Better administration will give better programs

International advisor at the Norwegian think tank Agenda, Catharina Bu, outlines some principles for a successful reform of Norwegian development administration.

Catharina Bu is an international advisor at the Norwegian think tank Agenda. She has a master’s degree in development studier from SOAS in London and background from working for various civil society organisations. She recently published the report Norwegian aid at a crossroad (Norsk bistand ved et veiskille).

Norwegian aid has some clear positive characteristics. Many partners see Norway as a flexible donor that value long-term cooperation. We also have credibility and can show results on issues such as education, health, gender equality and human rights. However, Norad’s evaluation department’s annual report has a clear message: there is need for a more clear definition of roles and responsibility in the management of Norwegian aid.

This is in accordance with the OECD DAC peer review of Norwegian aid that was recently published. This report highlights the lack of sufficient systems, capacity and competence to follow up the increasing multilateral aid from Norway.

There is no doubt that the new Minister of Development, Mr. Dag-Inge Ulstein has an important task ahead of him: do a thorough clean-up of Norwegian aid. The ongoing reform of the ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) gives him an excellent opportunity to do this.

Development reform

The reform is key to improve the results of Norwegian aid on the ground. Thus, the reform should seek to answer the following question: How do we best organise the department and directorate so that Norwegian aid programs works for both the implementing organisation and the beneficiaries? There is a need for more and better contextual knowledge, a bottom-up and holistic approach, and more and better cooperation between the embassies and the teams in Norway.

Three principles should guide Norwegian development assistance moving forward: 1) The needs and priorities of the beneficiaries, not Norwegian short-term political interests; 2) It must be flexible, long-term and promote learning; and 3) It must seek to tackle the root causes of poverty.

In order to achieve this, Norway should strengthen our efforts to coordinate better with our partner countries and other donors. Long-term country strategies should guide our work, and we must strive to ensure synergies between our multilateral and bilateral aid. We must also ensure that knowledge and learning become an integral part of all Norwegian aid programs. This means that we have to do more and better research and evaluations studies of Norwegian aid programs, we must cooperate with others and systematize all the knowledge we have in a manner that is useful for both researchers, project partners and beneficiaries.

Learn and coordinate

We need to recognise that development is difficult, takes time and is often faced with unexpected challenges. This is why it is extremely important that both the donor, the implementing organisation and other involved project partners are honest about their experiences, including where they are not getting things right. Only when doing this can we learn and improve. 

There is also room for more and better cooperation across organisations and different donors, between multilateral and bilateral programs, and between research and practice. More development projects should include a research component, where the aim is to demonstrate learning, not only success.  

At the end of the day, development is about delivering change, producing real solutions to real problems that have real impact. It is about building trust, empowering people and promoting sustainability.

In order to achieve all of this, the first step is to build a foundation of knowledge. This knowledge must be systematised, disseminated and used. It is therefore important that the evaluation department is given a strong mandate to do more and better evaluations, and both impact and case studies. There is also a need to include more researchers and consultants from the partner countries. After all, they are closer to both the projects, the challenges and solutions.

The Norwegian population are strong supporters of aid, but their support should not be taken for granted. We need to know and show that aid works. Hopefully, future annual reports from the evaluation department will show that the reform was a success and resulted in not only better aid programs, but actual change for the people and the planet. 

Published 11.06.2019
Last updated 11.06.2019