An analysis of the patterns of development known to assist and reach the poorest people is used to assess three major current approaches to aiding low-income countries – support for poverty reduction strategies (PRSs), the development of sector-wide approaches (SWAps) and the delivery of aid through general budget support (GBS). These three approaches in contemporary aid relations rest strongly on the principle of ‘putting the government in charge’. This paper assesses the degree to which these approaches may serve the interests and allow for the participation of the poorest people. It asks what else needs to be done to ensure greater inclusion of the poorest, even in ‘poorly performing’ countries, where these approaches may not be readily available. The paper proposes a checklist of questions donors or governments can use to ask about aid approaches if they wish to assess whether these can or do in fact facilitate the inclusion of the poorest. Key conclusions include, first, the need for policy flexibility, breadth of vision, ample resourcing and high-quality programming to include the poorest through PRSs and SWAps. The predictability of aid is critical, and the new modalities may not enhance it. Second, a critical issue is how the demand for disaggregated analysis of aid outcomes and processes in terms of whether they are reaching the poorest (and the demand for turning that analysis into action) might be generated within national governments and societies. In this respect, identifying interlocutors for the poorest who will demand disaggregated analysis and inter-sectoral action is important. Third, the new aid approaches ‘put governments in charge’, but if the political economy is adverse, this will not help the poorest. Countervailing and supplementary instruments will be needed. Fourth, the newness of the aid approaches means it is early to measure their effectiveness with respect to the poorest in quantitative terms, even if the data are available. Qualitative analysis is therefore necessary.
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