Performance-based financing in three humanitarian settings: principles and pragmatism


This Conflict & Health paper examines why and how performance-based financing (PBF) has emerged and has been adapted to unsettled and dynamic contexts, what the opportunities and challenges have been, and what lessons can be drawn. The paper is an output of ReBUILD’s research project on PBF in fragile and post-conflict states.



Performance-based financing (PBF) has been increasingly implemented across low and middle income countries, including in fragile and humanitarian settings, which present specific features likely to require adaptation and to influence implementation of any health financing programme. However, the literature has been surprisingly thin in the discussion of how PBF has been adapted to different contexts, and in turn how different contexts may influence PBF. With case studies from three humanitarian settings (northern Nigeria, Central African Republic and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo), we examine why and how PBF has emerged and has been adapted to those unsettled and dynamic contexts, what the opportunities and challenges have been, and what lessons can be drawn.


Our comparative case study is based on data collected from a document review, 35 key informant interviews and 16 focus group discussions with stakeholders at national and subnational level in the three settings. Data were analysed in order to describe and compare each setting in terms of underlying fragility features and their implications for the health system, and to look at how PBF has been adopted, implemented and iteratively adapted to respond to acute crisis, deal with other humanitarian actors and involve local communities.


Our analysis reveals that the challenging environments required a high degree of PBF adaptation and innovation, at times contravening the so-called ‘PBF principles’ that have become codified. We develop an analytical framework to highlight the key nodes where adaptations happen, the contextual drivers of adaptation, and the organisational elements that facilitate adaptation and may sustain PBF programmes.


Our study points to the importance of pragmatic adaptation in PBF design and implementation to reflect the contextual specificities, and identifies elements (such as, organisational flexibility, local staff and knowledge, and embedded long-term partners) that could facilitate adaptations and innovations. These findings and framework are useful to spark a reflection among PBF donors and implementers on the relevance of incorporating, reinforcing and building on those elements when designing and implementing PBF programmes.

Maria Paola Bertone, Eelco Jacobs, Jurrien Toonen, Ngozi Akwataghibe, Sophie Witter (Conflict and Health (2018) 12:28

Image: Adaptations of PBF in three humanitarian settings, their drivers and facilitators