9 November, 2016

Is Development Co-operation Becoming More Effective? Lessons from Country-Monitoring

By Yuko Suzuki Naab
Global Policy Advisor, Effective Development Co-operation, Development Impact Group, UNDP

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, attention is now on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The scale and scope of these ambitious goals necessitate new and better ways of working together. As called for in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, we must continue to improve the quality, effectiveness and impact of development co-operation.

Work in this area is guided by the four principles of effective development co-operation. In 2011, in Busan, Korea, on the occasion of the Fourth High-Level Forum of Aid Effectiveness, a series of commitments were made with the goal of implementing these four principles across the globe. Now, five years later, we must ask, has there been any progress in implementing the Busan commitments?

The results of the second monitoring exercise of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation are now available in the joint OECD-UNDP report, “Making Development Co-operation More Effective: 2016 Progress Report.” To complement the global aggregation of results, UNDP supported the preparation of country monitoring profiles, drawing on data submitted by countries that participated in the monitoring round. Additionally, four regional and sub-regional workshops were held to discuss key findings from the round and identify underlying factors, reflect on the experience of participating countries and examine how results resonate in various country contexts.

The report and supporting work show that important progress has been made towards advancing the Busan commitments, but that much more effort is needed to achieve true and lasting effective development co-operation. The report also reveals that the significant initial progress, seen in the mid-2000s, seems to have levelled off. For example, more than half of participating countries did not experience a substantial change in their Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) score over the last five years. Additionally, development partners channel only 50 percent of development co-operation finance through countries’ public financial management systems. Transparency is growing, with more information on development co-operation publicly available, but developing countries continue to have insufficient forward-looking development co-operation finance information to support sound strategic planning, which can undermine gains in improving the transparency of their budget information and process, and of financial flows for development.

These challenges are compounded by the increasing complexity of development co-operation. Countries are now faced with the challenging task of managing diverse development resources in a coherent manner. In this context, we need to ask, is development co-operation becoming more effective, supporting countries’ efforts to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and promote prosperity for all in a cost-efficient way?

Countries are making headway in establishing and strengthening their own results frameworks and exploring ways to manage diverse financing flows in a more comprehensive manner. Development partners can support these efforts by providing capacity building and by fully aligning their country support strategies to country-owned results frameworks. While it is encouraging to see that this alignment is happening when designing and planning interventions, there is too often a parallel process for managing results. Even in countries that have made strides in strengthening their results frameworks, these frameworks are not being fully used by development partners. For example, Costa Rica built a results framework, as well as execution procedures into their National Development Plan 2014-2018, and an inter-institutional coordinating effort is geared towards strengthening capacity for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. More than two-thirds of development projects (72 percent) incorporate national results frameworks, plans and strategies as standard of measurement. However, less than half of the projects (40 percent) use government monitoring systems or statistical services to measure the results indicators. Governments also only rarely participate in the final project evaluations (9 percent of them), despite almost half of projects having evaluations of some kind.

At the same time that results frameworks are improving, global aggregate results indicate only limited advances in strengthening of country public financial management systems. There are, however, encouraging examples where countries have demonstrated notable progress in strengthening these systems, even in challenging contexts. Countries such as Samoa, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands have demonstrated remarkable improvements in strengthening public financial management systems and enhancing the coordination, and thereby effectiveness, of development partner support. Over 80 percent of development projects in Samoa use national budget planning, financial reporting, auditing and procurement procedures. The peer-review mechanism linked to the Forum Compact in the region is one of the key enabling factors for this progress.

The monitoring process also highlighted that “strong institutionalized partnerships at the country level can build mutual trust and underpin transparency and accountability.” For this, country-led monitoring itself can create a useful basis for building trust and to chart out a mutually agreed path for a truly inclusive development process. Myanmar conducted a Strategic Review of their aid architecture to further integrate effective co-operation thinking into federal institutions. The monitoring process was found to be very useful in exploring opportunities to translate learning into concrete actions to improve coordination and build stronger partnerships.

What is clear is that country context matters more than ever before. Modality, instruments and dynamics of development co-operation are different from country to country, and region to region. For example, countries such as Somalia and South Sudan require substantial capacity and political support to create stronger mechanisms to coordinate development partners. Countries such as Bangladesh and Kenya have seen a reduction of official development assistance over the last several years due to the transition to Lower-Middle Income Country status and have to explore a more holistic approach to leverage resources from the private sector and others. Countries such as Comoros and those in the Pacific Islands experience the presence of fewer development partners. Countries such as the Dominican Republic and Paraguay must explore more knowledge-based technical cooperation and innovation to provide essential services to those left furthest behind.

Approaches used to manage co-operation must be different for different countries. And, a much more granular approach is needed to take stock of implementation of the effective co-operation principles and to learn what works best to address specific challenges. There is need to support developing countries to ensure they have the technical and financial capacity to achieve sustainable development.

At the same time, despite diverse contexts and needs, overall transparency on development activities remains a crucial ingredient for building trust and stronger partnerships. There remains a significant gap in the quality and quantity of data that is available to countries to assist in planning and managing results. Substantially, more work is needed to clear bottlenecks and to improve the visibility of all resources available in a country.

In conclusion, the country-led monitoring has proven to not only be a way to assess progress on effective co-operation commitments, but to be a key component of achieving the four effective co-operation principles in itself. It has put the focus on country-level results, it has provided a useful entry point for multi-stakeholder dialogue and accountability and it has laid a solid foundation to build trust and engage new partners. Overall, a truly honest discussion on the real challenges obstructing the realization of the principles of effective development co-operation is needed to support concerted efforts of all partners to improve the quality, effectiveness and impact of development co-operation.

Will the Second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership provide such a space? Are we committed to deliver actions for more effective co-operation in the 2030 development landscape?