The second High-Level Meeting (HLM2) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) comes at a critical juncture: a moment in which to review the evidence and lessons learned from a decade’s attempts to implement the aid and development effectiveness agendas, and to look ahead to the role of effectiveness in the new era of sustainable development anchored in Agenda 2030. But there is a real risk of failure in Nairobi unless it charts a clear way forward for the GPEDC.
We interrogated this challenge at ODI’s recent conference, ‘Where next for development effectiveness?’, a few weeks ahead of HLM2. The conference gathered senior government officials, leading development strategists, and representatives of civil society and the private sector to debate how the GPEDC could remain fit for purpose in the era of the SDGs.
Participants at the conference seemed largely to agree that the core offer of the development effectiveness process is the setting of norms and standards (the principles) and measuring and tracking these over time (using the indicators of the monitoring framework). But if this exercise is to have continued relevance, the framework must better reflect major shifts in the global development landscape that have taken place since the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement.
In ODI’s new briefing, we set out a series of specific actions that the GPEDC should take to update the effectiveness principles and indicators, given four fundamental shifts we have identified:
1. A new financing landscape, with changing priorities for developing countries. We recommend adding new indicators on speed of delivery and embedded capacity-building, which are consistently prioritised by governments in developing countries in the new ‘age of choice’.
2. New delivery models such as investing public development finance in private enterprises. We recommend adapting some elements of the effectiveness framework to better monitor aid being channelled to the private sector, with more stringent commitments needed in transparency, in particular.
3. A new commitment to leave no one behind. We recommend integrating the ‘leave no one behind’ agenda throughout the existing principles, including through more inclusive country ownership, more representative partnerships, and better disaggregated data.
4. New evidence about effective development practice. We recommend taking inspiration from emerging adaptive and politically-smart approaches such as ‘doing development differently’ to improve the traction and impact of the GPEDC.
Updating the technical framework is the first key step to charting a new way forward for the effectiveness process. But, by itself, this will not be enough. The GPEDC must also use the opportunity of Nairobi to address two major challenges that it now faces: waning political engagement, and the nature of its role within the global architecture in support of Agenda 2030. On the former, given that major development actors such as China and India have been notably absent from the process, even traditional donors have made glacial progress on many of their original commitments, the targets are voluntary in nature, and there is a lack of consequential attention to the results, the GPEDC’s ability to bring about real change is at risk. On the latter, the GPEDC must articulate how it will contribute to the implementation of the SDGs without duplicating the mandate or efforts of other platforms, including the UN Development Cooperation Forum, for example.
Addressing these two challenges will need a clear articulation of the GPEDC’s theory of change and its role within the global architecture in support of Agenda 2030, as one that contributes something useful, unique and politically attractive. It will also need a strong voice from developing countries about their needs and priorities for effective development cooperation, and a frank reality check: why has progress been slow or even reversing, and what could feasibly be achieved in the future?
So how could the GPEDC maintain its usefulness and credibility, whilst improving political traction? Here are three ideas we hope can be taken forward at HLM2:
1. Making it relevant in developing countries: The GPEDC could extend its work on national monitoring profiles by supporting or feeding into country-level analyses (such as the UNDP-led Development Finance Assessments) to analyse how external development cooperation can be most effective and have the greatest impact in achieving the SDGs. This process could look at the capabilities, responsibilities and comparative advantage among the constellation of different actors, financing flows and partnerships in each specific national and sub-national context. The results of these country analyses could be distilled and shared for peer learning.
2. Making it relevant to development cooperation providers: Many donors have slashed their aid budgets in recent years and are pursuing a value for money agenda. The GPEDC could raise its political salience by producing compelling evidence demonstrating how the effectiveness framework helps improve value for money, especially in fragile and challenging contexts.
3. Making it relevant to all stakeholders: The GPEDC could position itself as the knowledge repository and peer learning platform for development cooperation. This might be especially useful for newer providers or long-standing donors taking up new objectives (such as the ‘leave no-one behind’ commitment). Second, and relatedly, the inclusiveness of the platform – while it may have weakened focus and accountability – provides an opportunity to foster higher-quality dialogue between different kinds of stakeholders. Bringing very diverse actors together towards shared norms, language and understanding of effective cooperation will likely be crucial to realising the ambition of the SDGs.