Many of the problems we are trying to solve involve supporting the emergence of successful complex systems – social and political institutions, economic change and the formation of various kinds of social capital. These complex processes cannot easily be broken down into a series of steps which will predictably lead to the outcomes we want to see. Instead these solutions evolve: taking small steps, finding out what moves in the right direction, and building on progress. The aid industry’s habit of reducing everything into a series of processes and activities which can be planned, tracked and reported not only fails to support this evolution, it can stifle it by preventing both the innovation and the adaptation that evolution requires. Focusing mainly on results can enable the aid business to resist the tendency to plan and prescribe, and so create space for the emergence of sustainable local institutions and systems.This last motivation is fundamental to the idea of COD Aid. It is why #2 above -- using results to improve aid -- is not a key motivation of COD Aid. #2 puts the focus on what the aid industry does about development and not on what countries and countries’ citizens choose to do given their local setting. It risks the aid industry, with its “lessons” about what works in general (inputs associated with outputs – schools and teachers associated with higher enrollment) imposing those lessons everywhere, reducing instead of enlarging local space to experiment, stumble, recover and build. This last motivation also clarifies why COD Aid would not invite short-termism and would potentially support long-run institution building. Development is a complex process; a key motivation of COD Aid is to make space and allow time (say over five years) for a country and a government to fail, learn, adjust and recalibrate. Again quoting from Owen:
. . . .we should be thinking about ‘post-bureaucratic aid’. Our existing systems have tended to lead to excessive outside prescription and micromanagement; and in principle they should not be needed if we can observe directly the results about which we really care.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.