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“I think Busan is a pivot point” – An interview with Brian Atwood, Chairman of the OECD DAC

13-05-2011

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A new development paradigm is emerging. There is increasing recognition of the complexity of development and the need for aid and other policies to address global challenges and ensure positive, sustainable development outcomes in developing countries. Emerging economies are also adding a new dynamic that can support and complement the strategies and programmes of the ‘traditional’ donors.  But at the same time, donor budgets are under extreme pressure and their focus is on shorter-term, quantifiable, measurable results/impact. In November, government officials and development specialists from around the world will meet in Busan at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to accelerate progress in implementing the international aid effectiveness agenda set out in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. They are also expected to discuss what future framework is needed to address the broader “development effectiveness” agenda. On 4 May, the Weekly Compass met with Brian Atwood, Chairman of the OECD DAC, to have his views on these issues and the prospects for success at the High Level Forum.

Weekly Compass: There is increasing recognition of the complexity of development, the need for political economy analysis and that long term, innovative, sometimes risky, approaches are needed. At the same time, donor budgets are under extreme pressure and their focus is on quantifiable, measurable results/impact. In this context, how can the necessary focus on development outcomes and domestic accountability (where the direct link to ODA may not be so clearly measurable) be strengthened?

Atwood: I will be very honest with you, everyone is struggling with that question. I started this results-based framework back in the early 90s at USAID and there, as is the case with other donors, its always a question of timing, how to establish benchmarks along the way and how to attribute results. Attribution is a key issue because the current effort, and the effort at Busan, will be to make sure that we attribute the results to the partnership. Partner countries need to be measuring results – and need to have the capacity to do so. And donors need to understand the impact of the resources we provide the partner country. So I think it really comes down to not just our wanting to be responsible to our taxpayers, but it is also a question of whether or not we really are enhancing the partnership and focusing on results. The previous systems, which are still in many places in place, where you only looked at inputs, cause the partners to react to the inputs. So they were creating organizations to attract that money. It created a dependency problem. I think what we now have, or what we are moving towards at least, is a system of mutual accountability, with a good deal more transparency about what both of us are doing and trying to reach an agreement on how we measure results together, not separately.

Weekly Compass: So would you agree that developing countries should be brought more into the process leading up to and the eventual follow-up process of Busan?

Atwood: I think developing countries are already creating a dynamic for Busan that is very different from even Accra and Paris. They are actively organising themselves to come together with common positions. There is, for example, a group of fragile states, the G7+ of about seventeen countries that are organising. They are a dynamic group of countries and they know that they cannot reach the MDGs given their current capacity, so they are pushing very, very hard for more capacity building support. And some donor countries, such as the UK and Belgium, are supporting fragile states despite the challenges of measuring results. The risk is higher, but I think potentially the payoff is even greater, because of the development needs of those countries and because those partner countries want to create the capacity to measure results and achieve results – they are desperate to achieve results.

Weekly Compass: Different studies suggest that the relative influence of ODA as provided by the OECD DAC is decreasing given investments provided by so-called emerging economies. In Accra, such economies did not associate their investments with the term ‘aid’, and hence only took up an ‘observing’ or ‘side-line’ role and did not commit to most of the decisions.  What are your views on the amount of political will that exists to linking the outcome document from the Busan meeting and the whole aid effectiveness agenda more closely with other global institutional processes like the G-20.

Atwood: Well, there is a Development Committee of the G20 and many of the same people that are working on the G20 are also working on the Busan agenda. I think that the common ground is going to be reached perhaps through more generic agreements within the knowledge sharing pillar of the G20. We have to translate it into much more specific methods for Busan. But the two meetings are happening in the same month, so we think that Busan will get a boost from the G20 and the G8 meetings that are also dealing with this issue of aid architecture. It is very interesting to go back a little bit in history when the DAC created the Shaping the 21st Century paper. The next step after that was that the G8 took that paper and insisted it would be adopted at the G8 meeting. The then UK Development Minister, Clare Short, was very much of a champion of that.  And then it was taken to the UN and adopted by the United Nations as the Millennium Development Goals. So these things are all interrelated. You have to use the international system as it is to try to push this agenda along. A lot has been done. The poorest countries don’t go to the G20 meetings, but people are beginning to listen to the poorest countries.

Weekly Compass: Does this approach also include South-South dialogue or triangular dialogue – bringing those kind of approaches to the traditional donors?

Atwood: Yes. We are doing a study of all of the triangular programmes that are under way and its surprising how much is going on that we haven’t got a handle on yet. Its really quite remarkable. The Australians are working with the Indonesians, the Chinese in the Pacific area, Brazilians are working with the Americans in Central America. And that is the real way to learn from one another. You can learn a lot in discussions at international conferences, but if you’re on the ground working on a project with the partner, then you are really talking about detailed issues. Someone from Brazil leans forward and says “well what do you mean by sustainability”. Or we say to the Brazilians “so, you have taken this approach in agriculture, how did you do it?” That’s how you learn.

Weekly Compass: “Development effectiveness” – emphasising policy coherence and the combined impacts of donors’ development and non-development policies on partner countries – is increasingly the focus of international development policy debates. What are your views on suggestions from some OECD DAC members in favour of Busan being the last high-level forum on the topic of aid effectiveness and to instead continue such discussions at the national level in developing countries?  Do you see opportunities for the Busan High Level Forum to look beyond the effectiveness of aid to see how other national, regional and global policy decisions influence the effectiveness of development?

Atwood: I think Busan is a pivot point. I think that we have gone very far along the spectrum on aid effectiveness and the evidence that we are collecting is a good indication of what we need to do to shore up the aid effectiveness agenda and continue to create the political will to get it done. I also think that it is easier to say that we believe in local ownership, but it is a lot more difficult for the developed countries to actually achieve it because of the political pressures within them. So I am hoping that Busan will help us by linking development to the biggest global issues that we all face, such as security, climate change and food crises because we can’t solve those problems without development. So if there is a realisation of that, my hope is that we will create the political will to do better against the Paris Declaration and the aid effectiveness principles. And that I think is what is missing. So we will see a pivot from aid effectiveness, but it won’t be left behind. We will move to a more comprehensive discussion about development results and policy coherence which will include the effort to eliminate policies that are obstacles to our achievement of goals. I think that’s key about Busan. While it may be the last of the High Level Forums on aid effectiveness, its not the last time the world will meet on the development agenda. And we don’t know what structure will follow, but my hope is that some structure will follow that will involve the DAC, that will help us to rationalise the international scene, help us with the division of labour, help us with dialogue so that we learn from one another. I have a lot of hope in, and frankly optimism, that there is real convergence in interest among nations and private actors that will make Busan a success.

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Economic Transformation and TradeEmerging Players in AfricaPost-2015 Global Development AgendaAid effectivenessBusan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation

External authors

Sonia Niznik