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ISSUE 2: AID EFFECTIVENESS AND HARMONISATION

1. INTRODUCTION

In 2005, more than 100 countries and international organisations adopted the Paris Declaration, thus rallying around the need for greater efficiency and coordination in international development cooperation. In 2008, this was followed up by the Accra Agenda for Action, which goes further than the Paris Declaration in involving civil society in development processes and in recognising civil society organisations as development actors in their own right. In this endeavour, civil society organisations can benefit from adhering to the principles of ownership, transparency, alignment and harmonisation set out in the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action.

In 2010, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose aid effectiveness and harmonisation as ’issue of the year’, making it obligatory to answer questions on this for all organisations with annual disbursements above DKK 5 million. The primary reason is the imminence of the Fourth High Level Forum, which is an offshoot of and follow-up to the Accra Agenda for Action, due to be held in Busan, South Korea, in November-December 2011.

This issue is elucidated through four questions about each of the following aspects:

  • Fostering partners’ ownership of the joint development intervention (15 responses)
  • Enhancing mutual transparency in administration and decision-making processes (10 responses)
  • Promoting alignment to partners’ systems and procedures (6 responses)
  • Increasing the degree of harmonisation and coordination between international organisations (14 responses)

45 responses on this issue have been submitted by a total of 27 organisations, encompassing the whole spectrum of Danish organisations, including those with framework funding agreements, programmes and individual projects. There is a small preponderance of answers about ownership and harmonisation, whereas there are markedly fewer on alignment to partner systems.

2. SUMMING UP THE RESPONSES

2.1 OWNERSHIP

Ownership is the key principle of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. It requires Danish organisations to make sure that their partners take on ownership of joint development processes. Ownership can be viewed from multiple perspectives. In the course of 2010, Nepenthes changed its name to Forests of the World, finding that such a change of identity had a far-reaching impact on the whole circle of partners, who gradually identified with the brand in a qualitatively different manner. The change of name contributed to galvanising the 16 partners throughout Latin America into wanting to learn more from each other, experiencing the power of pulling together.

Caritas Denmark and the Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark share the experience that the formation of a new shared identity as programme partners cooperating among equals is
a prolonged process involving ownership at a variety of levels, whether it be ownership of principles and values, or ownership of the programme as a whole, rather than of a single project within it. It is also acknowledged that an administrative merger of activities into a programme need not be enough to bring about ownership.

Stories from Danmission, ADRA Denmark, CARE Denmark and WWF World Wide Fund for Nature illustrate that programme design can help develop ownership. They tell about future country or regional programmes which have been prepared together with several partners. All the examples show that a joint formulation process, based on the individual partner’s capacity and context, can pave the way for reaching joint overall strategies and approaches, which bring about ownership. The partner can also take on ownership by designing its own programme component, as in the case reported by CARE Denmark.

The Danish Association for the Disabled views the organisational set-up as crucial for ownership. Its 14 partners in Nicaragua and Honduras meet every six months for a kind of congress which is held on the basis of shared values, detailed division of powers and responsibilities, and thorough procedures. The same point is made by Danish organisations in charge of funds open for applications, reporting that an adequate organisational set-up gives partners a sense of this being ’their money’, once again fostering responsible administration and optimal use of resources. Similar stories are told by MS ActionAid Denmark, Mission East and Caritas Denmark regarding how project and programme structures, such as programme management committees, cooperation bodies, coordination and steering groups lay the groundwork for the realisation of genuine ownership based on real influence. Clear rules regarding responsibilities, powers and channels of influence give rise to ownership.

A great deal of Danish organisations are engaged in capacity development as a precondition for ownership. Ownership has little meaning without adequate powers and resources to exert influence, take decisions and assume responsibility. LO-FTF Council’s example of organisational development as a path to ownership is probably the most far-reaching of this year’s reporting submissions. As a result of efforts to secure their financial sustainability, the partners – teachers’ unions in Kenya and Tanzania – have now completely taken over training of members, adhering to a low-cost model. As a knock-on effect, this has also strengthened the unions’ capacity for national and local dialogue on social affairs, and a system of union delegates has been introduced at all state-funded schools. Other examples are submitted by MS ActionAid Denmark, Mission East and the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, who, in combination, paint a picture of the vast diversity of ways of working with ownership and capacity. Danmission, Mission East, ADRA Denmark, LO-FTF Council and Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark mention involvement and participatory methods and approaches as important tools to promote ownership, with a list of methods and approaches that is, once again, long and versatile.

2.2 TRANSPARENCY

Seen through the prism of Issue no. 2, this heading refers to mutual political and financial transparency as a foundation for partners being able to hold each other to account. This applies to the relation between an organisation and its constituency, and in the context of this Report, especially to the relation between the Danish organisation and its local partner. Several examples are provided of how mutual transparency between these two parties can take shape. In the cooperation between Forests of the World and Fundación Madera Verde in Honduras, both organisations have had to engage in some introspective reassessment of their approaches and roles in the commercial marketing of wood products.

Transparency in the relationship between partners is determined specifically by which information the parties have access to about each other. This may refer to organisational matters in their entirety or it can be confined to the partnership relation. IBIS in Mozambique unilaterally publishes all information about its work, that is all agreements signed by IBIS Denmark are uploaded to the website, alongside information about partners’ strategic priorities, objectives of partnerships, results and budgets. DanChurchAid in South Asia releases an annual report, which is also made available to the general public on its website. The organisation also informs its partners about its own fundraising in the previous year, and sets out its general financial priorities in terms of allocations to programmes and countries in the region, including the operational costs of the regional office in Delhi. Mission East confines transparency to the actual partnership relation by sharing annual reports with Bridge of Hope in Armenia, including audited annual accounts. The organisation is also open to answer all types of questions and hand out relevant documents on request. Other organisations enter into written agreements with partners about the extent and limits of mutual transparency. The Malawi Red Cross has assented to allow full oversight over its spending of support towards overheads contributed by its partner, the Danish Red Cross. It has been agreed what should be categorised as overheads and as programme costs, as well as which expenses (for example the salary of the secretary-general and board costs) only concern the local partner. Further transparency would require reciprocity in the exchange of information.

For Caritas Denmark and SustainableEnergy, mutual transparency is delimited to the group of partners involved in a programme. For Caritas Denmark’s four partners in north eastern India, the programme approach has enhanced transparency in decision-making processes regarding budget, financial allocations to other partners, programme administration and dissemination in Denmark. The partners had never before experienced such openness from Western donors. SustainableEnergy has established full disclosure regarding project finance with Umanda Trust in Kenya, which also minimises the risk of corruption. The Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark, Mission East and CARE Denmark regulate accountability and transparency in the partnership through a partnership agreement or the like, which defines each partner’s responsibilities, rights and duties, and creates openness about accountability mechanisms. The same concerns are addressed in the subsequent design of administrative instruments.

The reciprocal nature of transparency is not devoid of power struggle and conflict. At WWF World Wide Fund for Nature, it was found that certain key employees were obstructing the flow of information, which brought WWF World Wide Fund for Nature to push for more openness and transparency along with like-minded groups within the international alliance, such as the WWF Nordic+ Group. This has resulted in the regional East Africa programme becoming a test case for a new WWF partnership practice. Likewise DanChurchAid affirms that it remains a challenge, for instance in South Asia, to develop the right framework and methods for all partners to have the courage to contest DanChurchAid’s plans and priorities, and for them to participate meaningfully and effectively in discussions across differences in backgrounds and qualifications.

2.3 ALIGNMENT

This concept is about Danish organisations aligning their support to their partners’ strategies, and about the design and implementation of strategies, programmes and activities taking place through the partners’ own structures, management, annual planning, results measurement, procurements, procedures and financial systems. It makes demands on both parties in the partnership. The United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) offers a fine example of administrative alignment, having accompanied its partners in Latin America in conducting analyses of their administrative tools, including their accounting, among other purposes to avoid parallel systems introduced by different donors, but also to improve existing systems. Many partner organisations now use only one system for their entire financial management, including donor-funded projects. In Vietnam, CARE Denmark has changed its accounting system from being directly implemented by the organisation itself to being aligned to the partner system, when this is sufficiently sound.

Donor requirements regarding separate formats for application, reporting, accounting and similar matters largely determine the scope for alignment. While the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds itself going to great lengths to enable alignment through flexible demands, this is not exactly how the organisations see it. Danmission wishes the new requirements of the programme modality were more flexible to allow for alignment to partner systems. On the other hand, the new reporting requirements for programme funding have forced different sections of the partner in Egypt, the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services, to come together to talk about their reporting duties, which has boosted synergy within the organisation.

2.4 HARMONISATION

The aim of harmonisation is that donors to the same local civil society organisation coordinate their interventions on the basis of joint agreements. A series of large organisations are affiliated to international alliances, which make up a natural setting for harmonisation efforts. The Danish Red Cross explains the situation of a local partner, the Mali Red Cross, where seven international Red Cross partners turn harmonisation into a balancing act with everything being constantly subject to negotiation. Currently the agenda is dominated by the local partner’s wish for a coordinated fundraising approach in order to avoid competition for the same money. Save the Children is undergoing a major global restructuring in order to operate through a single organisational set-up with joint strategies, approaches and procedures. Thus far, the process has focused on the international Save the Children family internally, and only to a lesser degree on partnership relations. Once completed, there will be only one Save the Children field office in each country with a single country strategy and a single partnership policy.

There is a growing trend towards a model in which one organisation takes the lead in a programme or support for a particular local partner, undertaking all functions on behalf of a group of organisations. This is reported by DanChurchAid from Zambia, where one of three alliance partners has been designated as the lead organisation. While all three contribute to the joint programme budget, programme administration adheres to the strategic framework and administrative procedures of the lead organisation.

In East Africa, WWW World Wide Fund for Nature tries to break with the principle of earmarked funds by offering basket funding for a region-wide programme. WWF Norway, USA and Sweden have joined in. In addition, the WWF Nordic+ Group is currently conducting an inquiry into how back donors can bolster harmonisation in the areas of application, reporting, accounting, auditing and the like. The aspiration is to soon be able to present a specific wish list of harmonisation measures to the donors.

A series of harmonisation measures are also underway outside the major international alliances. In 2010, Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark convened a donor meeting of organisations supporting the disability movement in Rwanda. The result has been better coordination, joint planning, monitoring and reporting, mechanisms for the exchange of information, basket funding – in particular for the umbrella organisation of the Rwandan disability movement – as well as designation of a single lead organisation. Implementing this has turned out to be demanding in resources. Likewise, the Danish Mission Council Development Department, in its capacity as lead organisation, has worked for coordination as well as joint reporting formats, deadlines and monitoring of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania’s health programme, which has been a great relief for the local partner. In general, it has translated into better coordination and harmonisation of the partner’s combined health work. Similarly, the Danish Evangelical Mission relates how a circle of five international partners, all supporting the Lutheran Church of Liberia in developing a five-year strategy, are coordinating by means of an agreed division of labour and by accepting a single report per programme. The Danish Association of the Blind has also designed a joint reporting format with its Swedish sister organisation, so that, from 2011 onwards, the partner in Rwanda will have to submit one report only. In addition, Forests of the World has discovered in Honduras that a simple project coordination forum serves to streamline the intervention, saving both time and money. The partner is no longer burdened with double bookings of meetings, parallel activities on the same subject held within a few days of each other, and confusion about who is responsible for what. In the same manner, in Mozambique, Danish Forestry Extension, along with two other international organisations, has worked over the last couple of years for the set-up of a partner committee, which finally came to light in 2010. One of its purposes is to secure greater transparency, thus enabling the foreign partners to give joint institutional support for the local partner Associação do Meio Ambiente de Cabo Delgado.

3. TRENDS

Local ownership of development processes is inscribed as a fundamental principle in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. Danish organisations are expected to ensure that their local partners take on ownership of the joint development interventions. The activities must, to the greatest extent possible, be built upon the local partners’ own visions, objectives and strategies. From the organisations’ reports, it is plain to see that this is difficult not just to ensure, but also to measure. Ownership presupposes many conditions, including an owner identity, a certain framework, and capacity, as illustrated by myriad examples.

It is interesting to read in the various submissions how programme formulation holds the potential to stimulate the circle of local partners involved in a programme to develop joint approaches and exchange experiences, thus boosting the South-South dimension of local partners’ work. This indicates a tendency for the programme modality to actually serve as a means of promoting ownership. By getting many partners to march to the same beat, ownership of the programme is built in the process. However, there is also a realisation that it takes a great deal more than talk about programme activities and decision-making to achieve recognition of each other as equal owners and team players. There is little reflection on the possibility that ownership moulded on a time-limited donor commitment might be less sustainable. It is inspiring to read from a new slant about how a common identity can spring from a shared name or brand which stimulates identification with a joint endeavour.

In fact, the examples convincingly demonstrate that ownership is also something tangible and not just a soft value. The Danish organisations acknowledge that ownership is best fleshed out within organisational set-ups and relations where clear rules regarding powers and responsibilities are indispensable tools to create scope for influence. The stories also show that partners are more likely to exhibit strength of character when formal and visible attendance in agreed forums is combined with genuine decision-making powers and real responsibilities, for instance regarding allocation of funds.

Ownership without the necessary capacity can easily turn into empty rhetoric. It requires capacity to undertake a task, and an organisation needs a degree of sustainability to be able to continue the intervention on its own and to envision future prospects as an independent actor. The Danish organisations with case stories on this aspect offer inspiring reading about a wide selection of methods and approaches to develop the partner’s capacity to take on ownership.

As regards transparency, the responses show how Danish organisations interpret this rather differently, ranging from administrative transparency at the operational programme level to a more ideal and overarching openness and reciprocity in partners’ insights into each other’s internal affairs. Most appear to confine transparency to the cooperative relationship, perhaps as something unfolding between a whole group of partners involved in a programme, where learning about each other might be groundbreaking for the partners per se. Nevertheless, even this tends to remain an administrative kind of transparency rather than a more profound relational reciprocity in the partnership. Accordingly, the mutual transparency and accountability cannot be expected to outlive the period of donor funding.

It also shines through that transparency is fundamentally a matter of negotiation which is far from devoid of power struggle or conflict. The degree of insight, particularly into other organisations’ core concerns (political leadership, remuneration and the like) is tightly regulated. The few stories about transparency in those arenas make it clear that Danish organisations renounce insights into their partners’ internal affairs, if getting it requires reciprocal information access to partners.

The subject of alignment to the partners’ structures and systems has, once again this year, attracted the fewest responses. The examples reported are about minor measures aimed at aligning in purely administrative terms, although they seem to make an impact for the partner. Danish organisations’ efforts in this field appear weak, and many responses seem to mix up the concepts of harmonisation and alignment. One organisation addresses the role of the back donors in determining the scope for alignment, criticising how alignment is obstructed by a lack of harmonisation between donors, and particularly by the requirements of individual donors.

Alignment and harmonisation can be viewed as two extremes of a continuum. In the ideal world where all donors and organisations fully align to local partners’ own strategies, procedures and formats, there would be no need for harmonisation. But as long as this is not the case, harmonisation will remain relevant in order to relieve the administrative burden on partner organisations. On the face of it, relatively intense efforts are invested in harmonisation, particularly within the more established international alliances, which also form a natural setting for coordinating the development interventions of like-minded sister organisations. Many experiences are being gained as regards coordination, joint policy and strategy development, operational division of labour with designation of lead roles, and basket funding of shared programmes. The nature of such harmonisation efforts indicates that there are immediate benefits from forging international alliances, which do not necessarily accrue to local partners, except to national alliance members, though the next round of measures might spread the gains more widely. So harmonisation can be driven by a wave of rationalisation within international alliances. An important role within the international alliances, which the Danish organisations are keen to take on, is to advance the philosophy of partnerships and capacity development that is espoused by the Danish Civil Society Strategy. Organisations outside these wider alliances are also gaining experiences of coordination and, to a certain degree, of co-financing and harmonisation of administrative requirements at the purely operational level, such as in the reporting format for a given programme.

4. CHALLENGES

  • While harmonisation measures are in relatively abundant supply among the Danish and international organisations, there is a degree of foot dragging when it comes to more ambitious steps towards Danish organisations aligning to their partners’ systems. The challenge does not appear to have diminished since last year’s reporting, when it led to a request for the organisations to become more explicit as regards aligning their own systems to those of the partners, and to interpret alignment less in terms of coordination and standardisation of systems and formats specific to certain projects or programmes, which tend to become harmonisation measures dressed up to look like alignment.
     
  • Similarly, there is too little reflection on the framework for harmonisation and alignment represented by the relationship between the international/Danish organisation and the back donor. While one story recounts an ongoing effort to draw up demands and wishes to back donors in favour of harmonisation opportunities, there is no sense of equivalent thinking or work regarding alignment opportunities. When, in addition to this, international alliances are streamlining their requirements and formats, there is a risk of snubbing local partners in negotiations on alignment.
     
  • The selection of aid effectiveness and harmonisation as ’issue of the year’ was expected to deliver contributions to the Danish perspective feeding into the cooperation with other donors. The material compiled certainly holds potential to that effect. It was also assumed to put the spotlight on the issue among the Danish organisations, thus raising it further on the agenda. After 27 organisations have been obliged to report on the issue, this result has probably been attained.
     
  • There was also a wish to contribute to shedding light on local partner organisations’ perspective on the issue, which was found wanting after the reporting on activities in 2009. This aspect, however, remains underexplored.




This page forms part of the publication 'Danish organisations’ cross-cutting monitoring of the implementation of the Civil Society Strategy, 2010' as chapter 5 of 17
Version 1.0. 11-12-2011
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/11104/index.htm

 

 
 
 
 
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