. The Belgian Development Agency (BTC) followed suit through a health system strengthening (HSS) project. This paper analyses and draws lessons from the experience of BTC-supported PBF alternative approach – especially with regards to institutional aspects, the role of demand-side actors, ownership, and cost-effectiveness – and explores the mechanisms at stake so as to better understand how the “PBF package” functions and produces effects.
Methods: An exploratory, theory-driven evaluation approach was adopted. Causal mechanisms through which PBF is hypothesised to impact on results were singled out and explored. This paper stems from the co-authors’ capitalisation of experiences; mixed methods were used to collect, triangulate and analyse information. Results are structured along Witter et al framework.
Results: Influence of context is strong over PBF in Benin; the policy is donor-driven. BTC did not adopt the World Bank’s mainstream PBF model, but developed an alternative approach in line with its HSS support programme, which is grounded on existing domestic institutions. The main features of this approach are described (decentralised governance, peer review verification, counter-verification entrusted to health service users’ platforms), as well as its adaptive process. PBF has contributed to strengthen various aspects of the health system and led to modest progress in utilisation of health services, but noticeable improvements in healthcare quality. Three mechanisms explaining observed outcomes within the context are described: comprehensive HSS at district level; acting on health workers’ motivation through a complex package of incentives; and increased accountability by reinforcing dialogue with demand-side actors. Cost-effectiveness and sustainability issues are also discussed.
Conclusion: BTC’s alternative PBF approach is both promising in terms of effects, ownership and sustainability, and less resource consuming. This experience testifies that PBF is not a uniform or rigid model, and opens the policy ground for recipient governments to put their own emphasis and priorities and design ad hoc models adapted to their context specificities. However, integrating PBF within the normal functioning of local health systems, in line with other reforms, is a big challenge.