REPLY Joakim Stymne paints a very positive picture of the government's reforms of development aid and Fredrik Segerfeldt interprets development aid research too ideologically. Sida has been underdeveloped in terms of follow-up and analysis of results, while Minister for Development Aid Gunilla Carlsson's mistrust of the aid's implementers has hampered constructive improvements. What is missing is a management culture that systematically takes advantage of knowledge. That is the opinion of Lisa Román, freelance writer and former head of Sida's unit for development analysis.
The former State Secretary for Development Cooperation, Joakim Stymne, and the former producer of ideas at the liberal think tank Timbro, Fredrik Segerfeldt, have had an aid debate in the Norwegian conservative student magazine Minerva. The posts have been translated and found their way to the website Biståndsdebatten.se on 10 and 11 October 2011.
I also know Joakim Stymne and have great respect for him and for the seriousness with which he is involved in development issues. However, I read with some difficulty his writing of history of the past five years' Swedish development aid policy. I am even more thoughtful about Segerfeldt's response, which I think reflects an overly ideological interpretation of the research findings around development aid. IN min historiography is the most prominent result of the past five years that the government has failed to build structures for knowledge about development, and structures to take advantage of this knowledge. Thus, they continue to fumble about the direction of development aid, which partly also explains why they have not come any further with the reform ambitions.
Stymne points out the chronic mistrust between the government and the difficult-to-control Sida. My view is that Sida certainly had a tradition of independence / autonomy in relation to relatively weak ministers and an understaffed ministry, but that mistrust has rather grown under the current government's tight reins, failed managerial recruitments and lack of confidence in Sida.
In 2006, Sida summarized an ongoing change work in the publication "Here we stand. There we go”. The text speaks, among other things, of the need for increased focus on results, increased country and sector concentration and a trusting collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sida's publication confirms how I remember Sida when the government took office: it welcomed the country and sector focus, the profit agenda as well as the reorganization of Sida, under the leadership of a newly appointed CEO. That the latter then led into a dead end and drained the organization of money, energy and expertise is another story. But Stymne's image of Sida feels like a brain ghost from the radical 70s. A lot has happened since then. There is still a lot to do and discuss when it comes to managing and within the plant. Several of the government's measures to streamline the roles are good, I think. One would only wish that the process had been somewhat less marked by mutual mistrust.
The focusing work
When it comes to the focus and the results agenda, my assessment is that the results (!) So far have been quite limited. That land focus is a difficult nut to crack is discussed Göran Holmqvist and Mats Hårsmar on Biståndsdebatten.se. They show that the number of countries receiving Swedish development assistance has decreased only marginally since 2005. While a lot of countries have been closed down for focus purposes, several new ones have been added. An underlying reason, I think, is that the focus was carried out according to certain criteria, but how these criteria were weighed for each country has remained unreported and thus not indicative when new countries have sailed up. In addition, it is almost impossible to keep demands on aid to new countries at bay when aid is in practice justified by so many different domestic and international reasons.
Another focus work aims for Sweden to participate in fewer sectors in each country in accordance with the Paris Declaration. The Government now clearly defines in its cooperation strategies in which areas Sweden shall be active in each country. It is commendable to do fewer things with greater vigor. On the other hand, it is of course very difficult in practice, both to delimit sectors by definition and to hold back people's interests from their specialties, when also, of course, the development process in poor countries requires efforts in almost all areas. Thus, all concentration efforts become complicated, regardless of whether you want to limit sectors or topics or perhaps themes.
The government's demand for clearer results has generally been good. I have been surprised that Sida has been so underdeveloped when it comes to systematic follow-up and analysis. But much can go wrong when it comes to strengthening performance management: the need for control must not stifle trust and creativity
The results agenda
The government's demand for clearer results has generally been good. I have been surprised that Sida has been so underdeveloped when it comes to systematic follow-up and analysis. But much can go wrong when performance management is to be strengthened: the need for control must not stifle trust and creativity, the business must not steer towards what is measurable rather than what is most favorable for development, the follow-up system must not be too resource-consuming, and so on. My feeling is, again, that the Minister for Development Aid's distrust of the aid workers has made constructive work more difficult in order to increase the focus on results.
Nevertheless, things have happened in terms of focus on results, both within Sida and in development aid in general. But quite a lot of what is done and reported continues to be anecdotally and amateurishly designed, the systems have simply not developed at the same pace as the rhetoric. In recent days, the State Treasury has presented an evaluation of the government's performance management model, which criticizes a complex and difficult-to-understand control system. It is quite obvious that all this (messy) work with performance management methodological issues has seized resources at ministries and at Sida, at the expense of work with content issues.
Knowledge of aid structures
The government has not been able to design an administrative structure that develops and benefits from knowledge on development issues in a systematic way. These include a lack of ability or interest in using external expertise. It is striking that the attempts to absorb current international research on development problems in bodies created by the government, such as EGDI (Expert Group for Development Issues) and later the Development Policy Council, have been discontinued. And the results work would probably have been better if it had involved more experts in, among other things, statistics, economics, political science and more, with a driven ability to structure and see purposes, information needs and reporting systems.
A greater awareness on the part of the government about what independent evaluation actually means could probably have built something that in the long run would have been really useful.
But one must also have an internal expertise with the capacity to absorb external proposals, research findings and development aid debate and measure this against one's own experience. The government has not been clear enough about the need to strengthen competence through long-term recruitment and the demand for such functions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not have sufficient resources and the government has hovered over the goal when it comes to Sida's role as an expert authority. When it comes to such complex matters as development issues, the policy would be of great benefit to an authority that can provide the ministry with experience from co - operation in the countries and link these own experiences with relevant research findings. The government has also not succeeded in shaping the so-called independent evaluation authority Sadev, which could have been the body that on an overall level evaluates how Swedish tax funds for development assistance are used. A greater awareness of the government about what independent evaluation actually means could probably have built something that in the long run would have been really useful.
With greater interest and openness to knowledge development and knowledge management, the government could have received support in performance work, concentration issues and other key development issues. Perhaps it would also have been possible to avoid the motley patchwork of policies, strategies, government letters, thematic priorities, special initiatives and more that now guide development assistance. And perhaps it would also have been possible to get better guidance on the major issues that Fredrik Segerfeldt is interested in, those about the effects of development aid on development.
The aid debate
Both Stymne and Segerfeldt boast of having turned the development aid debate away from the special interests' call for more resources. But there is something insidious about constantly discrediting every post from NGOs or others with experience in aid issues by claiming that they are only asking for resources for themselves. It is as if every time a doctor appeals for increased resources for his own area of care, dismiss the arguments that the doctor is only looking to secure his own livelihood, not that he sees the needs.
The trick works in development aid, perhaps because it involves activities far away from ordinary taxpayers. And of course there is a real problem here. We who assist with our tax money have very little opportunity to evaluate for ourselves whether what is being done in the area of development assistance makes sense. And development aid creates interests among its actors to maintain status quo for a variety of reasons, which is just one of many problems with aid. But that is precisely why a system is needed in evaluation and qualified development assistance debate on what can be done and what should not be done, so that taxpayers in Sweden can be confident that Swedish development assistance identifies and finances initiatives that have the best possible conditions to contribute to poverty reduction. .
"But it is one thing that major societal changes are needed to reduce poverty, another thing is the extent to which development assistance can achieve this. I really agree that institutions are very important for development. But then Segerfeldt categorically claims that aid leads to deteriorating institutions in developing countries. "
Fredrik Segerfeldt, with his commitment and writing ability, could be a resource in this context. But then he must come to terms with his ideological blinders and make a more rigorous reasoning. In a polemic with Stymne, he claims that development assistance aims to create growth and be transformative, but that development assistance in fact destroys the institutions that are prerequisites for growth, sustainable development and poverty reduction. But it is one thing that major societal changes are needed to reduce poverty, another thing is the extent to which development assistance can achieve this. I really agree that institutions are very important for development. But then Segerfeldt categorically claims that aid leads to deteriorating institutions in developing countries. In its Economic Debatearticle he refers, among other things, to an article by Jakob Svensson which shows that “aid tends to increase corruption and the pursuit of privilege in the recipient countries” (p. 26), but he does not say that this outcome applies in certain circumstances, not always. In the same ED article, he also cites a study by Deborah Bräutigam and Stephen Knack who finds that development aid has had major negative effects on the institutions in Africa. But he does not reproduce any of the interesting and qualified discussion that the authors have about how aid could be given to counteract this. It is difficult to understand why Segerfeldt makes such partial readings of the literature. Is he so enthralled by his own crusade against development aid that he does not want to complicate things by also questioning his own views?
The major questions about, when and how development assistance promotes development are related to the design of Swedish development assistance and how this is managed. Stymne says that it is important to know what we do and why and I can only agree with that. But then the system must have the ability to take advantage of knowledge and systematically generate knowledge about one's own experiences. And we must all dare to examine our own preconceived notions.
This is a reply to Joakim Stymne's article “Believe in aid properly(2011-10-10)
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