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6: Contextual Factors: Under What Circumstances is Denmark Most Influential?

As highlighted in the previous section, Danish development efforts have spanned across all regions of the developing world while their scope and intensity have varied significantly across different regions and countries. More than a mere transfer of financial resources, Denmark engages in ongoing policy dialogues with government, civil society, and private sector stakeholders through its local embassies (Engberg-Pedersen, 2014; Danida, 2000 and 2011; OECD-DAC, 2011b). Over time, Danish development partners have used a variety of terms to describe a subset of countries with which they have longer-term (and deeper) engagements that involve both political and financial investments (OECD, 2007 and 2011; Danida, 2010 and 2016).[27]

Denmark’s priority countries are selected based upon three criteria: assessment of development needs, relevance of the partnership with the country, and the opportunity for Denmark to contribute to sustainable results (Danida, 2016). Figure 12 visualises Denmark’s priority countries, the majority of which are in Africa. As Blagescu and Young (2005, p.15) describe, these partnerships “involve obligations” and compliance with the core values of Danish development cooperation (e.g., respect for human rights and democracy, the environment, and good governance), which are closely monitored and evaluated by the Danish government, as well as the partner countries themselves (Engberg-Pedersen 2014).

Figure 12: Denmark’s Priority Countries for Development Cooperation Partnerships

Figure 12 Source: Introduction to Danida. “Priority Countries”. Retrieved May 2016 from: http://introductiontodanida.um.dk/en/danida-at-work/danidas-work-at-a-glance/priority-countries/.

Why is it that Denmark is more influential in some countries than others? To what extent does context matter in determining whether countries view Danish development cooperation more or less favourably? As discussed in sections 2 and 5, participants from sub-Saharan Africa are more familiar with Denmark and view its performance more favourably compared with other regions of the world. Since the 179 participants from 40 low- and middle-income countries reported working with Danish development partners at some phase of the policy process,[28] we have the opportunity to go even deeper to explore the driving factors for variations in Denmark’s perceived performance by country. In the remainder of this section, we identify six of these driving factors.

6.1 The intensity of Danish aid investments may yield an influence dividend.

There is a strong positive relationship between aid intensity[29] and two aspects of perceived performance: agenda-setting influence and helpfulness in reform implementation (see Figure 13).[30] Survey participants from countries that received higher levels of aid from Denmark found Danish development partners to be more influential in shaping policy priorities and helpful in implementing related reforms. In this respect, Denmark’s financial contributions appear to add “weight” to its policy advice as it attempts to influence and support reforms in partner countries.

Figure 13: Aid, Agenda-Setting Influence, and Helpfulness in Reform Implementation

Figure 13 Notes: these scatterplots show relationships between the amount of net Danish ODA (USD2013, log-transformed), agenda-setting influence (left) and helpfulness in reform implementation (right) at the country level. The country-level scores of agenda-setting influence and helpfulness in reform implementation are computed based on averaging survey participants’ responses for each country (with non-response weights). The number of observations used to compute average scores are reported in brackets.

6.2 Partnership ties grow stronger over time and translate into more favourable perceptions of performance.

If partnerships are vehicles for imparting the core values and ideas of Danish development cooperation, the policy influence Denmark exerts in its priority countries versus other countries should vary. Denmark has sought to build a closer tie with its partner/priority countries through policy dialogue and financial support while also carefully monitoring the process of policy reform in those countries (Blagescu and Young 2005). Thus, Danida is expected to enjoy greater leverage on shaping policy priorities of its priority/partner countries, in comparison to non-partner/priority countries where Denmark has lower bargaining power. This is indeed what we find based upon responses to the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey. Denmark’s priority countries see Danish development partners as particularly influential in shaping their reform decisions and helpful in implementing reform efforts, compared to non-priority countries (see Figure 14).

This dynamic appears to become more pronounced over time: long-time partner countries rate Denmark the highest on agenda-setting influence (3.115) and helpfulness in reform implementation (3.651), followed by more recent partner countries. Non-priority countries view Danish development cooperation less favourably in terms of influence (1.530) and helpfulness (2.764).[31] These findings suggest that Denmark’s strategy of building long-term partnerships is working well and is likely to generate even greater influence over time with counterparts in its priority countries.

Figure 14: Long-term priority countries perceive Denmark as most influential and helpful

Figure 14 Notes: This shows the average scores of agenda-setting influence (left) and helpfulness in reform implementation (right) for three different groups of countries: long-time partners, recent partners, and non-priority countries. (See Table A-4 for how countries are classified in terms of their partnership with Denmark). The country-level scores of agenda-setting influence and helpfulness in reform implementation are computed based on averaging survey participants’ responses for each partnership group (with non-response weights). Error bars indicate +/- one standard error.

6.3 Denmark is perceived to be particularly influential in shaping reform efforts in the least developed countries (LDCs).[32]

This finding is largely consistent with the pro-poor focus of Danish development cooperation and the explicit prioritisation of countries where development needs are greatest (Minoiu and Reddy, 2010). See Figure 15. A large share of Danish development finance is invested in low-income countries such as Mozambique and Uganda, and a majority of Denmark’s partner countries are also LDCs (OECD-DAC 2011).[33] Since LDCs rely heavily on external development finance to keep themselves afloat, development partners may enjoy greater bargaining power to shape their policy priorities and reform agendas (e.g., through aid conditionality). Our finding seems to capture this dynamic.

Figure 15: Denmark is perceived to be particularly influential in shaping reform efforts in least developed countries

Figure 15 Notes: these scatterplots show relationships between GDP per capita (log-transformed) and agenda-setting influence at the country level. The country-level scores of agenda-setting influence are computed based on averaging survey participants’ responses for each country (with non-response weights). The number of observations used to compute average scores are reported in brackets.

6.4 Denmark does not seem to be perceived to be more influential in fragile states.

In recent years, Denmark has increasingly supported stabilisation and reconstruction in fragile and conflict-affected states where political instability and security threats have derailed development efforts (Danida, 2012). The growing number of fragile states in partnership with Denmark reflects the latter’s growing interest in this area.[34] Nonetheless, we find that there is a weak relationship[35] between the level of state fragility[36] and how survey participants rated Denmark’s performance on all three measures of influence, usefulness, and helpfulness (see Figure 16).

Based on our data, we do not have enough evidence to suggest that Denmark has exerted greater influence in fragile states vis-à-vis non-fragile states. The lack of a statistically significant relationship, however, by no means suggests that Denmark did not play a particularly important role in the reform process in fragile states. Three possible explanations exist. First, Denmark has only recently shifted its focus towards fragile states. If perceptions of development partner performance are a lagging indicator in fragile states, it will be instructive to monitor in future waves of the survey whether and how Denmark’s favourability in these countries changes over time. Second, fragile states are often grappling with intractable political and economic issues that are difficult to redress in a short time span. Reform processes are more easily delayed or derailed, as governments lack the institutional capacity to undertake and implement needed reforms. Our findings may reflect this dynamic and explain why Denmark’s agenda-setting influence may be curtailed. Finally, in fragile settings, development partners such as Denmark often channel assistance through multi-donor or multilateral trust funds that may dilute or obscure their role, as domestic stakeholders are less likely to know which countries are providing assistance.

Figure 16: Agenda-Setting Influence and State Fragility

Figure 16

6.5 Denmark’s frequent communication appears to yield an influence dividend.

In line with our earlier finding, we find that Denmark is perceived to be more useful in providing policy advice and also influential in shaping reform agendas in countries where survey participants communicated more frequently with Denmark (Figure 17). This is perhaps indicative of the quality and usefulness of interactions between Denmark and in-country stakeholders, which helps translate the communication into more tangible outcomes in terms of policy influence.[37] Close communication between donors and their partners fosters a mutual understanding about policy priorities and reform opportunities, whereby both parties become accountable for the outcomes of the reform process (USAID 2007). Efforts to engage with local stakeholders through various channels of communication also allow donors to build upon their local knowledge to better assist reform process while donor-recipient policy dialogue also helps clarify donors’ expectations about the pace and scope of reform efforts in the eyes of policymakers in aid-recipient countries (Ibid.).

Figure 17: Frequent communication helps Denmark gain influence

Notes: these scatterplots show relationships between the frequency of communication, on the one hand, and the usefulness of policy advice (left) and agenda-setting influence (right) at the country level. The country-level scores of policy advice usefulness and agenda-setting influence are computed based on averaging survey participants’ responses for each country (with non-response weights). The number of observations used to compute average scores are reported in brackets (the first number on the left in brackets refers to the number of observations used to compute the usefulness of policy advice or agenda-setting influence scores; the second number on the right in brackets refers to the number of observations used to compute the frequency of communication scores).

6.6 Denmark’s perceived influence does not depend on partner countries’ level of democracy, corruption, or the amount of Danish aid to local civil society organisations.

Democracy promotion has been a core element of Danish development policy, which raises the question of whether perceptions of Denmark’s performance depend upon the democratic landscape of partner countries. In fact, we do not find a relationship between perceptions of Denmark’s performance and the level of a country’s democracy.[38] Nor do we find a relationship between the level of a country’s corruption and how survey participants assessed Denmark’s policy advice usefulness, agenda-setting influence, and helpfulness in reform implementation.[39] While it would be conceivable that the amount of Danish aid given specifically to local civil society groups could have an effect on perceptions of Denmark’s performance, we do not find that to be the case.[40] While consistent with our earlier finding that CSOs rank Denmark at par with the average DAC bilateral partner in terms of policy influence, this raises questions around Denmark’s current emphasis on strengthening CSOs in its development cooperation strategy.


[27] The 2007 OECD-DAC Peer Review (p.31) refers to this subset of countries as “programme countries” but does not provide an explicit definition. The 2011 OECD-DAC Peer Review (p.29), refers to this cohort as “partner countries”, defined as: countries where Denmark engages with a long-term perspective and with political and financial weight". As of 2013, partner countries were renamed “priority countries” in the new Danish development cooperation strategy, Freedom from Poverty, Freedom to Change (Danida, 2010). Partner/priority countries included former programme countries, as well as a number of other countries. Of these other countries a large number of these were already recipients of Danish aid or humanitarian assistance (e.g., Burma, Palestine, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Somalia, Sudan, and Niger.

[28] Of the participants that indicated experience working with Denmark, a subgroup of 117 participants from 27 countries explicitly identified Denmark as involved in implementing reforms. This includes both countries that are on Denmark’s priority partners’ list, as well as those that are not.

[29] As measured by the log of average annual Danish net ODA disbursed to a given country for the period 2004-2013.

[30] A correlation test between policy advice usefulness and aid intensity reveals a weak correlation and the effect of aid intensity on policy advice usefulness was not significant.

[31] See Table A-4 in the Appendix on the classification of countries as long-time or recent partners.

[32] We do not find any significant relationships between income, on the one hand, and policy advice usefulness and helpfulness, on the other.

[33] According to the OECD-DAC Peer Review (2011b), “in 2009, 60% of Danish ODA was concentrated on the least developed countries, with a further 21% allocated to other low income countries” (p. 43).

[34] According to the OECD-DAC Peer Review (2011), “eleven out of the 26 partner countries...are in situations of fragility” (p. 29).

[35] We use a bivariate regression to investigate a relationship between the variables of our interest.

[36] We use the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States’ Index for our measure of state fragility.

[37] We have also examined whether there is a significant relationship between the frequency of communication and helpfulness in reform implementation but found a very weak correlation.

[38] The Polity IV ratings of political openness, which range from -10 (hereditary monarchy) to 10 (consolidated democracy), are used for our measure of democracy (Marshall and Jaggers 2003).

[39] Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is used as our measure of corruption.

[40] We requested and obtained data on Danish aid to civil society groups from Danida.

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This page forms part of the publication "Danish Development Cooperation from a Partner Country Perspective – Evaluation Study, September 2016" as chapter 6 of 7.
Version no. 1.0, 2016-10-04
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/evaluation_study_september_2016/index.html