Early last year I reflected in a short think piece for DFID on possible options for moving ahead with the aid effectiveness agenda in the lead up to Busan. A year on, and what seems to be the most likely outcome in Busan is a variant of two of the options I posed back then.
The first option can be characterised as ‘Hold firm and do better’. This option is the closest to the status quo but with a stronger emphasis on benchmarking progress across donors and types of funds, improved transparency and a more inclusive, mutually accountable process for target setting and monitoring. The benefits of holding firm are largely to do with continuity and keeping hold of what is deemed to be already working. But the main benefit is to provide more time for real change to occur. The downside is that much of the sensible criticism of the Paris agenda remains unaddressed by this option. Leadership, despite the rhetoric, remains distinctly skewed towards donors, there is nothing much in it for non-DAC aid providers, while the process of driving change remains heavily technical rather than political.
The second option of ‘Broaden and deepen’, involves investing much more leadership of aid effectiveness targets and compliance efforts with individual partner countries through country-led aid effectiveness plans. These plans would encompass all relevant flows of aid (DAC and non-DAC), adapt targets and indicators to country context, and encourage country-led peer review and knowledge-sharing processes. The key benefit is turning the focus of donor attention towards supporting tailored, country-specific improvements in effectiveness and away from a generic global process. Country partners would also be able to name and shame non-compliers within their own countries while extending the dialogue on effectiveness to a range of new development cooperation partners. The risk is that such processes get overloaded and the business of managing aid relationships once again overtakes the political economy of how resources are mobilised and used to deliver improved development outcomes.
While we probably all agree that the road map is set for Busan and any radical change in direction is incredibly unlikely at this late stage, it is still worth thinking out of the box to ask whether what is to be agreed in Busan can really deliver the kind of improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of development financing that we all hope for. In a world in which there is so much uncertainty, worrying financial trends, and permanent shifts in the authorising environment for development cooperation based on the emergence of new global players, it is by no means a done deal that Busan can deliver.
So what else might be needed?
While there is no fixed agenda for what happens after Busan there are a number of issues that should be part of any future dialogue on effectiveness, including:
- the need to tackle the inequitable distribution of aid globally
- establishing the most effective balance between multilateral and bilateral engagement
- coming up with a realistic approach to the results agenda that takes account of local politics and context and establishes clear expectations all round about the pace of economic and social change
- finding better ways to guide and frame development finance working outside the traditional aid idiom.
It is clear for everyone to see that the context for aid effectiveness has changed a great deal in recent years. Making sure that Busan is about more than just playing the end game of a previous era is vital to us all. The question is, are we brave enough to make it happen?