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Making Technical Assistance Work

Time (GMT +01) 11:00 16:00

Simon Scott - OECD DAC
Seema Ghani - Former Director General of Budget, Ministry of Finance, Afghanistan
Rathin Roy - UNDP
Mark Lowcock - UK DFID
Tim Cammack - University of Birmingham
Val Imber - Oxford Policy Management

Simon Scott noted the special character of TA within official development assistance as a transfer of skills and knowledge and not a resource transfer. He gave figures on TA spending and costs, noting that in some low income countries TA as a share of ODA exceeds domestic education spending. He also showed there is no positive correlation between TA spending and economic growth, highlighting that the biggest share of TA spend was not for professional services but for other costs associated with in-country placement. Scott concluded by signalling future DAC work on disaggregating data on TA and providing operational guidance on implementing TA in the context of the Paris Declaration.

As someone who had been on the receiving end of aid financed TA, Seema Ghani provided a more personal account of her experience with consultants and donor-financed projects. She raised a number of issues including improving the skills-set of consultants, building long-lasting capacity, improving coordination between donors and sectors and extending the geographical spread of TA linked projects.

Rathin Roy posed the question: why have TA projects repeatedly failed to lead to development? He focused on the relationships between the donor and recipient and how this is affected by the assumptions under which stakeholders act. He stressed that TA projects cannot be divorced from political and historical context. He concluded by calling for better national ownership of TA and developing country registers of consultants.

Representing DFID, Mark Lowcock stressed the importance of not equating TA with capacity building, but seeing TA as one vital input into a broader framework of capacity support. Getting the best out of TA requires a good understanding of the institutional context, a broad focus on capacity development and a rigorous design and selection process. Lowcock presented evidence from an evaluation of DFID's TA with examples from India , Armenia , Zimbabwe , Nepal , Lesotho and Mozambique . He further outlined DFID's vision of good TA practice stressing the importance of moving from donor to partner procurement and applying aid effectiveness principles to TA.

Tim Cammack concentrated on TA to reform the public sector. He posed the question: is increased recipient-country ownership of TA compatible with the incentive set facing donor agencies as they seek to increase both alignment and levels of aid throughput? In his discussion of the reform environment he said that pressure to reform and the number of concurrent reform activities often underway increased reliance on TA but, in the face of existing shortages in capacity, also increased ambivalence towards TA amongst recipients. He argued that developing country governments should have the right to refuse TA, be able to use national consultants and directly employ consultants on a long-term basis.

Val Imber concentrated on incorporating standards from the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness into the practice of using TA, arguing that donors should coordinate their financing of the Partner Country's National Development Plan, including their use of TA.

Messages and challenges from the debate:
The meeting concluded that reforming TA policy and practice is a key challenge for donors if they want to improve the quality of their aid. The presentations and the debate highlighted a number of critical challenges:

  • The need for coherence among donors on TA policy (as part of a drive for better aid coordination in general) and donor agreement on funding mechanisms
  • Problems of lack of consistency (over time) on ideas of best practice
  • Problems caused by TA being perceived as a 'free good'
  • The need to hand over ownership to the recipient government and make more effective use of government system.
  • The importance of consultation with local people and for donors to be more realistic about how much can be achieved by short-term TA projects
  • The need to address the variable quality of expatriate consultants and inadequate attention to local expertise. The possibility of a voluntary 'code of conduct' was raised
  • Urgent need for better monitoring and evaluation of TA projects.

Issues for recipient country governments and civil societies include:

  • The need for governments to take control of the TA projects in their countries, including exercising the right to say 'no' to inappropriate projects or below-standard consultants
  • The need for governments to increase capacity to work with TA projects, and the importance at the conceptualisation and design stage of a TA project of the Ministry of Finance communicating with other ministries
  • At the implementation and management stage, the importance of appointing a joint local manager on each TA project
  • The possibility of governments building South-South cooperation and skill-sharing to encourage a move away from Northern-led TA
  • The involvement of civil society at the consultation stage and during the project to press for more information to be made available about costs.


This half-day seminar brought together speakers with different experiences and perspectives to discuss ways to make Technical Assistance (TA) more effective.