Doing aid differently

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If you don’t have time to read ODI’s 50 odd page report on Adapting development (part of the “doing development differently” movement) then I can recommend at least looking at Duncan Green’s good summary here. It is full of good examples and will probably have most aid people nodding (once they get over cringing at the concept that development is something that international donors and NGOs “do”).

I also find it slightly frustrating because although these insights have been gaining currency for a few years now I’m not optimistic that aid agencies are really taking them on board (something which I keep going on about: blah; blah; blah).

My pessimism stems largely from knowing what most aid agencies are like but I also feel like the recommendations in the report don’t exactly rock the boat:

• Being adaptive and entrepreneurial.

• Supporting change that reflects local realities and is locally led.

• Aiding development that is politically smart and locally led.

And for monitoring the extent to which programmes adopt these approaches:

• Measures of the extent to which issues have local salience or relevance, and whether processes give priority to local leadership and capacity.

• Evidence of adaptation to context.

• Evidence of learning in action.

• Measures of innovation and entrepreneurial action.

These are fine but they just look a bit too much like things that most aid agencies claim they are doing anyway – you’d be hard pushed to find an agency that does not believe it is living these values already.  And as for the monitoring recommendations I’m envisioning swathes of new toolkits and indicators that “promising local change agents” are going to have to spend even more time reporting on and telling donors about (and consequently having far less time to promisingly agent local change). And given how much we love a shortcut, it’s not a stretch to imagine that “asking simple questions about the extent to which users and local networks and organisations are involved in issue selection, design and implementation” could very easily turn into mandating the precise structure and composition of the multi-sectoral local coordination committee. E.g.

In short, while I think a lot of the thinking in this report is going in the right direction, it feels to me like it is a version of progress and development that is all about aid donors and (smart) international aid people.  And while I do think we can contribute a lot, I don’t think it should be left up to us.