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Simon Maxwell

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Finding a niche for DFIDDepartment for International Development in the SDGs

 

 

 

This memorandum was written to support the IDC Enquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals. The key points are:

  1. The SDG Framework, approved in New York in September 2015, is valuable for three reasons. First, it explicitly links economic, social and environmental issues in its comprehensive list of 17 Goals and 169 Targets. Second, it is explicitly universal, applying to all countries everywhere and not just to those labelled ‘developing’. And third, it represents consensus among many stakeholders from the official and non-official sectors: NGOs and the private sector, as well as Governments.

  2. At the same time, the SDGs are so broad as best to be regarded as aspirational rather than as concrete commitments. If no-one is disappointed, then hard choices have been ducked.

  3. The Government’s programmatic priorities in development overlap with, but are not identical to, the SDGs. A Venn diagram would clarify areas of convergence and divergence – and DFIDDepartment for International Development should be asked to provide one.

  4. In deciding where to concentrate, HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development should being by considering what niche they want to fill in international development. A SWOTStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats Analysis analysis illustrates strengths and weaknesses. HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development have many strengths, but also some strategic weaknesses identified by ICAI, the DACDevelopment Assistance Committee (of the OECD) and the Select Committee. From an aid perspective, HMG/DFID may find itself especially challenged by a new development agenda which focuses less on a declining number of low income countries, and more on the provision of global public goods.

  5. A scenario exercise suggests four possible future roles: (a) as the aid channel in the poorest countries; (b) as the multi-faceted lead agency in fragile states; (c) as a lead agency supporting multilateral finance institutions and global funds; or (d) as a global leader delivering global public goods. HMG/DFID can do some of all for these, but there are choices to be made at the margin about policy, capability, resource allocation and country concentration.

  6. Within the set of options, HMG/DFID need to justify actual and potential comparative advantage, not just in terms of their own capabilities, but also in relation to others. They should be asked to do so. ICAI should also be asked to provide supporting analysis. To be useful, this analysis needs to be comparative.

  7. Overall, there is a case for HMG/DFID to support the SDGs by becoming (a) more multilateral and (b) more focused on global public goods rather than national development programmes. These are not insignificant changes.

  8. In sectoral terms, a move at the margin from social to productive sectors would fill international gaps. The UK should maximise its strengths in research, policy-making and innovation, as well as an exceptional NGONon-governmental organisation sector. It could develop a stronger line of business linking development and security in fragile states (working with multilateral institutions). The UK could also be a world leader on: policy and practice in dealing with climate change; industrial policy; health; probably energy; and (depending on what others do) perhaps also cities and transport. However, this list is somewhat speculative.

  9. The process of building comparative advantage on the ‘new’ topics may need to be accelerated.

The Sustainable development Goals

The SDG Framework, approved at the New York Summit in September 2015, is valuable for three reasons. First, it explicitly links economic, social and environmental issues in its comprehensive list of 17 Goals and 169 Targets. Second, it is explicitly universal, applying to all countries everywhere and not just to those labelled ‘developing’. And third, it represents consensus among many stakeholders from the official and non-official sectors: NGOs and the private sector, as well as Governments.

The final text of the SDG Declaration, ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ was agreed in New York on 3 August. It is notable for the Preamble, the 17 Goals and the 169 targets. The Preamble (Figure 1) captures the essence of the document, emphasising the interconnectedness of economic, social and environmental goals (the five ‘Ps’ – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership) and the fact that the agenda is universal, applying to all countries of the world.

Figure 1
Preamble to the SDG Declaration
Source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/7891TRANSFORMING%20OUR%20WORLD.pdf

The Declaration has been welcomed as wide-ranging, ambitious and the product of intensive consultation and participation. At the same time, it has also been criticised for being too wide-ranging and too ambitious, and with too great a commitment to consensus. An interesting question is: ‘who is disappointed because their particular pet topic has not been included?’. If the answer is no-one, then perhaps some tough choices have been ducked. Is this the price of large-scale participation and consensus-building?

It is easy to be irritated by the failure to distinguish ends and means in the 17 Goals and 169 Targets, sceptical about the feasibility of some individual targets, and disappointed by the paucity of work on sequencing and trade-offs. It is no secret that HMGHer Majesty's Goverment would have preferred a shorter and tighter framework, of the kind laid out in the Report of the High Level Panel on Post 2015, co-chaired by David Cameron.

The escape hatch is the wording in the document that says the SDGs will be global in scope, but that individual countries will shape their own programmes. This is best expressed in Para 21, which says


‘. . . All of us will work to implement the Agenda within our own countries and at the regional and global levels, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities We will respect national policy space for sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, in particular for developing states, while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.’

This makes the global SDGs aspirational, a guiding normative framework rather than a foundation of action. Charles Kenny has made a similar point, calling the SDG framework no more than (and no less than) a document which ‘provides an authorising environment’.

A key challenge will be how national politicians, developed and developing, benefit from an inspiring and comprehensive global vision, but also retain control and ownership of the agenda.

The Government’s approach to development

It goes without saying that the SDG framework will shape HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFID’s action on international development in coming years, just as the MDGsMillennium Development Goals shaped action in past years. HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development should of course be asked what changes they think the adoption of the new framework implies.

The question is especially pertinent given the number of reviews currently under way: DFID’s own strategy refresh; the Spending Review; the Defence and Security Review; and internal DFIDDepartment for International Development reviews, including the civil society review, and the forthcoming Bilateral and Multilateral Aid Reviews.

There are some hints as to overall positioning in the Conservative Manifesto for the 2015 election, and in Justine Greening’s keynote speech of 2 July 2015.

With regard to the Manifesto, the development section, found on Pgs 78-79 consists of only 547 words. It comes at the end of a chapter on ‘Keeping our country secure’, and with the title ‘Tackling global challenges to make you safer and more prosperous’. That is an interesting framing, with a strong focus on the self-interest motivation for international development rather than altruism – though the first sentence redresses the balance somewhat by saying that ‘tackling global poverty is both the right thing to do and in Britain’s interests’.

In setting out policy, the document is mostly aid-focused. It retains the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, stick to OECD/DAC rules defining official development assistance, and meet global transparency standards. The manifesto then lays out a series of aid priorities to ‘save lives’: immunisation, education, nutrition, water and sanitation, humanitarian relief, and health (including vaccines). A results-focus is evident.
Beyond saving lives, the manifesto contains commitments to ‘tackle the causes of poverty and promote gender equality’. That includes working for new 2030 goals to eradicate extreme poverty and promote human development, gender equality, and good governance - and to support programmes in these areas. Climate change is mentioned, as are growth and trade, though without specific commitments. The golden thread of democracy and representative institutions is noted, and programmes for girls and women. Human rights are not mentioned explicitly.

This framing is consistent with the SDG framework, albeit somewhat selectively. Income and wealth inequality, for example, are not mentioned. It is also notable, to work the analysis the other way, that some items in the manifesto are not so evident in the SDG Declaration. For example, the word ‘democracy’ only occurs once in the SDG Declaration, and not within the section of the text containing Goals and Targets.

Other sections of the manifesto touch on non-aid topics. Figure 2 lists some of these, including, for example, human rights, taxation and arms control.


Figure 2
Development-related commitments in the Conservative Party Manifesto

In her keynote speech on 2 July, Justine Greening began by laying out the challenges, with a particular emphasis on youth, frequently mentioned in the SDG Declaration. She then went on to talk about the importance of the beyond Aid agenda, saying that

‘In summary: different players, different models, different money, different needs. All of this means that business as usual just won’t cut it for successful development today. We all need to embrace the beyond aid agenda in all aspects of our work - what we do, the way we do it and who we work with.’

Ms Greening then laid out her priorities: economic development, women and girls and leading in emergencies. She emphasised partnership, and announced the civil society review.

Again, all this is consistent with the SDGs, though somewhat selectively so. It would be interesting to ask Justine Greening where she feels the overlaps are, and where the lack thereof. It is also important to ask about accountability for the non-aid commitments summarised in Figure 2. DFIDDepartment for International Development could be asked to prepare a Venn diagram, showing areas of overlap and divergence between Ministerial priorities and the SDGs.

What niche do HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development want to fill in international development?

It would be unrealistic to expect that every item in the SDG Framework should be equally visible in HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development priorities, for the reason identified in the terms of reference: HMGHer Majesty's Goverment and DFIDDepartment for International Development are not the only actors and have specific strengths and weaknesses. The issue is one of comparative advantage.

One way to think about this is with a SWOTStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats Analysis analysis of DFID’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A first attempt at this is in Figure 3. The entries draw on reviews of DFIDDepartment for International Development by the OECD/DAC and by ICAI, as well as analysis by the IDCInternational Development Committee itself.


Figure 3
SWOT analysis of DFD

The picture in the SWOTStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats Analysis analysis can be used to construct a set of scenarios for the future of DFID. Two key drivers will be: (a) the extent to which HMG/DFID focus on poverty reduction at national level or whether they take a more global perspective; and (b) the extent to which they deal mainly with aid or also take on the Beyond Aid agenda. Combining these gives the four possible futures for DFIDDepartment for International Development summarised in Figure 4.

Figure 4

The future of HMG/DFID: four scenarios

Of course, it would be possible for HMG/DFID to have an element of all four roles. However, there are choices to make at the margin, with respect to policy, overall resourcing, country allocations, and staffing. The Select Committee pointed to these choices in its report on the Future of UK Development Cooperation: Beyond Aid.

HMG/DFID comparative advantage

HMG/DFID will have different comparative advantage within the four models it might adopt, depending on what others are doing.

In general, DFIDDepartment for International Development scores reasonably well on most measures of aid effectiveness. Figure 5 shows the latest (2014) results of the CGD scoring of aid effectiveness, known as QUODA. This scores donors on different measures of administration. DFIDDepartment for International Development ranks 10th out of 30 countries on maximising efficiency, 6/30 on supporting indigenous institutions, 10/30 on reducing the burden on recipient countries, and 18/30 on transparency and learning. DFIDDepartment for International Development is not top of the class – Ireland, for example, does better overall – but better than average.

Figure 5

QUODA Results

Source: http://www.cgdev.org/publication/ft/quality-official-development-assistance-2014

QUODA measures process. An alternative approach is the stress test introduced by Kharas and Rogerson, originally published in 2012 and recently updated, with further revisions in the pipeline (Figure 6). Here, the exposure to risk rises with the share of aid to non-fragile, low poverty-gap countries, and share of social service delivery in the portfolio; and falls, relatively, with the share of growth and infrastructure activities and the share of global public goods. As can be seen, DFIDDepartment for International Development ranked 18/37 in 2010, but had fallen to 19/37 in 2013, just above the amber, warning zone.

Figure 6

Source: http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7723.pdf (updated 2014)

In terms of the future scenarios, HMG/DFID comparative advantage will differ in each quadrant of Figure 4, partly because HMG/DFID’s capabilities vary, but also because each quadrant contains different actors with different capabilities. HMG/DFID might be really good in every quadrant, but comparative advantage theory suggests that there will be benefits if different actors specialise.

It is also necessary to be specific about which sectors HMG/DFID might prioritise. DFIDDepartment for International Development has been much stronger in the recent past at social sectors than productive sectors (perhaps excluding agriculture, which is a strength). Should that continue, or is the new emphasis on building capacity in economic development, energy and infrastructure appropriate? The Committee could ask for a breakdown of DFID’s 800+ advisory staff , by sector, sub-sector, location and type of work. An earlier (2013) analysis is summarised in Figure 7.
Figure 7

Source: http://icai.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/How-DFID-Learns-FINAL.pdf

The evidence to assess comparative advantage is not always available. HMG/DFID should be asked for their assessment. In addition, ICAI should draw on comparative evaluation to contribute evidence. The Committee may also wish to assemble evidence on this point.

In the absence of a full assessment, an initial position might be:

In the bottom left hand quadrant, HMG/DFID acts as a fragile state aid specialist. As ICAI has observed, DFID’s bilateral programme already has this character. However, in February 2015, ICAI gave DFIDDepartment for International Development a score of ‘amber-red’ for its work in fragile states. It made five recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: DFIDDepartment for International Development needs to develop fresh coherent guidance on working in fragile states, drawing on adaptations developed at country level, new research and learning and the evolved systems being developed in DFIDDepartment for International Development centrally.

  • Recommendation 2: DFIDDepartment for International Development should ensure that country level targets realistically reflect the challenges of scaling-up and longer term timescales needed for lasting impact in fragile states and calibrate funding accordingly. The targets should reflect the entire country portfolio, taking account of small as well as large programming through qualitative and quantitative targets.

  • Recommendation 3: DFIDDepartment for International Development needs to provide guidance on the inclusion of targeted infrastructure components in development programmes to enhance sustainable impact in fragile states programming.

  • Recommendation 4: DFIDDepartment for International Development needs to define its appetite for risk in fragile environments: there needs to be explicit alignment between the centre and the field about potential for failure and its consequences.

  • Recommendation 5: DFIDDepartment for International Development should leverage its learning about operating in fragile states and take a clearer global leadership role with the international community to advance thinking on effective approaches.

The Committee might ask who else acts on a similar scale as a development and humanitarian aid donor in fragile states, and how their performance compares to that of the UK. The EU? The World Bank? The UN system on certain aspects? For example, an ODI evaluation of EUEuropean Union State Building Contracts in Fragile States, published in 2015, was rather favourable.

In the top left quadrant, HMG/DFID concentrate on being strategic donors to the multilateral system. This would be the right strategy to follow if HMG/DFID believed that the multilateral system was more effective (at the margin) than the bilateral system AND if HMG/DFID were a ‘good’ donor to the system. These are complicated questions, of the kind that should be addressed by the forthcoming bilateral and multilateral aid reviews. Note, however, that the two reviews should be much better coordinated than in the last round – treated as one exercise not two. The Committee could insist on this.

In the bottom right hand quadrant, HMG/DFID provide multiple inputs to the poorest countries, especially fragile states. In this quadrant, HMG/DFID engagement goes beyond development and humanitarian aid, to include a whole range of interventions (of the kind discussed in the Committee’s own Beyond Aid Enquiry), but, especially in fragile states, diplomatic and military support, as well as action on illegal resource transfers. HMG/DFID have definite strengths in this area, although there are other actors to consider, including the UN and the EU.

In the top right hand quadrant, HMG/DFID concentrate on shaping global frameworks and delivering global public goods. Again, HMG/DFID have definite strengths, across Government, evident in the SDG negotiations, in climate talks, and e.g. in preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit. A key question, though, is whether DFIDDepartment for International Development adds more value by acting bilaterally, or by working through other channels, like the EU. It is important that work on policy frameworks be backed up by funding – as is the case, for example, with the International Climate Fund.

A personal view is that HMG/DFID will make the greatest possible contribution to the SDGs by moving at the margin from the bottom half of the scenario matrix to the top half: maintaining bilateral engagement in both the aid and non-aid spheres, but gradually increasing the profile, funding and staffing of multilateral aid and work on global public goods.

In sectoral terms, the new agenda of economic development fills gaps, but may require further investment in capacity. This priority would be consistent with the Committee’s previous work and also the views of the Secretary of State. Climate change should be a central preoccupation, in work on economic development and more widely.

Overall, the UK should maximise its strengths in research, policy-making and innovation, as well as an exceptional NGONon-governmental organisation sector providing both development and humanitarian aid. It could develop a stronger line of business linking development and security in fragile states (working with multilateral institutions). The UK could also be a world leader on: policy and practice in dealing with climate change; industrial policy; health; probably energy; and (depending on what others do) perhaps also cities and transport. However, this list is somewhat speculative.

The process of building comparative advantage on the ‘new’ topics may need to be accelerated.

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