Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Parliamentary strengthening: Strategies and successes

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:30

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP
, Secretary of State for International Development
Scott Hubli, Parliamentary Development Policy Adviser, Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP


Hugh Bayley MP, Chair, Africa APPG

Hugh Bayley MP opened the meeting, welcoming the audience and introducing himself and the speakers. He noted that this was the second meeting in the ODI and Africa APPG series ‘Parliaments and development: How can parliaments in developing countries contribute to poverty reduction?’.

This second meeting would examine why donors tended to neglect parliaments, and, where donor support for parliaments was forthcoming, what forms this took. It would also seek to identify proven strategies for parliamentary strengthening and ask how the effectiveness of such strategies, as well the performance of parliaments themselves, could be measured.

Scott Hubli

Scott Hubli began by stating that he would give a practitioner’s perspective on the following three questions: why donors have tended to neglect parliaments; where donor support is forthcoming and what forms this takes; what strategies have been effective; and how the effectiveness of these strategies and the performance of parliaments can be measured.

It was no longer accurate to talk about donor neglect of parliaments; despite there being issues of scale and strategy there had been a lot of growth. There was much to suggest that the increased emphasis on parliamentary development was worthwhile. It was relatively cost effective for the following reasons: limited costs (given the limited number of direct beneficiaries), high-impact audience, the ability of parliament to serve effectively as an entry point for addressing multiple development goals and the importance of parliament in aid effectiveness.

However, the resources probably didn’t match the rhetorical support. Some of the reasons for this were that parliament was often viewed as being too political (ignoring that fact that many CSOs are also political) and that donor staff didn’t have a good enough understanding of parliaments.

Nonetheless, the tide had clearly turned with respect to the importance of parliamentary development in international development assistance.

There was now a consensus that the strategies that worked were as follows: political contextualization, local ownership and regional cooperation, basing programme design on the political context, using issue-based approaches to parliamentary development, building relationships of trust and confidence between the development partner and the parliament, recognizing that individuals matter, as well as timing and sequencing and long term support.

Democratic governance was the largest practice area in UNDP and rightly so – it was a critical element of human development. However, some had sought to characterize all efforts to strengthen democratic governance as interventionist, or as exporting a “Western” political model.

Some suggestions as to how to measure performance were by linking programme results to parliament-approved reform or development plans, using regional and international standards and focusing on program quality, rather than short-term results. One issue in measuring performance was that donors were not always familiar with the shortcomings of their own parliaments or the challenges that their parliaments faced in reaching their current state of development.

Short-term interventions often had no measurable impact and often distracted parliamentarians from their work. Parliamentary development was a long-term process; cultural change took time. It was therefore fundamentally different to many other development projects.

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

Hilary Benn MP thanked the chair for his introduction and ODI and the Africa APPG for the opportunity to speak at this important meeting series.

DFID had provided evidence to the Africa All Party Group’s enquiry into the strengthening of parliaments in Africa and had now completed their own review; in partnership with ODI.

He explained that his speech would focus on two things:
- first, why improving governance and helping to support democratic politics was crucial in the fight against poverty; and
- second, how DfID was working to help countries strengthen their parliaments and what was being learned from the process.

On the first point, DfID should do more to support democratic politics, not because democracy itself was essential for economic development but for the following reasons:
• because economic development was not enough; the issue was not simply about “freedoms from” but also “freedoms to” (giving people a voice);
• because democratic politics was actually very popular; and
• because there were various examples where it had been shown as the best way to sustain and share out the benefits of development.

However, it was not always clear cut; societies could be democratic in parts or democratic to a greater or lesser degree (Nigeria for example).

Strong parliaments were good for state capability, accountability and responsiveness. However, people did not generally view Parliaments favourably so trust and confidence needed to be built up. DfID had therefore made a commitment to work more with parliaments while recognising that one approach wouldn’t fit all; the trick was to ensure that each initiative matched local circumstances and needs. Choices made through the local political processes were what really mattered.

The review completed recently with ODI highlighted the fact that the lessons we’ve learned about doing aid right in general applied just as much to our work supporting parliaments. It was important to take local context and politics seriously, to provide long-term and predictable support to parliaments and to work with others (such as USAID, the UN or the World Bank as well as the UK agencies).

Important lessons could be drawn from our own parliamentary history of advancing freedoms and building accountability. However, it took the UK a thousand years, so perhaps we should be a little more patient with others.

This work mattered. If countries could get governance right, and establish politics that work, then the chances of getting development right also increased enormously.

DfID’s new publication on governance, politics and democracy (to be launched later this month) would spell out the implications of DFID’s 2006 White Paper.


In the discussion the DRC was highlighted as exemplifying the debate. Hilary Benn MP noted that the election had been a great achievement but that it remained to be seen whether the violence was over. Whether the politicians demonstrated leadership and commitment to democracy would be key; it was the DRC’s best chance in generations. Scott Hubli added that in post-conflict situations expectation management and personal security were crucial.

Scott Hubli noted that the role of inter-regional bodies, such as the Pan-African Parliament, were yet to be realized. There were a lot of well established mechanisms that were starting to share success stories. Hugh Bayley MP added that the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank had driven multi-partyism in East Africa and encouraged a disparate group to work together. In addition it had created a cadre of people to take on executive roles. Hilary Benn MP further stated that incentives for working together shouldn’t be necessary; parliamentarians were generally willing to share and help each other.

In response to a question about analysis of drivers of change Scott Hubli confirmed that they were being used. It was important to note that the international community focused too much on formal institutions and not enough on political culture. Hilary Benn MP noted that the question raised a key point and that the prevailing culture would shape reactions; it took time to change and break expectations. Hugh Bayley MP emphasized the importance of a multi-party environment in changing culture.

There was a danger in not becoming involved in places which needed assistance most as they tended to be difficult situations, however, this was a dangerous approach. Priorities in failing states might not be the same as in development situations but each situation must be assessed independently. It might be difficult to change cultures but it was certainly possible.

On the issue of the development community finding the right people to work in-country and ensuring they stayed in post for the long-term Scott Hubli stated that it was a challenge as there was a difference between what the donor community wanted and what was feasible. However, there was institutional support. Hilary Benn MP added that the more local staff and local talent were used the better.

Hugh Bayley MP thanked everyone for coming and the speakers for their contributions. He noted that there were another two meetings in this series and that details could be found on ODI’s website.


The second meeting in this series asked why donors have tended to neglect parliaments, and, where donor support for parliaments is forthcoming, what forms this takes. It also sought to identify proven strategies for parliamentary strengthening and ask how the effectiveness of such strategies, as well the performance of parliaments themselves, can be measured.

Boothroyd Room