Aid Coordination on the Ground: Are Joint Country Assistance Strategies the Answer?


Fragmentation in aid architecture and aid delivery is a well-recognized challenge. The question of what to do about fragmentation remains puzzling with no obvious answers. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness represents an effort by donor and recipient governments to harmonize their cooperation in a comprehensive manner, with guidelines and targets that aim to improve the effectiveness of aid.

One of the aspects not addressed in the Paris Declaration is how a comprehensive approach to aid coordination at the international level would be implemented on the ground at the country level. The Paris Declaration aims to improve specific modalities of cooperation (such as the use of country systems for procurement and financial management, joint donor missions, the elimination of project implementation units, and the increase in recipient government ownership of programs, etc.), but the Declaration provides little guidance on how donors and recipient governments would plan and implement improved cooperation at the country level to effectively deploy these modalities.

One way to respond systematically and comprehensively to the agreements of the Paris Declaration at the country level is for donors and recipient governments to prepare joint country assistance strategies. While this is not explicitly envisaged or mandated in the Paris Declaration, donor teams and recipient governments have come together in at least 12 countries to prepare joint strategies for a better coordinated and harmonized aid delivery and use. They have done this generally without much support from their headquarters or from OECD DAC experts and without the benefit of a systematic evaluation of the growing body of experience with the preparation and the implementation of joint country strategies.

The purpose of this paper is to report on and draw lessons from the experience with the preparation and implementation of joint country assistance strategies. The analysis draws on two sources of information: It reflects the lessons from the author’s personal involvement as a facilitator in the preparation of a joint country assistance strategy in Tajikistan. While such direct association as a “participant observer” brings with it risks of possible biases in interpretation, it has the great advantage of close, first-hand observation. Since the Tajikistan process was not yet completed at the time of writing this paper, the descriptions and conclusions from this case study can only be seen as preliminary. Second, the paper draws on a desk review of available documentation of country experiences elsewhere in the world, much of it informal and qualitative. No claim to completeness or statistical significance of conclusions can be made. Furthermore, the joint country assistance strategy process, as it is implemented on the ground, does not currently follow any standard format or approach, since there is no explicit agreement (and quite some variance) on (1) the main purpose and objectives of joint strategy process, (2) what are the necessary elements/components, or (3) even whose instrument it should be (donors or partner country government).

Therefore, this paper is only a first step in an effort to fill a substantial gap in our understanding of how the Paris Declaration commitments are being implemented on the ground and the role that joint country assistance strategies can or should play in this implementation process. One of the main conclusions of this paper is that a more systematic evaluation of completed and ongoing joint country assistance strategies is an urgent priority.

Following this introduction, the first section reviews the Paris Declaration and its links to joint country assistance strategies. The next section provides an overview of the available assessments of joint country strategy experience. This is followed by a section that assesses specific aspects of the joint country strategy process, drawing on worldwide experience as well as the Tajik experience. The concluding section presents overall conclusions and recommendations for the development partners involved in efforts to improve aid effectiveness at the country level. An Annex reports the details of the evolving process of preparing the Tajikistan joint country strategy.