When the aid community meets at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Republic of Korea, in November 2011, they will have two tasks. The first is to take stock of commitments to improve the quality of aid made at previous forums in Paris and Accra. The second is to establish a new Global Compact that can drive further effectiveness improvements in the official aid sector while capturing the different circumstances under which aid today is delivered.
Taking stock of progress is now easier because commitments at the Paris High Level Forum were specified in quantitative terms and a global monitoring framework is in place to measure progress. The fieldwork for the most recent survey has just been completed and while the results are not yet known, it is already clear that there will be shortfalls against targets in some areas. Nevertheless, the process of setting up indicators, targets and monitoring instruments has proven its worth in supporting accountability, knowledge and learning. As targets for the Paris indicators were only specified up to 2010, a key success factor for Busan will be the development of a new set of targets and indicators to underpin ongoing dialogue on improving aid effectiveness.
How aid is delivered matters (Killen, 2010). This maxim is easily lost amid the standard discourse on aid which focuses attention on two narrow debates: whether total aid flows are sufficiently generous, and whether aid, in general, is effective or not. While these debates are of interest, they are of little help to aid agencies who must decide who to give their aid to, what form it should take, under what conditions and arrangements, and for what purpose.
The Paris High Level Forum in 2005 served as a watershed in global dialogue on aid effectiveness issues. At that meeting, donors and recipient countries jointly agreed to gauge their political resolve to improve aid quality by setting time-bound global targets aimed at changing the way aid is delivered. Twelve indicators of aid effectiveness were selected, each with a baseline 2005 value calculated and a target 2010 value agreed to, at the global level. The indicators and targets, in turn, were organized around five principles of effective aid: ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for results and mutual accountability.
Progress towards the targets is monitored through periodic global surveys. The results of the 2006 baseline survey and the 2008 interim survey were important inputs into the Accra High Level Forum. The 2011 survey will similarly inform the discussions at Busan later this year.
This approach has yielded important results. By the time of the Accra High Level Forum, significant achievements had already been recorded in select areas, including the untying of aid, the coordination of technical cooperation, and improvements in the reliability of partner governments’ financial systems. By contrast, in other areas, such as making aid more predictable and encouraging donors to actually use partners’ financial and procurement systems, as well as the development of results frameworks and mutual accountability mechanisms at the country level, progress has been slower and in some cases, very modest (OECD DAC, 2008).
While progress on indicators is expected to have advanced since that time, the results of the 2011 survey will reveal that many of the targets have not been met. This is clearly a disappointment. At the same time, stretch targets have been shown to play a useful role in the aid system so it is unclear that the targets were inappropriately set (Kharas, 2010). Furthermore, over the course of the past six years, significant learning has taken place in terms of what is required to bring about organizational and cultural change within aid agencies to implement the Paris principles, so several agencies are now well placed to move forward and meet the targets in the near future. As one example, signatories to the International Aid Transparency Initiative have only recently developed platforms that can support the commitments made to raise the share of aid recorded on partner country budgets and the predictability of aid.
Moreover, even though changes in aid delivery behavior and practice have fallen short of what was hoped for, the “Paris process” has undeniably been useful in changing mindsets about aid quality and promoting the importance of metrics and evidence in judging aid effectiveness. The adoption of indicators and targets as a basis for tracking performance, benchmarking and standard setting, has generated a valuable discourse on what constitutes effective aid in different sectors and country circumstances.