Development cooperation effectiveness, 10 years after Busan

2 febrero 2021

By Javier Sánchez Cano, Head of Planning, monitoring and evaluation at the Directorate-General for Development Cooperation of the Government of Catalonia, Leader of the Working Group on Development Cooperation, ORU-Fogar.

At the multilateral level, the elaboration of the first Human Development Report (1990) marked the beginning of a decade of UN-sponsored conferences on the different dimensions of development. Its connections with human rights, social policies, the environment, the protection of children… were the object of a sustained process of reflection and deliberation, leading up to the 2000 Millennium Summit. The adopted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set up objectives, targets and instruments aimed at a verifiable and multi-dimensional reduction of poverty by 2015, including  a global partnership of all countries for this endeavour. Official Development Assistance (ODA) was the central instrument in this agenda, and the MDGs provided it with a clear, shared and scheduled results framework. Reflecting on and committing to a better ODA to achieve these objectives was the natural next step.

The 2000s saw a process of international debate and standard creation for enhanced effectiveness of development aid. The conclusions of the Rome (2003), Paris (2005), Accra (2008) and Busan (2011) conferences made significant contributions to the quality of this global policy, building a broad set of guidelines and recommendations that can be synthesized into the five principles for effective development cooperation. These are ownership, harmonization, alignment, managing for results, and mutual accountability. Despite their non-binding character, these principles have established themselves as criteria for good practice that no development cooperation policy can overlook.

The Busan Conference received ample attention worldwide, its final declaration being signed by 161 countries and 56 international organizations. The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) was thereby created as a multi-stakeholder platform, with a specific work plan. A conscious effort to bring on the leadership of developing –or «partner”–  countries» was made, and the new Steering Committee included representatives of a wide variety of organizations: governments, civil society, private sector, trade unions… including local and regional authorities. Most significantly, the narrow aid effectiveness agenda was replaced by a wider development effectiveness agenda. The technocratic, donor-centric focus of the Paris Declaration was broadened out. Busan put in place a new global monitoring system to measure progress in using the effectiveness principles by all development partners.

However, in 2011 the context was very different. ODA was losing its centrality to other economic flows with a high impact on development. New actors and donors had emerged, many of them outside the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). Soon the review of the MDGs and the post-2015 agenda would get everyone’s attention. Despite its institutionalisation, the global debate on development effectiveness had lost the momentum of the previous decade.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) poses an interesting challenge to our debate. On the one hand, the 2030 Agenda certifies that the changes and transitions that the world needs are global in nature and affect both North and South; calls for major transformations in domestic policy-making, in every country and at all levels (policy integration, policy coherence for sustainable development …); and requires concerted efforts of state and society. Nothing could be further from the conventional notion of “aid” and its rules that the development cooperation system –even revamped and updated–still embodies.

On the other hand, and especially in OECD member countries, development cooperation remains a public policy, with its own regulatory frameworks, dedicated budgets, and planning and monitoring instruments. A policy that can be reshaped and reorganised to uphold sustainable development both with its practices and interventions, and by diffusing the SDGs among, and dialoguing with, the rest of public policies. The research commissioned in 2020 to La Mundial by UCLG-CIB gives us some insights and examples in this regard: development cooperation is a practical lever for realigning policy-making towards sustainable development.

This is the spirit that informs our participation at the Steering Committee of the GPEDC. Accompanied by UNDP-Art and the Swiss co-presidency, ORU-Fogar and UCLG we are taking the 2030 Agenda seriously. SDGs should be read not only as matrix of objectives, but as a broad conceptual and instrumental framework for the transformation of development and its policies. For development cooperation policies, this agenda opens up concrete and useful possibilities. With its shared priorities between partners and donors, its focus on results, its monitoring of progress through indicators and SDG-based evaluations, the 2030 Agenda updates effectiveness principles of such as ownership and management for results. Also important, the holistic perspective put forward by Agenda 2030 calls for an understanding of development cooperation as a multi-dimensional tool. This in its turn requires reflecting on how different strands of engagement and varied actors work together, adding a reason to rediscover the collective orientation of the effectiveness agenda.

This spirit is taking shape in a concrete line of action. Led by ORU-Fogar and UCLG, Action Area 2.6 of GPEDC’s present work program (2020-2022) aims at “Strengthening development effectiveness at subnational level to achieve the SDGs ”. Its starting points: on one hand, the undisputable salience of territories for the achievement of the SDGs and their targets, which calls for enhanced technical capacities of local and regional officers for managing territorial development, including participation in the national development policy dialogue. On the other, a complex development cooperation landscape, with low levels of ODA managed by local and regional authorities but with a great variety of developments agents, many of them non-conventional. Decentralised cooperation projects; new donors and programmes, public and private; philanthropies, foundations, international agencies… they all coexist in developing countries’ territories, some of them with an undisguised interest in building their own track record of urban development financing. In sum, a classic challenge to development effectiveness –donor harmonization and alignment– relevant in the present SDG setting.

Thus, Action Area 2.6 takes a stance on SDG target 17.9, “Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the SDGs, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.» Its research questions are: how to better organise development cooperation to support the localisation of the SDGs? How to promote inclusive development dialogues, where territorial authorities can participate in national policies, influence their priorities, and promote the involvement of local stakeholders? How to organise stable and effective capacity building?

Our intent is to generate evidence and learning not only from study and analysis, but also from pilot experiences in different countries, where synergies between the actions of key actors –including decentralised cooperation– will be sought. This will allow us to better understand the incentive system that explains the behaviour of these actors while building confidence among them and promoting new partnerships. Eventually, we hope to be able to shape a set of relevant recommendations for development cooperation to effectively support local and regional governments in partner countries to face the formidable challenges that the new Agenda points out to all of us.

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