Pauline Ngirumpatse

On tackling ‘Development Effectiveness’ and the long journey ahead

Dr. Pauline Ngirumpatse is a researcher in international development affiliated to the ‘Réseau d’études des dynamiques transnationales et de l’action collective’ (Université de Montréal). This piece was written as part of a research project for Southern Voice’s Development Effectiveness Programme. 

Making aid and development more effective has been a central aim of the development sector in the last two decades. Successive meetings have brought together donors and recipients to devise a way forward in addressing the poor development results of aid and development co-operation overall. Indeed, four High Level Fora (HLF 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011) and two High-Level Meetings (HLM 2014, 2016) discussed, shaped and reviewed the effectiveness agenda. This agenda is encapsulated in evolving frameworks ensuing from each meeting: Rome 2003Paris 2005 & Accra 2008Busan 2011Mexico 2014Nairobi 2016

These frameworks put forward a set of commonly agreed effectiveness principles and commitments. The agenda moved from an initial focus on aid to one on development effectiveness.

A closer look at the literature suggests at least three remaining issues in this programme of reforms:

1. Lack of thorough analysis of principles

The move from a focus on aid effectiveness to one on development effectiveness is motivated by two main factors: 1) a changing development landscapewith a diversifying set of actors, forms of assistance and approaches to development; and 2) a necessity to pay attention to policy coherence and the impact of non-aid policies .

Five fundamental principles intended to make aid more effective:

  1. Ownership by recipient countries of their development strategies, priorities;
  2. Alignment of aid with countries’ priorities, systems and procedures;
  3. Harmonisation by donors of their actions to limit duplication and increase cost effectiveness;
  4. Focus on results;
  5. Mutual accountability between donors and recipients.
Hygiene kits being distributed at the Bangula camp in
southern Malawi, where thousands of people are living after
losing their homes to the flooding caused by Cyclone Idai.
Photo credit: Philip Hatcher-Moore/Oxfam

But the agreed principles and commitments for aid effectiveness are not yet guiding realities of development co-operation – why not?  Some accounts of the Busan HLF-4 process (2011) describe an evolving agenda and framework that was never based on discussions and profound examination of why previous commitments had not been met. Granted, slow/uneven/inadequate progress was acknowledged, and lagging commitments were identified (such as alignment to country priorities, predictability of aid, mutual accountability). 

Missing between the call for a paradigm shift and a new emphasis on ‘development effectiveness’ was a reflective pause within the effectiveness policy-making space. 

And it isn’t a case of lack of insights. The literature of the last two decades has tackled these questions profusely. One outstanding limitation of this evolving framework is repeatedly emphasized: The framework mainly focuses on technical and procedural dimensions of development and effectiveness, leaving aside political dynamics/dimensions. This point was acknowledged as the Paris Declaration (2005) was reviewed. However, besides some reframing touches – for instance, from country/government ownership to democratic ownership – the acknowledgment did not translate into an overhaul of the framework.

2. Lack of a clear definition

The need to broaden focus and attention from ‘aid effectiveness’ to ‘development effectiveness’ has gained momentum with Busan HLF4. But what development effectivenessreally means has yet to be articulated.

As it stands, there is no common understanding of what development effectiveness means or entails. The current Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) does not offer a specific definition of effective development in its distinction with aid effectiveness and development co-operation effectiveness. As Shannon Kindornay points out, aid effectiveness and development effectiveness, are, at times, used interchangeably or merged. Also, development effectiveness is used by diverse actors with different meanings. She notes at least four usages:

  • organizational effectiveness;
  • coherence or coordination;
  • development outcomes from aid;
  • overall development outcomes.

Besides definitional issues and a lack of shared understanding, a framework addressing this new focus is still absent. The Global Partnership has yet to move from the recognition of a necessity to shaping an action plan. 

For instance, current principles (ownership, focus on results, inclusive development partnerships, transparency and accountability) have yet to reflect the distinctive approaches of both traditional and non-traditional actors. Or, alternatively, the question remains whether these principles are the most appropriate for a development landscape in flux. 

4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea
Photo credit: Doo Ho Kim

Further, the current framework has yet to concretely grapple with what it would take, at the international level, to implement the required structural changes that this emphasis on ‘development’ effectiveness points to, such as changes to non-aid policies (trade, migration, etc.).

Perhaps the blurriness surrounding ‘development effectiveness’ and the conundrum in devising a global framework that addresses it are reminders of what such an endeavour entails. It requires dealing with diverse and competing views on what development is or should be; how it should be achieved; where the priorities lie. The answers are inevitably a contested terrain.

Moving ahead with the current consensual approach is showing its cracks. Attending to the conflictual realities of development and development actors towards a global framework poses a daunting task, but essential task. 

3. Lack of a convening space

One of the achievements of Busan was to bring on board South-South Co-operation (SSC) providers like China and India. The Busan Partnership and the subsequent GPEDC had hoped to constitute a common global framework and rallying platform. But by now, China, India and Brazil have exited the GPEDC process, blaming an agenda still dominated by the OECD-DAC and Western norms. The three countries, plus South Africa, did not attend the Nairobi High Level Meeting (HLM2) in 2016. This begs the question: is a global framework possible (or desirable) when there is not even an agreed forum to discuss it?

If yes, what platform could rally all actors? The UN Development Co-operation Forum is seen by major SSC providers as more representative. But whether it could play that role and what would be the division of labor with the GPEDC remain an open question.

 If no, what is the alternative? Could it be national frameworks by recipient countries, regional ones like the common Africa platform or differentiated frameworks by different types of donors/providers? The ‘how’ of each of these frameworks and how synergies would be addressed is yet another unresolved question.

Development effectiveness has indeed a spectrum of unfinished business yet to tackle.


This piece was first published on Southern Voice on February 4, 2019 with the title: “Tackling Development Effectiveness: A Spectrum of Unfinished Business(es)”

Top featured photo credit: Micas Mondlane / Oxfam Novib

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