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Results matter, not input

by Andris Piebalgs
Andris Piebalgs visiting a school in West Africa

Andris Piebalgs visiting a school in West Africa

Andris Piebalgs, the European commissioner for development affairs, considers the recent High Level Forum in Busan an important step towards achieving results more effectively. In his essay, he explains why. By Andris Piebalgs

Demonstrating the results of aid has risen to the top of the political agenda among the development community over the past few years. All the stakeholders and donors are discussing this issue and work hard to communicate what has been achieved thanks to their funds and hard work. However, one might argue that development aid is about fighting poverty and ask whether it is really necessary to invest our time in results. The answer is clear: it is not only necessary, but also our duty.
– First of all, EU development funds come from taxpayers and we need to show EU citizens where their money is being spent and how it is making a difference. Aid can easily become a victim of austerity – especially at a time of economic hardship. Therefore we need citizens’ support and luckily, a recent Eurobarometer study shows 84 % support for development aid across the EU. But we have to be transparent, accountable and efficient in order to keep it.
– Secondly, managing results helps to give us a clearer idea of what is working. Put simply, Managing for Results is about what we achieve with every euro of aid that we invest in developing countries. For this reason, the European Commission has always been committed in the long term to improving the management, reporting and communication of results.

However, in the past, the tendency amongst donors was to focus on so-called “inputs” – how much money and resources were invested. Now though, with only three years to go to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this focus has changed and donors and the countries they work in concentrate more on the end result. So we are looking at how many children have learnt to read or how many women give birth safely rather than how much money has been spent there.

Before the concept of Managing for Results became a key part of the aid effectiveness agenda (in the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness), results of aid projects were compiled in an uncoordinated way, with donors and countries both working on different results. Managing for Results makes this process more streamlined – it is all about agreeing a set of results on a country by country basis, so that all of the donors working in a given country have access to the same results and everyone can see at a glance exactly what is being achieved.

Room for improvement

The most recent evaluation of the Paris Declaration (in 2011) found that, unfortunately, the pace in countries implementing their own results-driven national strategies has been slow. The evaluation also showed that the Paris commitment to strengthen partner countries’ systems often conflicted with the pressure from donors to report on their own results. Producing one set of clear and consistent results would make the system more streamlined and improve working practices between donors and developing countries.

Clearly then, going into the Busan High Level Forum (HLF) on Aid Effectiveness at the end of last year, the level of commitment to push the Managing for Results agenda forward was high. Following up on previous aid effectiveness summits in Rome (2003), Paris (2005) and Accra (2008), Busan has long been viewed in the international community as a key moment to forge a new global partnership, but also to take stock of results.

That’s why, in Busan, I again underlined that I’d like to introduce a common EU framework on results – as proposed in our recent European Development Policy Communication “Agenda for Change”, the European Commission’s proposal for changes in development policy, which is now under discussion by member states. There are several reasons for this.

A common EU framework between member states would enable us to easily explain what results have been achieved. I’m also convinced that using similar language in the way that all member states report results would help to improve consistency and transparency. This reporting at donor-agency level would complement the reporting by each of the countries receiving aid.

On the European Commission’s side, we are – and have been firmly committed to – ensuring that results-based aid will play an increasingly important role in our development work. Take our Millennium Development Goals contracts – a prime example of the work that we’re already doing in this area. Under the 10th European Development Fund (2008–2013), we launched € 1.8 billion worth MDGs contracts in eight countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania). These contracts were set up to provide longer-term, more predictable commitments of budget support so that governments could better plan their strategies in order to achieve the MDGs. This reflects the proposals in the recent European Commission communication on budget support – we should be more effective and efficient in delivering development results by strengthening our contractual partnerships with developing countries.

Recent joint evaluations carried out in Mali and Zambia show that good results have been achieved. In Zambia, for example, the MDG contract has helped more pregnant women with HIV to receive antiretroviral drugs (their share increased from 40 % to 66 % from 2007 to 2009). Even more impressively, the number of districts with one teacher taking care for more than 100 pupils has fallen from seven to zero, contributing to a better quality of education.

At Busan, one thing which came out time and time again across the board was the need for Managing for Results to be country-based and country-led. In countries where adequate systems are in place to set and measure development results, donors need to work with those systems and avoid imposing their own. This was reinforced in the Busan HLF with the proposal by 30 development partners, including both donors and partner countries, to work towards country results and accountability agreements.

New impulse

Busan was different from the earlier aid effectiveness HLFs because, for the first time, emerging economies had a key role to play. If an inclusive deal on aid was to be reached, then it was clear that China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa would have to be an integral part of it too. This relates to areas like results, but also to transparency, use of country systems and the reduced fragmentation of aid – all crucial in making our aid more effective.

I’m pleased to say that the HLF ended on a positive note, with a new Busan outcome document being agreed to and a new partnership on aid and development effectiveness, or the Global Partnership for Development Cooperation, put in place. It is the first aid effectiveness agreement to include the major emerging economies, as well as the private sector and civil society; and the concept of Managing for Results forms an important part of it. The months of negotiations and preparations ahead of Busan have paid off and we now look forward to the next step – taking the Partnership forward over the next few years and making our work on results even more effective.