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A results take-over of aid effectiveness? How to balance multiple or competing calls for more accountability

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:30
Hero image description: IDP in Somalia Image credit:© Jamal Osman/IRIN Image license:ODI given rights


Sarah Cliffe - Special Representative and Director, World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development

Sue Unsworth - The Policy Practice and ODI Board Member

Alan Hudson - Senior Policy Manager, Governance (Transparency & Accountability), ONE

John Morlu - former Auditor General, Liberia


Alison Evans - Director, ODI

On 25 July 2011, ODI hosted an event at the British Academy, sponsored by the BBC World Trust entitled ‘A results take-over of aid effectiveness? How to balance multiple or competing calls for more accountability.’ The event probed the timely questions relating to how we measure or judge development progress and what this means in light of the failure of the Millennium Development Goals and the upcoming Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

The panel, chaired by ODI Director, Alison Evans, included presentations from Sarah Cliffe (Special Representative and Director, World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report), John Morlu (former Auditor General of Liberia), Sue Unsworth (The Policy Practice and ODI Board Member) and Alan Hudson (Senior Governance Policy Manager, ONE).

Sarah Cliffe highlighted that debates on results and accountability remain crucial in the run-up to the next High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. Drawing from the analysis of the recent WDR, she argued that the current approach to measuring results in conflict affected states needed to be revised. For example, there are no measures which capture progress in terms of transitioning out of fragility (such as improved security, justice and jobs) – and instead, fragile states are often criticised for their lack of progress against broader frameworks like the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, she highlighted tensions within ‘dual accountabilities’ – in that donor taxpayers can have different expectations of what aid will deliver, including different perceptions of the timeframes involved (for example, regarding the length of time required to tackle corruption). To address these challenges, she advocated better results indicators (including measures of conflict and violence reduction, and measures of trust in institutions) and investment in communication between taxpayers and the results and realities on the ground in these countries, both through twinning institutions and through illustrating examples from OECD countries to explain why reform takes time.

John Morlu highlighted some of the key tensions regarding what the primary measurements should be. Drawing on his own experiences in Liberia, he reflected on the challenges for countries transitioning out of fragility in meeting the wide range of donor requirements for results and accountability, with each donor often using their own indicators for results. The imperatives of national politicians can also shape the types of results they want to emphasise, and he cautioned for the need to focus on measuring longer term sustainable changes, and for greater realism regarding what is achievable in given timeframes.

Sue Unsworth critiqued not the focus on results per se, but some of the unspoken assumptions which can lie beneath it, for example regarding how change happens and what the role of aid and external actors can be. She identified a core problem in the assumption that the main development challenges are a lack of finance and technical skills (and that donors can provide these), and instead sees these as political challenges which need to be driven by local dynamics and processes. She drew on recent discussions in Lusaka to highlight that a range of donors are engaging in complex discussions on how to operate more effectively, for example where there is little ownership or weak capacity for collective action, and how to do this while maintaining tolerable levels of risks for donors and without compromising the Paris principles on aid effectiveness. Thus she highlighted that the effectiveness of aid may in fact lie in the ability to manage trade offs and risks effectively, and in recognising donor roles as facilitators rather than primary drivers of others development processes.

Alan Hudson put forward the concept of ‘impossible geometries’ to capture the notion that donor organisations can be pulled in different directions by their various stakeholders. He highlighted challenges for donors in decisions over which stakeholders to prioritise and how. He argued that the fact of multiple and competing accountabilities should not be a surprise but rather that this reflects the political nature of these processes. He highlighted ONE’s two fold approach to these issues: in the South, it is focused on a realistic approach to governance, promoting transparency (global and local) and building capacity for accountability, so that local solutions can emerge; in the North, it means promoting honest debate about aid, governance and development.

In discussion, the panellists were in agreement that the results agenda is, in itself, a good thing that seeks to make aid interventions more effective. However, the manner in which ‘results’ have been conceptualised has, to date, been problematic. They pointed to a number of potential areas to be addressed in this respect:

  • Understanding results in political ways: foremost, this means understanding the contexts in which aid is being delivered. Results and the indicators used to judge them need to reflect the specificities of country context and be flexible across time and place. Political-economy analysis can be used to help deepen development partners’ understandings of context, as can partnering with local researchers and organisations.
  • Taking ownership seriously: the need to recognise the limitations of external actors and that development processes are fundamentally locally driven was emphasised. The g7+, a group of fragile and conflict-affected states that come together to share experiences and lobby the international community for improved aid, was cited as a promising forum through which ownership can be operationalised.
  • Greater honesty or openness for aid: Some panellists argued that some donors and NGOs have relied on outmoded depictions of what aid is when communicating with their home publics. As a result, there is now a perception that home publics will not be able to stomach the reality of how aid works, what and where gets funded and through which modalities. Making the argument as to why these are effective ways to spend aid was therefore seen as important given the increasing focus on value for money and results. The lack of current understanding or evidence on the attitudes of citizens within developed and developing countries (and which goes beyond simplistic opinion polling) was also highlighted.
  • In addition, comments addressed the need to develop ways of reconciling competing accountabilities and opening up the measurement of results (for example, to a greater focus on how to measure local ownership).


This event is the second in a series of events focusing on aid effectiveness in the lead up to Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in November 2011.

The language of results is not new – it is integral to the aid effectiveness agenda. But against the backdrop of growing financial constraints, it is receiving renewed emphasis in many donor countries. This debate will explore possible tensions, as well as opportunities, where donors seek to reassure domestic publics that aid is being spent well while they also endeavour to support the needs and priorities of aid recipient countries and their citizens. How can domestic accountability to both these constituencies be supported more effectively? Are there tensions between these different stakeholders and forms of accountability, and how can they be addressed?