Nurture relationships for increased aid efficiency

Ownership, realism, coherence and relationships with partners are some of the internal factors that need to be given greater attention - and reflection - in bilateral development cooperation. This is shown by a new report from the Expert Group for Development Aid Analysis (EBA), which looks at Sweden's long-term development cooperation with Uganda. The reporting of results must also be reviewed to adapt to real conditions, writes the report's author Stein-Erik Kruse.

EBA has recently released one investigation report on Sweden's bilateral development cooperation with Uganda during the period 2009-2015. The study had two goals - partly to develop a model for evaluating the donor's performance at country level, and partly to apply the model to Sweden's development cooperation with Uganda.

How aid is provided plays a role in its effectiveness. This is the basic premise of the EBA study. Of course, there are lots of external factors that affect, but the study focuses on internal influencing factors because these can be changed by the donor. The question is: What is “good development assistance” and what internal factors affect the effectiveness of development assistance? There are plenty of unspoken assumptions about this among decision-makers, aid workers and evaluators, but the fact is that empirical studies in the field are quite new. So what does the EBA study show?

1) Who owns the strategy?

The study shows that it is highly relevant to discuss how development cooperation's country strategies and measurable goals and results can be developed more "bottom up", so that recipient countries feel greater ownership. There is a need for greater involvement of local partners in the strategy process. It is also important to discuss what is considered a “good” country strategy and to find a balance between clear instructions and flexibility.

2) A good country strategy is realistic

The strategic goals in the country strategies are broad, complex and ambitious given the modest amount of resources available (an average of SEK 308 million per year in Uganda). The relatively small contributions can have large catalytic effects, but such effects have so far been poor at measuring and documenting. The Swedish research collaboration with Makerere University in Uganda is an example of successful long-term capacity development. However, the current country strategy with indicators and objectives at national and / or broad thematic level leads to under-reporting of results, which are mainly found at project and program level.

3) Consistency in the efforts

The country strategy is based on the assumption that all development assistance efforts contribute to the fulfillment of a few strategic goals, and that project data can be used to measure total results at sectoral and national level. This can be questioned for two reasons: First, the objectives of each project cover a wide range of activities. Secondly, it can be argued that the 'country portfolio' is in fact a collection of separate development assistance initiatives grouped under a set of strategic objectives, rather than a coherent program. The strategy has mainly served to legitimize, rather than guide the focus of the efforts. The actual planning has taken place at project and program level. 

4) Report real results

The annual reports from the Embassy in Uganda to Sida and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm are based on the country strategy and success is assessed against indicators at the macro level. From a national and / or thematic perspective, therefore, only modest successes can be seen, despite the fact that in evaluations of programs and projects there is clear evidence of both short- and long-term results. The reporting of results is governed by the focus on the macro level. The arrangement is neither adapted to real conditions nor to how the embassy actually works. A more inductive method based on concrete development assistance efforts and then trying to track direct and indirect effects at the macro level could provide better information on results at all levels.

5) Government versus non-government channels

The Swedish government wants to support locally owned policies and methods, but has deliberately chosen to avoid support through state channels due to risks of corruption and governments' violations of human rights. Actors from civil society and the private sector are given priority as contractual partners. All programs and projects in the Swedish portfolio are managed and financed today through non-state channels, but are still marked as money to the institutions in the recipient country. The question is to what extent this is a sustainable arrangement - because it inevitably affects the perceived ownership of the receiving government and the ability to achieve broader, long-term goals.

6) Bureaucracy versus relationship management

Another important issue is how much time donors' staff are forced to spend on meeting internal bureaucratic requirements, compared to the time they can spend creating and nurturing relationships. Although staff see the importance of being accountable to local partners and ensuring their participation, administrative and financial issues can increasingly occupy their time and capacity. This type of development is often found in studies of modern bureaucracies. It would not be a surprise if the same type of development was found in donors.


The internal factors are contributing - not decisive - to the effectiveness of aid. In most cases, the internal factors play an indirect role in complex causal relationships. It is impossible to prove and measure the relative importance of the internal factors for aid effectiveness.

The internal factors are not unique to Uganda, but are general variables. Therefore, the EBA study evaluation model and approach can be used in other countries as well, although the relative importance of each factor may vary. Future studies should, however, broaden the perspective, include more internal factors and cover the entire Swedish development assistance activities - beyond individual embassies and recipient countries. We also need to look closely at collaboration with implementing partners, as most of the internal factors have to do with relationships.

Stein-Erik Kruse

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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