Why the Aid Effectiveness Principles are important for development

Demonstrating empirically the Aid Effectiveness Principles' global impact on development is a challenge. But according to Rachel M. Gisselquist, Patricia Justino and Andrea Vaccaro, the value of these principles lies in mobilising support for normative commitments such as establishing effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions

Aid Effectiveness Principles

The 1990s marked a period of major reconsideration in the matter of foreign aid. While the end of the Cold War brought about a radical shift in the motivations of donors, this decade also saw strong critique of what foreign aid had accomplished thus far. It was in this context that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosted a series of high-level forums on aid effectiveness.

The forums took place in Rome (2003), Paris (2005), Accra (2008), and Busan (2011). They established a set of ‘principles’ for effective development cooperation. The latest iteration lists these principles as country ownership, focus on results, inclusive partnerships, and transparency and mutual accountability.

The Aid Effectiveness Principles currently comprise country ownership, focus on results, inclusive partnerships, and transparency and mutual accountability

The Effective Development Co-operation Summit in Geneva last December reiterated these principles. Criticisms notwithstanding, they have, for two decades, provided an important reference point for international development assistance, attracting broad multilateral support. This process also established the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), an association bringing together major stakeholders to build political momentum around the principles. In so doing, the GPEDC has not only worked to track progress in the implementation of these principles. It also works to build the case for ‘why’.

The idea that ‘effective’ aid is indeed more ‘effective’ – that aid operating in line with the effectiveness principles delivers better results – at first sounds true by definition. However, it requires research to prove it. In a recent paper, we undertook a new examination of the GPEDC’s own monitoring data alongside various measures of development outcomes.

What does the GPEDC data show?

By some accounts, political interest in the effectiveness agenda has been waning. Nonetheless, recipient countries have participated increasingly in the GPEDC’s voluntary monitoring exercise. In 2013, 46 countries took part. In 2017, however, this number nearly doubled, to 86. These data provide a rich resource that has not been used to its full potential.

The GPEDC compiles a rich dataset from recipient countries, but it has key weaknesses

From a social science perspective, however, the principles also have some key weaknesses that undermine their analytical utility. A big issue is that core concepts (i.e. the aid effectiveness principles themselves) are only loosely defined.

Relatedly, it is also often not clear why one measure is for one principle and not another. For instance, the principle of 'focus on results' has two key indicators. One is development partners use country-led results frameworks. The other is countries strengthen their national results frameworks. The first might just as well be a measure of country ownership, while the second speaks to the existence of frameworks aiming to support focus on results, but provides little information on practice – another key weakness.

Our analysis

Recognising these constraints, we conducted a battery of quantitative analyses to establish the relationship between adherence to the principles and development outcomes. First, we used correlational analysis to assess the strength, and signs of the links between, adherence to the effectiveness principles and common development outcomes.

We also drew on descriptive time series approaches. With these, we investigated the implementation of the effectiveness principles over time and the evolution of institutional quality in selected countries. Finally, we made a quantitative analysis of the quality of the GPEDC’s monitoring data. This let us delve deeper into some of our data quality concerns.

We do not find any clear evidence of a systematic link between adherence to the principles and varying development-related outcomes

Our core finding is simple. Empirical evidence at the global level on the development impact of the aid effectiveness principles is scant. We do not find any clear evidence of a systematic link between adherence to the principles and varying development-related outcomes, including economic growth, inequality, poverty, health, education, democracy, state capacity, political stability, and corruption.

It’s important to be clear about these findings: absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. A relationship might very well exist – indeed, multiple case studies suggest this. But demonstrating the development impact of the principles is likely to be very challenging – if not impossible – with the monitoring data currently available.

So what’s the policy takeaway?

As social scientists, the GPEDC’s quest for a demonstrable impact of the four effectiveness principles should make us think in more detail about the contribution we can collectively bring to international development policy, and to ongoing discussions on the topic. We highlight two key points:

First, some improvements can be made to the monitoring framework. We outline them in our paper. That said, the GPEDC monitoring is not a social science research project but a political process, so not all of these suggestions will be feasible. While a new monitoring framework has been established recently, we believe that many similar challenges remain. In time and with better data, we might get closer to demonstrating that the effectiveness principles have such an impact. However, we are not sure this is the best place on which to focus.

Second, the main value of the effectiveness principles does not lie in whether global impact can be demonstrated empirically. Rather, it lies in the establishment of key normative commitments to global partnerships in support of effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. In other words, Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 17. In our view, alignment with these shared global commitments or values is the strongest 'why' case for the Aid Effectiveness Principles.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.

Contributing Authors

photograph of Rachel M. Gisselquist Rachel M. Gisselquist Senior Research Fellow, United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), Helsinki More by this author
photograph of Patricia Justino Patricia Justino Deputy Director, United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), Helsinki More by this author
photograph of Andrea Vaccaro Andrea Vaccaro Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford / Visiting Researcher, World Institute for Development Economics Research, United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), Helsinki More by this author

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