A Post-Busan Results Agenda

December 15, 2011

It’s back to business in the aid industry with the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) behind us, although the impact of the Forum and its communiqué, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, will likely continue to be debated for some time.  

The concept of managing for results was one of the areas most emphasized through the various stages of drafting the outcome document, and one of the biggest shortcomings in progress identified in an independent evaluation of the Paris Declaration. Did HLF4 make headway on the results agenda? It’s hard to say because, for one thing, we’re starting with lack of clarity on what is meant by a results agenda.  The Paris Declaration emphasized donors and recipient countries being accountable to each other for demonstrating results produced, but we often hear more about donor agencies’ accountability for results to their taxpayers. In Busan, official discussions fortunately started to shift a little towards the importance of governments’ accountability to citizens in developing countries (see Nancy Birdsall’s comments). The different aspects of results and accountability that come to mind when one thinks of the ‘results agenda’ don’t always converge, as Owen Barder has pointed out.

If the agenda is simply about how to better use aid to produce long-term results for developing countries, something we’d all like to see, then the verdict is still out on whether HLF4 delivered. Donors said they would do more of the things associated with achieving sustainable results: such as ensuring ownership by using country systems as the “default” and untying more aid – although any decisions about setting concrete targets or monitoring progress were tabled until mid-2012. Some of the harder changes will require stronger political will, something that was talked about a lot in Busan, although it remains to be seen how much the high level representatives that were there (like Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the opening ceremony) will make change happen in their home countries.  

For now, the way forward may best be outlined in the Results and Accountability Building Block. Although the Busan building blocks are not a part of the outcome document, they are what Brian Atwood called in this blog post “the substance of Busan” – actionable proposals for how the new development partnership will be implemented. Endorsing a building block is purely voluntary, which may make it easier for real progress to occur; Owen Barder explains here and here why a “coalition of the willing” might be the best bet for progress post-Busan, similar to how the aid transparency movement has made headway since HLF3 in Accra, alongside, but not really a part of the official process.

The Results and Accountability Building Block, led by the UK Department for International Development, has nearly 30 supporters - enough to move it forward.  It calls for a streamlined, developing country-led results frameworks that set out a limited number of output and outcome indicators; several countries (Rwanda has repeatedly been mentioned as the most successful) have been developing these frameworks since the Paris Declaration was signed in 2005, but what makes these efforts even more promising now is: (1) there is a stronger commitment to make these country-led, with a parallel framework for donors to assess their own performance, (2) frameworks are supported by efforts to strengthen country statistical systems, as described in the Busan Action Plan for Statistics, (3) transparency of results is emphasized and these frameworks are meant to complement international aid transparency commitments, which include results reporting as a part of the second phase of the International Aid Transparency Initiative standard.

The building block outlines more initiatives developing countries and donors can take to improve the delivery and measurement of results, including results-based aid.  We at CGD argue that Cash on Delivery, a ‘pure’ form of results-based aid, is designed to maximize country ownership, and the accountability of donor and developing country governments to their own citizens. In a side event that we sponsored in Busan with DFID and other donor agencies, the consensus was very much that it’s worth piloting and learning from more results-based approaches. Leaders of agencies engaged in implementing results-based approaches (DFID, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida, European Commission, World Bank) committed to trying more results-based aid, and showing that this approach is not about ‘picking easy wins’.

The donors and developing country governments that support the building block (this includes Sweden, Norway, the US, the European Commission, the Global Fund, Rwanda, Tanzania, and several others)  are working together to implement new frameworks that show how they plan to ‘focus on results’, and, most importantly, put developing countries in charge of defining the results they want to achieve. Donor agencies are coordinating their efforts which hopefully will lead to common frameworks not only for results reporting, but for evaluation and learning practices (as Nancy and I called for here).  When the first evaluation of the Busan outcome document comes out, let’s hope that there’s no mention of an ambiguous ‘results agenda’, but rather a few specific examples of how a sharpened results focus has made aid a better catalyst for development.


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.