USAID's new local systems framework goes live

A U.S. Agency for International Development-supported farmer field school training in Mozambique. The aid agency has made available online its new policy document, which includes ten principles for engaging local systems. Photo by: Food for the Hungry / USAID / CC BY-NC

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s new policy document, “Local Systems: A Framework for Supporting Sustained Development”, finally went online on Friday after six months of open consultation on a draft version released last October.

It offers ten principles for “engaging local systems” — among them, “recognize that there is always a system” and “tap local knowledge” — and discusses how agency programming will have to change to accommodate the new approach.

The framework is meant to emphasize and support the “new model of development” that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has touted, which entails a shift away from hiring U.S.-based development contractors and NGOs to implement projects, and toward channeling money through host-country governments and local organizations to build their capacity to do the work themselves and sustain programs after funding dries up.

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office questioned whether USAID is able to track how much of its budget is spent on “local solutions,” and whether the agency has any system in place to show that local solutions are more effective than non-local solutions.

Not surprisingly, U.S.-based implementers have been tracking the release of the new framework and provided extensive comments on its draft version in meetings with USAID’s leadership and letters to the agency’s policy gurus.

As has been the case with past policy documents and frameworks, many of the comments pointed to a lack of clarity around how the framework is actually supposed to be implemented and how it fits within the architecture of other USAID policies and procedures.

“The comments reflect a variety of opinions but one remark we heard repeatedly was the need for the paper to balance the theoretical with the practical by providing more specific examples… to assist [missions] in the field to put programs into practice more effectively,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, wrote last December in a letter addressed to USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Lawrence Garber.

Since it deals with such a core and contentious theme in U.S. global development policy as “localization,” the new framework is sure to fuel discussions around the direction USAID’s programs are — and should be — going.

Take a look at the new framework and let us know what you think about it in the comments section below.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.