Expert knowledge and knowledge exchanges are fundamental for a functioning development collaboration. Prioritizing it to reduce aid bureaucracy is both stupid and short-sighted. Then it will be difficult to navigate in our complex world, says Inge Gerremo who has 50 years of experience working with Swedish development assistance.
Chasing bureaucracy is usually legal and justified, something that the Swedish development assistance administration has been doing for many years. But it can also lead to efforts being based on too weak knowledge.
"Investments in knowledge usually pay off in the long run. The disenfranchised bureaucracy makes many important contributions to international aid. "
This is one of Professor Daniel Tarschy's reflections in a recently published report, Development assistance management costs. Too big? Or maybe too small? which he wrote on behalf of the Expert Group for Aid Analysis, EBA, in the Government Offices. He partly conveys those thoughts in an article on DN Debatt, partly in a guest column here in Utvecklingsmagasinet.
Development cooperation is about knowledge exchange
Development cooperation is primarily about knowledge exchange. But in recent decades, Swedish development cooperation has mainly come to be about money. With as little administration as possible, 1 percent of Sweden's GNI will be channeled to different countries. Or the money goes to international organizations without any more in-depth knowledge-related follow-up. In recent years, the development assistance authority Sida has been forced into an increasingly reduced administration at the same time as sharply increasing development assistance funds have been made available.
Since the creation of Sida in 1965, Swedish development assistance has focused on so-called technical assistance, ie the transfer of knowledge that has gradually been increasingly seen as a exchange of knowledge. In addition, there was initially extensive financial assistance in the form of favorable loans. The knowledge development assistance in particular was equipped with staff who could - and above all learned - the various subject areas in the foreign environments Swedish assistance had to deal with. One of these was agriculture, which many newly developed countries needed to speed up in order to secure their food supply. It is just as relevant today and that was where I came to work myself.
During the various stages of the work, a qualified dialogue was required from the development assistance authority with stakeholders in order to be able to guide the efforts forward and achieve the results that were jointly agreed. During the course of the work, a critical mass, a significant knowledge bank, was developed within Sida with the task of gradually enabling ever better efforts in dialogue with decision-makers within both its own authority and the government and the Riksdag.
This applied to a number of priority areas in development cooperation, such as education, health issues, family planning, industry, infrastructure, administration, culture and agriculture. As an example, Sida's own expertise in the areal industries consisted of about 15 people with knowledge in relevant parts of the area, such as plant cultivation, animal issues, veterinary medicine, fishing and forestry issues. Many employees came from relevant authorities, others from the industry. In addition, expertise with a broader economic or social science background was added in order to be able to contribute with a broader perspective and place the efforts in their socio-economic context. When such efforts were to be implemented, it was required that the development assistance authority could also provide itself with expertise that worked daily on the issues both nationally and in other countries - and not least at relevant international organizations.
Used experts at universities and other authorities
In order to find expertise, among other things, various support points were established at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Swedish Board of Fisheries, the Royal Institute of Technology and the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University. This important collaboration towards a common goal was made possible on the basis of the motto of the time in Swedish public administration, "State authorities must shake hands", coined already by Axel Oxenstierna in the form of government of 1634. In addition, there were extensive contacts and cooperation with relevant UN bodies, in this case mainly the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. This in turn provided good opportunities to assist the Government Offices in the multilateral work.
This was the expertise that the Swedish development assistance administration considered itself to need, and this in a situation with significantly fewer development assistance funds at its disposal than today. This approach created great opportunities for both broad and deep knowledge of the complexity of development cooperation. It was also the level of knowledge that the Riksdag and the government felt was needed to guarantee an efficient and knowledgeable development assistance administration. It should be compared with a few subject representatives today in today's organization in current areas. These differing assessments of what requires effective and reliable cooperation are difficult to understand, not least in the light of the increasingly complex world in which development cooperation finds itself.
Against this background, I am convinced that the current development assistance administration would also need to be strengthened with significant expert knowledge within the framework of what is sometimes a bit condescending and also a bit superfluous defined as administration. My own experience after many years of development cooperation is that the exchange of knowledge is often much more important than the money that is conveyed and that exchange begins for the Swedish part already in Sida. At the same time, reasonable capacity is required on both sides for a fruitful dialogue, I also realize, but then only the transfer of money risks causing other problems. Through his investigation, Daniel Tarschys raises an important question when he analyzes today's so-called "disguised bureaucracy".