Country ownership has become both a buzzword and a battle cry since it was enshrined as one of the four guiding principles for development cooperation at the 2011 high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. While progress toward loosening donors’ grip on aid efforts has been meager at best, the general sentiment seems to be that recipient countries will have increased involvement in deciding on their own development in the medium to long term.
Some studies have already pointed toward this shift in decision-making.
One of the findings of a 2013 study by the Overseas Development Institute, which explored what the evolution of the aid landscape meant for developing countries, showed that the rise of emerging donors seems to be accompanied by greater influence of recipient governments on how aid money is spent.
Earlier this year, insights from a survey commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and conducted by the Australian National University’s Development Policy Center supported this claim.
“The governments we spoke to see themselves as managing their donors, or they aspire to be doing so,” Robin Davies, associate director at the Development Policy Center and co-author of the study, previously told Devex. “Their concern is much more that all donors engage in the processes that they, the partner governments, establish to ensure that aid provided in line with national priorities and that labor is appropriately divided.”
One of the findings of a recent Devex survey, done in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Services International, seem to complement these previous studies. But more than country ownership, community ownership emerged as the main force that will drive development assistance flows.
Asked who will decide global aid funding in the next 10 years, respondents ranked individuals and communities (41 percent) first, with host governments (34 percent) and traditional aid donors and organizations (26 percent) placing second and third, respectively.
A closer look shows that respondents from bilateral agencies generally ranked the three categories similarly and, interestingly, even put individuals and communities at a slightly higher position (44 percent) than overall respondents. Recipient governments (31 percent) and traditional donors (25 percent) were meanwhile ranked second and third.
For those coming from multilateral agencies, the rankings for the three categories were the same, but less pronounced. Individuals and communities ranked first (37 percent), while governments (33 percent) and traditional donors (30 percent) ranked second and third.
While not a survey respondent, Diana Ohlbaum, an independent consultant who recently wrote a series of articles on rethinking foreign aid effectiveness for Devex, noted that she is not surprised by the findings.
“Everyone knows that the pendulum is swinging toward country ownership, and beyond that to local community ownership,” Ohlbaum told Devex.
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Most respondents from governments, however, ranked differently. They considered traditional aid donors (40 percent) the most important in deciding how aid will be spent in the next decade, and ranked individuals and communities (35 percent) second and governments (26 percent) third.
“It’s hard for me to explain this discrepancy, other than to suggest this is a reaction to what they see happening now rather than a prediction of what will happen 10 years down the line,” Ohlbaum said.
For instance, governments repressing nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding, Ohlbaum pointed out, are painting themselves as victims, lamenting that donors are calling all the shots while civil society gets the aid funding.
“If those governments who are cracking down on civil society would instead commit themselves to greater transparency, openness and accountability, I think this dynamic would shift considerably and they’d be trusted with more donor resources and decision-making power,” Ohlbaum said.
From country ownership to community ownership
For Atef Ahmed, an education consultant who thinks individuals and communities will largely determine how aid is spent over the decade, several trends — increased participation of civil society organizations in the development process, for example — already pave the way for how the disbursement of development assistance is expected to change.
“Some of them have initiatives to monitor and evaluate donors’ and governments’ development projects,” Ahmed, referring to NGOs working in human rights and good governance in Arab states, told Devex. “Many reports and articles were issued in this regard.”
Still, Ohlbaum pointed out that localization efforts are currently lacking in at least two areas. When it comes to humanitarian assistance, “the emphasis is still on ‘get it done quickly,’ with less attention to developing local humanitarian capacity.” In evaluation work, meanwhile, “outsiders are still coming in to do all the academic work, with minimal participation of either local evaluators, local communities or intended beneficiaries.”
A report on the importance of participant ownership in evaluations written by Carlisle Levine, an independent evaluation consultant, and Laia Griñó, senior manager of transparency, accountability and results at InterAction, shows that beyond capacity strengthening, greater evaluation use is one of the benefits of moving from just including participants in the evaluation process to letting them take charge of the evaluation itself.
“The more participants are included in evaluation decision-making, the greater the chance that they will find the evaluation findings legitimate, and therefore use those findings to help bring about positive and lasting changes in their lives,” the authors wrote.
To see more results of the next generation development professionals survey, download this report from PSI.