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Does aid have a future?

Institutional cooperation in development

by J.M. Perille and J.M. Trutat

The complexity end sensitivity of development aid is wed known-in particular in less-favoured areas, where nature's balance is fragile and many constraints are in operation. Many theories about aid have been elaborated together with numerous strategies, but so far the anticipated effects have not materialised. Hence the questioning and debate. At a time when bilateral and multilateral aid bodies are reviewing their approach and involvement, we asked the Head of the European Commission Delegation in Mauritania to give us his analysis of the Community's approach-one which he has been seeking to implement 'in the field' In particular, we sought his views on institutional development aid-an area where the European Union has only recently become involved. Here. the authors pose a fundamental question-just how effective is aid ?-drawing on experience of a project carried out in the Mauritanian Planning Ministry.

Several decades of development aid, delivered in widely varying forms, have demonstrated the limits of our hopes and ambitions. Founding principles, innovative concepts, and human and financial resources have all been applied to the problem but the results have been disappointing. True, there have been some successes, but only time will tell whether they will prove to be lasting. However, despite its weaknesses, foreign aid clearly does make some contribution to development in the countries at which it is targeted. What is being called into question is not its usefulness but its effectiveness. For this reason, it is now time to get to grips with the realities and work to achieve the achievable. We need to dispense with magic 'formulae', sweeping condemnations and received wisdom. What we need instead is a brand new approach-a radical rethink as to how we can tackle the situation.

Critics fail to recognise realities

Initially, traditional 'institutional' aid was given a rough ride by many in the development field. There was criticism of the size and complexity of macroeconomic intervention by major development institutions in their capacity as bilateral sponsors. The approach, moreover, seemed to conflict with the microeconomic view of development favoured, in particular, by the NGOs.

Benefiting from more media coverage, with a commensurate increase in their political 'clout', these organisations find themselves beset by difficulties related to their very raison d'e. Their objectives entail operating flexibly and close to the ground, and hence within narrower confines. Lacking an overview, or an integrated approach, they find themselves acting disparately and inconsistently. Moreover, their distance from decision-making centres makes it difficult to evaluate their actions, whilst the absence of any system of reference considerably restricts the extent to which they can become involved.

They also have a tendency to deviate from their initial vocation to become 'macro-organisations' subject to the same constraints as the so-called institutional sponsors. They do not, however, have the resources, know-how or historical 'memory' that can only be accumulated by decades of actual presence in the field.

A second point is that national financial authorities have been the subject of justified but sterile criticism. As long as there is a lack of will within government to determine and enforce national policy, the authorities will be prone to apathy. Low salaries for civil servants mean low motivation and recent attempts at profesionalism remain limited. In defence of national administrations, it may be added that outside involvement tends to lead to substitution rather than complementarity. Declarations of intent are all very well, but they seldom hold their own against an objective interpretation of day-to-day realities.

Structural adjustment, which has oft been decried, at least has in its favour the fact that it has brought about a return to the basic premise that development is only possible if the interested parties are involved in decision-making and in the organisation of their own evolution. Those receiving development aid, too long deprived of power, are now resuming a central role in the decision-making and operational process through the concept of 'internalisation'. This is an essential notion which tends to promote responsibility and national action as opposed to fixed ideas imported from outside.

We therefore need to compare shortcomings on the part of the authorities and to assist them, through positive actions, in regaining their position at the heart of those processes which condition development, be they interventionist or liberal in character. Without this readaptation, too many fundamental decisions will still be based on external analyses, too many decisive actions will be based on outside intervention, and too many strategic interactions will be stillborn, with the 'centre' cut off from its 'periphery'.

With these premises in mind, it is clear that a vital aspect of the development process must be the institutional factor, the key element of which is, and will continue to be, the authorities.


Through observing the difficulties experienced by central financing authorities in defining and implementing development strategies and; policies a number of donors have been seeking appropriate ways of lending support to them. This assistance is directed in a variety of ways and comes in various forms:

-expert outside help in analysing situations and proposing structural reorganisation or functional improvements;
-external training to increase professionalism and technical expertise;
-financing of material requirements and/ or the support of operational costs;
-creation of back-up, coordinating, programming or monitoring bodies; and, (perhaps above all),
-technical assistance to facilitate implementation.

It would be exaggerating to suggest that such assistance has had no beneficial impact, but it would also be unrealistic to say that it has had any significant impact on the process of 'internalisation'. Results have fallen well short of expectations. Moreover, in a time of increased scarcity of resources, where national authorities have to put the aid they receive to best use, it is far from clear that this is the best way to obtain the desired results. Such support is, too often, offered in haste, the aim being, above all, to remedy human and material shortfalls. Virtually all of it has ended up as assistance involving substitution or compensation. Additionally, when the decision has been made to boost structural support, the result has been an increase in independent bodies operating on the fringe of or outwith national structures, so as to be less rigid or to escape dysfunction. Rarely coordinated or monitored, this support has made scant contribution to solving basic problems. Indeed, it has generated new problems through the lack of involvement which generally results from such attempts to paper over the cracks in the system.

The principal difficulties, that everyone can see, are that administrative structures lack the capacity to think and act, owing to shortcomings in standards, technical knowledge, methods, organisation and experience on the part of their staff. The institutional support mobilised to remedy the situation has self-evidently not had the desired result: it has not prompted 'readaptation' on the part of those for whom it was intended.

Finding solutions by observing what is actually happening

This brief overview leads us to propose other solutions more likely to have the desired effect but which are, first and foremost, more 'internalised'. Although one might have doubts, given the accumulation of problems, about the feasibility of 'changing course' and genuinely embarking on a new direction, recent, yet different, approaches suggest that it is feasible. The proviso is that the received wisdom needs to be radically rethought and an innovative strategy proposed in the sphere of institutional development aid. It must be based on a methodology of structured support so as to enable the final recipients of aid to adapt their procedures. The success of a new approach depends largely on the responses to three basic questions: what should be done, why should it be done, and how should it be done ?

As regards what should be done, the issue is one of identification. In many cases, owing to a lack of time, the actual problem is not even mentioned. In fact, state structures, which depend on both internal and external policy (the donors' own aims), are unable to meet the challenge. The diagnosis must therefore be in terms of remedying shortcomings in know-how and ability in the principal areas under consideration: design/formulation, organisation/management, support/ maintenance, monitoring/ assessment, etc.

The question 'why should it be done' relates to the aim and will obviously involve justification. All those involved must clearly understand that they must move away from dependency towards taking a leading role. Priority must go to promoting independent ability for reflection and negotiation, towards achieving quality in terms of both productivity and time management, and to consolidating skills, initiative and a sense of responsibility on the part of those representing the 'state' in the widest sense.

As to how should it be done, this will involve giving support in real terms. It must be based on the essential idea of 'getting things done' using a functional 'planning department' strategy which precludes any notions of substitution or compensation. This entails focusing support on the outcome or final 'product' rather than on purchases and consumables regarded as necessary to obtain the product. It must be geared to making existing structures work: improvement and consolidation rather than radical and wholesale change.

The concept is designed to replace the approach of traditional technical assistance which concentrates on substitution. The aim of the support will be to guide processes of internalisation and readaptation by applying a kind of 'apprenticeship' strategy to the methods and techniques of the recipients. The key element is to invest in the people one has by appointing them, in the first instance, to the positions they are able to occupy. The next stage is to put the people one needs into the positions that need to be filled. This can only happen through rational and dynamic management of human resources, and it will take a considerable amount of time to implement.

To summarise, the intention is to demonstrate that the renewal of the 'institutional support' approach should fundamentally consist of intervention aimed at achieving tangible results, summed up in the phrase 'getting things done'. The goal is to make the operators internalise policy and adopt procedures within their own structures, basing their actions on transparency, exchanges of views and heightened awareness.

Support for self-development

The aim of this type of support is to enable a country's authorities to increase their own ability to determine and manage their evolution, until they have the financial means to take over their responsibilities and have been able to carry out the often essential task of reorganising the public service. Concrete support can, therefore, only be in the form of specific and short-term external measures. In order to be consistent and effective, it goes without saying that such a policy requires not only the establishment of reference guidelines but also the definition of an action programme specifying content, deadlines, monitoring measures and means of finance.

In principle, greater consideration must be given to the authorities' ability to absorb the new development/ coordination burden resulting from the evolution of their tasks. The additional costs generated by the improvements which are being sought must also figure in the equation. As far as guidance is concerned, in order to consolidate the impact and forestall possible dysfunction, the support must be provided within a coordinated framework, with the recipient country taking the initiative and its partners participating only in follow-up schemes and evaluation. In terms of support, preference should go to aspects which favour the development of national 'know-how' and 'capability'. Initial intervention should involve the powerful financial authorities with a view to guaranteeing improved regulation of the economy, a more consistent focus on development and better control of projects.

Support for self-enhancement

In operational terms, the use of a functional 'planning department' strategy (i.e. achieving the goal, whether it is delivery of a service or acquisition of a product), will result in the recipient assuming responsibility for both quality and output at the production level. The recipient would have the incentive of having to meet his commitments so as to continue receiving institutional aid. In the back of the mind, there would be the prospect of an interruption to the flow of operating capital should there be a drop in production, since the resources would be payable in stages as the plan evolves. Unlike the current situation, the organisation would be free, once its costs had been covered, to allocate resources as it saw fit. Other than maintaining the obligation to submit regular accounts, donor control would be removed. Moreover, on the basis of the multiannual plan set up, the organisation would, in agreement with its sleeping partner (the donor), make provision for the production of an annual work programme. This would identify needs, allow for account to be taken of new developments and permit any reorientation that might be necessary. Finally, an independent external assessment should be carried out half way through the programme in order to redefine targets for the allocation of resources or make corrective adjustments in deployment. This would be designed to tackle any drift away from the original goal or indeed a complete breakdown in operations. At the end of the project, there would be a review from which it should be possible to assess whether or not it is worthwhile continuing.

Guiding self-organisation

This would take place through technical assistance in the field for the redefined tasks and would include an obligation to achieve a result. Within this context, the assistance would have to contribute:

-to improving the donor/authority interface in terms of information and advice;
-to the internalisation of procedures by the recipient institutions, the latter being enabled to take on these responsibilities thanks to study and development projects using a combined organisational and procedural approach;
-to the enhancement of human resources in terms of both competence and responsibility, through individual and collective 'training/action';

The innovative 'training/action' approach involves two elements: training officials in the 'know-how' and 'capabilities' required by their positions within their organisation and practical advice, when they are actually performing their tasks. The latter would entail alternating individual and collective 'apprenticeship' actions designed to achieve progressive development and would be agreed with the head of the organisation in question on the basis of specific cases.

'Training/action' aims to develop both 'vocational know-how' (formulation and identification, follow-up and assessment techniques, input and processing methods) and 'behavioural competence' in terms of communication, encouragement and negotiation.

The principle underlying this approach should favour a particular type of technical assistance, with a trainer (just like one for a sports team) acting both as individual coach and team leader, who is capable of making officials more professional and responsible. Implicit from the outset in such an approach is a commitment to achieving the recipients' objectives.

It would appear that this involves a need for reorienting technical assistance profiles. Such assistance should henceforth be:

-oriented, above all, towards strategic considerations, procedural and structural organisation and practical advice;
-more diversified in terms of horizontal skills in order to cover a more diverse range of activity (through active project studies and development which can be usefully applied to the organisations);
-more geared towards effective transfer of 'know-how' and 'capabilities' based on apprenticeships in the various positions and services;
-better directed in terms of its public profile, maturity and adaptability, in order to establish its credibility.

Finally, the management of this 'new' form of technical assistance requires: -more selective recruitment and closer supervision of results obtained;

-improved initial definition of the relationship with the beneficiary authorities and donor representatives in situ (such as the EC Delegation);
-a genuine policy to establish, assess and redirect the approach;
-more flexible and far-sighted management.

By way of conclusion, the central idea in this innovative approach is to help countries help themselves. To achieve this, it is not enough to renew the framework or to redistribute roles: the rules and the approach must also be modified.

The organisational effect will be all the greater if thought precedes action, ifaims take reality into account, if objectives take constraints into consideration, ifoperators are motivated and if decision-makers assume their responsibilities.

The analysis and proposals set forth here are the result of an experiment currently being carried out at the Mauritanian Planning Ministry. Although not definitive, initial mid-term results are sufficiently conclusive to offer the conceptual bases underlying the approach which have guided implementation of the steps we propose to examine in greater depth within the context of wider and more generalised 'institution building'.