Royal danish ministry of foreign affairs - Go to the frontpage of   Publication  

7 Development Partner strategies

7.1 Types of DP strategies

In interviews, DPs in Bangladesh told the study team that they are keen to support the involvement of civil society in policy dialogue. There are several reasons for this; Bangladesh is still a relatively undeveloped democracy and raw partisan politics often precludes thorough consultation with civil society; the State is often seen as somewhat ’out of touch’; civil society organisations by virtue of their work and constituencies are well placed to champion the voices of the marginalised and excluded. Their experience, research and innovations, they feel, need to be considered in government policy making. Ultimately the expectation from DP support to CSO engagement is for policy to become more pro-poor and better tailored to the needs of citizens and extends the principle of crafting development assistance which aligns not just with Bangladesh Government but reflects the aspirations and needs of ordinary citizens. It is also to ensure that civil society better monitors the services provided by Government and especially plays a watchdog role regarding development aid assistance.

DPs respond to many of the strategies which CSOs adopt to raise awareness, gather evidence, build coalitions, campaign, lobby and advocate for change. They have also put effort into building capacity e.g. of independent and investigative journalism and creating and utilising spaces for direct dialogue (sometimes through aid conditionality e.g. World Bank Participatory Poverty Assessments and mandatory citizen consultations). They are less adept at supporting risky thematic areas, CSOs beyond conventional NGOs, diverse voices and confrontational tactics. These are nevertheless key to change in some circumstances, especially where political will is limited.

DPs have been experimenting with different strategies of support in recognition that the conventional project strategies are not always appropriate for policy dialogue work. The following table provides an overview of the different approaches but is not necessarily exhaustive.

Table 3 Types of DP support strategies
Type ofsupport Examples Comment
1. Core funding Steps Towards Development (Sida) – LG (women)

(ALRD Danida)
The CSOs involved feel that this modality provides relative flexibility which is crucial to respond to key moments in policy dialogue. They appreciate that such a modality is built on trust and respect and that it has been negotiated around outcomes. In particular the understanding shown by Finance (Sida) towards funding of Steps as a movement with an outcomes orientation rather than a project without puts orientation has been exceptional. Danida wanted to provide ALRD with programme funding but the NGOAB raised objections and so it was signed as a typical project nevertheless it has a more flexible outcome orientation which ALRD appreciates.
2. Joint donor project funding Transparency International Bangladesh (SDC, Sida, Danida and others) – LG The endorsement provided by many donors provides TIB with a sound backing and relatively less vulnerable financing base. But this is still a project with some un-helpful numeric indicators and less flexible budget than required for this kind of work. Donors claim that they do not see the numbers as the result but as progress indicators towards outcomes and expects more in terms of interpretation of ’why’ rather than a focus on the numbers. But TIB differs in this interpretation and feels pressured to produce numbers which it feels are not representing the work it performs. Donors also see that this multi-donor arrangement give more flexibility to TIB to engage in policy advocacy than traditional projects. Donors still need individualised attention.
3. Bilateral project funding Rupantar (SDC) – LG

Aparajita (SDC) – LG

Massline Media (SDC) – LG

Projects bound by project documents and log frames. SDC has a reputation for accompaniment and flexibility to support innovation and process type projects. The Aparajita project is an attempt at Innovation bringing four NGOs together to work under one project umbrella but unfortunately individual financing arrangements had to be made which may undermine cohesivity.

SDC accepts perception studies as robust tools for measuring achievement rather than the un-helpful numerics adopted by some other donors but its finance system is rigid and budgets are activity-driven not outcome-led. Possibly because of recent experiences of corruption with partners, CSOs tell us that financial controls have become extremely strict (e.g. difficult to change budget lines) and not helpful for process, innovative, behaviour change projects. CAMPE appreciated the inclusion of a 15% ’un earmarked fund’ which recognised the responsive and unpredictable nature of its work.

CSOs say that possibly SDC is over committing itself in LG and staff are over stretched and cannot give the partnership the attention they used to. SDC is planning to recruit more staff to manage their LG portfolio.

Change of SDC priorities resulted inCAMPE fund termination this year.
4. Small project windows Danida Human Rights and Good Governance (closed 2010 but supported 35 NGOs with dedicated Policy Support Units (PSUs)

CIDA Gender Fund (closed 2010 but supported 30 NGOs with a dedicated PSU)
CSOs working in policy dialogue are particularly affected by the closure of these (and other) small project funding windows. Their work is relatively resource light, often innovative and responsive to emerging needs which mean less bureaucratic and lengthy financing arrangements suit them well. The MJF and the Innovation Fund window of Shiree were established to replace these kinds of donor intensive funding modalities. However a review of MJF’s portfolio indicates that over time they too are privileging bigger grants with less transaction costs (see DFID, 2011). MJF has an Enabling Fund which provides some flexibility to fund small initiatives but considers this inadequate to address the need for non-project responses. SDCis discussing whether a LG component can be included in Shiree as a complementary activity (including the Innovation Fund which gives small flexible funds).
5. Contracts Strengthening Democratic Local Governance (USAID) – LG

NGO contracts under NLTA and LIC arrangements complements to WB funded LGSP (WB contracts funded by SDC/Danida) – LG
Many NGOs in LG are critical of the contractual arrangements which define events which have to be carried out (e.g. workshop, rally, fair, social audit) rather than appreciating the complexity of behaviour change outcomes of processes of policy dialogue. They are also concerned about the ’expert-driven’ design which may not match ground realities and may be ’one size fits all’ and constrains local innovation, creativity and activism. Increasingly CSOs choose not to avail these opportunities and those that do tell us it is often ’for survival’ They recognise that they share concern for the same end result as their contractors but do not agree on underlying ideologies and approaches.
5. Own designed projects Sharique through Swiss INGO (SDC) – LG

Promoting Democratic and Decentralised Governance (Danida) – LG
These programmes are designed in house (albeit with consultancy support) and then implemented through a project window. As projects they also are constrained by the project limitations and contracting rules. Since policy dialogue depends on social and political capital formation & takes time to affect results, these time-bound interventions are limited. Danida says that they have accommodated this in the design of Promoting Democratic and Decentralised Governance (PDDG) but nevertheless it is a three year programme. Sharique was competitively tendered. The ban on more than two terms of contracting impacts on continuity.
6. Funding through inter-mediaries SDC provides funds for the NLTA and LIC components of LGSP – LG

Danida and CIDA provide funds to CHT Facility managed by UNDP

CIDA funds through Aga Khan Foundation

Some support to CSOs has also come through MJF (local accountability of schools with DAM)
Development Bank and UN projects are Government led and where there are concerns about CSO activity then it is very difficult to include. Contracting rules may be contrary to CSO objectives and not appropriate for policy dialogue (seeabove).

DPs may not be too concerned about having a voice in some cases but where they are, this is vulnerable to marginalisation and it needs constant advocacy to ensure inclusion e.g. on policy advisory committees. LCG-LG is dominated by Government, World Bank and UNDP so discussion on CSO engagement is often limited.
7. Innovation & research Funds Planned LG Research Challenge Fund for 2013 (SDC) – LG and a UP Challenge Fund for innovation (although UPs will apply, some will be in partnership with CSOs)

Political Economy of LG research & decentralisation (SDC)

CIDA has a Knowledge Fund which can be used to fund issues such as democratic governance, participation and civil society (<CAD 500,000)
These are important pots of money but are often not well publicised and remain rather inaccessible for CSOs. SDC’s plan to establish a Challenge Fund for LG research is noteworthy and can be anticipated to meet some of the short fallin research in LG and may open this up to actors beyond the usual suspects.
8. Home country funding Regional Research Fund (LG and decentralisation chapter S. Asia) SDC– LG (2008-12)

Canadian Partnership Branch broker srelationship between Canadian organisation and local partners, provides grants (with some co-funding) for the Canadian organisation taking the lead on design and implementation of the programme,
These funds are often not well publicised and depend on contacts to secure.
9. Flexible funds SDC has a small action credit line up to 200,000 Swiss Francs per project which can be used for pilots (can be signed off by the Ambassador with simple concept note) e.g. used to commission TV programmes on LG. Some 80 interventions have benefited

Canada Fund managed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide small grants (<CAD 50,000) around human rights and democracy, emerging issues, election related issues.

Sida has a ’Strategic Fund’ (5-10 million Swedish Kroner) for innovative initiatives– this was used for CAMPE’s Education Watch and Reality Checks. It can also re-allocate unused budgets up to SEK 50 million with Ambassador approval

Danida has 8 million Danish Kroner in ’unallocated funds’ to meet emerging opportunities within existing interventions.
These funds are no doubt very useful but CSOs cannot apply for them and they are at the discretion and promotion of the DP. This requires CSOs to build on-going relationships, particularly at ambassador level.
Other support
1. Government relation building All DPs and their ambassadors engage in promotion of issues with Government of Bangladesh (GoB) as well as intervention when projects and partners face problems with GoB The Local Consultative sub Groups (LCGs e.g. the Education LCG) served to bring together GOB and CSOs This is an important supporting role but one which CSOs are rarely informed about. Since it is has direct bearing on promoting policy dialogue and could help to provide of more invited spaces, it might be helpful is opportunities for CSOs to inform/advise Embassies of issues could be formalized.

DPs also have a role in facilitating access of CSOs to government departments, programmes and committees. This has worked particularly well in primary education.
2. Technical support DPs have funds to procure direct TA support for CSOs outside of project windows

At times the relevant DP staff had the technical competence to contribute to discussions and decisions in Education
This facility is used when DP’s CSO partners need special assistance e.g. M and E, Finance and accounting.

The support DFID provided previously in preparing “knowledge products”was appreciated.

The importance of having sectoral specialists in the DP offices was highlighted in the discussions in PE and LG.
3. International technical links SDC has helped to broker Hirondelle Foundation support for MMC and is brokering links between Nari Rajshata (Indian women’s movement) with Aparajita These can be very valuable to organisations, particularly learning from practitioners.

CAMPE and Action Aid Bangladesh links with Education International, the Commonwealth Education Fund, InternationalTeachers Unions and the International Campaign for Education have provided valuable strategies and technical inputs.
4. Placement of Young Professionals Sida placed a volunteer with Rupantar to develop TIE – PE

AusAID can help place Youth Ambassadors
Another valuable contribution and potentially especially so for policy dialogue related research and advocacy, where skills from developed countries can be shared (e.g. internet-based advocacy).

7.2 Relevance of DP support

One of the key complaints among CSOs is that DP funding support is determined by their priorities which are often global priorities. While these are recognised as being aligned with government priorities, the particular skew may not fit with CS reality and because many donors choose to focus on rather similar themes may result in overkill in some areas (e.g. climate change) and under-attention to other areas (e.g. decentralisation). The changing of priorities (based on geographic, security and thematic considerations) can have particularly profound effects on policy dialogue engagement which depends on social and political capital development and usually requires long time horizons to affect attitude and behavioural change.

CSOs working in policy dialogue find project and contract funding inappropriate. They lack flexibility (policy dialogue is unpredictable and there is the need to avoid duplication). These modalities often are designed to expect results too soon (social and political capital building takes time). They tend to emphasise numbers which often get conflated to inputs/outputs rather than outcomes which may involve structural, legislative, behaviour change) this is turn privileges service provision rather than process oriented approaches. The budgets are activity driven (despite the outcome rhetoric).[40] Some projects are ’expert designed’ and not necessarily contextual. Project and contract funding is not suitable for local issue-driven movements and is felt to suppress local innovation and activism. Bidding and contracting procedures promotes competition rather than collaboration and sharing (one of the essentials of good policy dialogue) and privileges ’professional bidders’ (with small, local and new actors disadvantaged) projects and contracts incur high transaction costs (particularly compared to core funding). The modality creates ’honey pot’ organisations which everyone wants to fund. There are numerous sad examples in Bangladesh of DPs deluging ’honey pots’ with funds beyond their absorptive capacity (and indeed their ideology and provenance) leading to mismanagement and sometimes corruption which has ended in the demise of the organisation.

This leads to another issue raised by CSOs, which is the need for donors to disburse large sums of money. Policy dialogue work is resource-light. Many CSOs do not want these vast sums and view them as a spoiler. DP staff are under pressure to spend and often prefer to keep the numbers of projects small for understandable reasons, but then do not support the CSOs adequately to manage these increased budgets. There is a pervasive failure to understand resource-light behaviour change programming within DP with only a few exceptions.

CSOs affirmed that where DPs develop their own projects they feel this can undermine their local activism, efforts and innovations. In these situations, DPs can be seen as competitors (SDC, MJF).

CSOs noted the critical importance of having DP staff with technical and field expertise. The nature of policy dialogue dictates that need for clear contextual, cultural understanding of how things work. The socio-psychological nature of engagement is best understood by those who have practiced in this field themselves. CSOs could identify those whom they felt were exceptionally helpful and noted how important this was to their work. The constant turnover of staff, especially foreign staff is another issue CSOs felt affected the relevance.

Despite the harmonisation agenda and instruments such as the LCG, there are significant overlaps, duplications and gaps in LG and PE policy dialogue.

CSOs felt that DPs have now become more demanding and controlling. While it is considered right and fair for them to demand international standards of financial accountability, CSOs felt less comfortable with the way they interfere in the organisation. They repeated to us that if they are accountable for results, why should DPs require excessive detail on how they achieved this or burden them with inordinate demands. They were particularly referring to the requirements to have staff policies, transport policies, gender policies communication policies etc. which incur high transaction costs and divert them from their core business. Many policy dialogue organisations are too small to need this wide array of policies. This is seen also as part of the trend to be ’less like partners’. CSOs indicated they feel less trusted, less respected and more like contractors irrespective of the mode of financing. This feeling is further fuelled by DPs increasing insistence on their own visibility (it is an integral element of most projects and an issue for mid and end of project evaluations). The visibility element can also affect independence which may be particularly important in policy dialogue work.

We met many CSOs, especially in LG, who eschew DP support mainly because it compromises their agility, independence and is ’too much’. They are key players and need small seed money, set up costs and technical assistance. All of these endorsed the idea of public access resources as a way to meet their needs, an idea further developed in Chapter 8.

7.3 How do DPs address the enabling and constraining factors

DPs provide strong support for the need for a vibrant CS and the democratic values that they uphold. They are gradually recognising the wider range of key CS actors beyond NGOs and differentiating the roles more strategically (for example recognising that LGAs are better placed to do central level LG advocacy than NGOs and understanding the different role of issue based movements). There are more attempts to find ways of supporting this diversity than when the DAC commissioned Citizens Voice and Accountability Study was conducted in 2008. They too express frustration with the lack of flexibility, length of time needed and limited agility to support policy dialogue action which is so often related to significant moments but they are still too defensive about the existing instruments as a major overhaul of the way CS policy dialogue work is supported is required.

Despite the rhetoric of support to create a vibrant CS, some of their actions result in distortion. Privileging some CSOs over others, creating competition for resources, emphasising external agendas over indigenous ones, promoting like-mindedness rather than debate and providing monetary incentives rather than nurturing voluntarism may have serious consequences for pluralistic ideals.

The Table above notes that DP funding modalities still fail to be sufficiently flexible and responsive when trying to support CSO engagement in policy dialogue. To add value to the financial resources DPs could do more to pressure Government to honour the pledges they have made (Constitution, manifestos, Five-year Plans, Vision 2012, CHT Peace Accord etc) to open up space for citizen engagement particularly in national policy dialogue.

[40] And this is further endorsed by NGOAB approval requirements.

This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 10 of 20
Version 1.0. 03-01-2013
Publication may be found at the address


  Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark © |