How relevant is the harmonisation and alignment agenda to difficult partnerships? What is the experience of harmonisation between donors and alignment with recipient government’s systems and priorities so far? What lessons that can donors and other external actors learn? This paper by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explores the relevance of harmonisation and alignment for assistance in fragile states. The report concludes that the agenda is of even more relevance in difficult partnerships or fragile states and highlights the main obstacles. It goes on to outline specific policy recommendations for external actors and donors.
DAC defines ‘difficult partnerships’ or fragile states as those low-income countries with a lack of political commitment or weak capacity to develop or implement pro-poor policies. The challenge of external interventions such as those by aid and other actors is that an understandable approach of state avoidance by donors ultimately undermining their own objectives. In the context of weak recipient state systems and policies external actors are tending to generate a multiplicity of parallel, state avoiding interventions. This in turn reinforces patterns of complexity and fragmentation of actors and efforts on both the donor and partner sides. The very process of avoidance however only serves to undermine and fragment state institutions further. In the medium term it also mitigates against the development of any meaningful accountability relationship between institutions and their citizens.
The paper found four main clusters of experiences of harmonisation and alignment across a range of fragile states: strong country leadership; strong donor leadership; weak country leadership and fragmented donors; and a further category of the ‘most difficult partnerships’ which involve particularly isolationist regimes, severe concerns around legitimacy, and/or wide spread levels of ongoing armed conflict.
A number of common obstacles and issues were identified in ‘fragile state’contexts:
- Donors often have very different ideas about what the priorities are, particularly in the absence of government leadership on policy prioritisation.
- If political commitment is perceived to be lacking, donors tend to move state-avoiding approaches. Donors seem to believe that policy alignment is a necessary precondition for systems alignment. This assumption needs to be revised.
- The presence of humanitarian relief agencies in many fragile states has serious implications for alignment. Their practice of state-avoiding approaches has major institutional development implications for such states.
- When there is weak capacity, donors and recipients particularly need to focus on a very limited number of tasks rather than spread limited human, financial and institutional capital. Not doing so is likely to undermine their own objectives.
- Further focus is required on developing appropriate country-level mechanisms for ensuring coherence both between donor government departments (e.g. across security, political, trade, development, humanitarian actors)and across different intervening governments.
Some specific recommendations for moving towards improved interventions by external actors in fragile states are set out:
- Donors should undertake detailed and joint diagnostics of existing country/national processes and systems. There is often an incorrect assumption that there is ‘nothing there’.
- Donors activities should be aligned to all stages of the government’s strategy, policy and implementation cycle. The focus of processes is the national budget. Such an approach requires changes in approach and actions by both the recipient and donor. Where use of government systems is not possible, donors should ‘shadow align’. This means using the same timetables or rules as government while not putting resources directly through systems.
- In extreme situations where alignment is not possible, donors need to harmonise. Harmonisation should focus on the creation of mechanisms that enhance, not undermine, the emergence of country systems, policies, leadership and ownership.
- The selectivity and sequencing of interventions are critical. The number of interventions should be very limited, prioritised and carefully timed to take account of existing institutional capability and mobilise capacity.
- Donors should support policymaking and aid management in partner governments. This includes providing better incentives, training and twinning opportunities as well as more effective technical assistance.
- Progress with alignment and harmonisation should be monitored at the level of impact, namely the country level. Donors should consider the range of elements around the policy and budget cycle including their own and their implementing agencies/NGO activities.