There has been fundamental change in aid paradigms in recent years. What new approaches are required to develop the partnerships and transparency these new paradigms require? How can embedded traditions, vested interests and bureaucratic inertia be overcome? This book from the Institute of Development Studies collects accounts from 16 countries that focus on the socio-political dynamics of aid, and advance an understanding of aid as a complex system. It argues that the dynamics of power and relationships need to be better understood.
For aid actors to move beyond the ambitious new rhetoric, they need to adopt a complex systems approach to analysis. This involves understanding: (i) The choices being made by individual aid actors and their position and power within the system, and (ii) the relationships and networks between actors in the system as a whole. This should replace the old, linear approach, with its emphasis on upward accountability, bureaucratic conformity and financial disbursement targets. Instead, the new environment requires flexible procedures, development of skills for relationship building and recognition of multiple lines of accountability.
Each chapter in the second section of the book represents a different part of the development system: Donors, governments, international non-governmental organisations and Southern activists. Notable findings are:
- Donor procedures are developed from Western approaches and are often used in a top-down manner. Such procedures can often exclude those who do not have knowledge of them.
- Abandoning the logical framework in favour of the use of local reporting formats can encourage greater understanding of socio-cultural dynamics and political constraints.
- The present system is based on entrenched patterns of dominance, hierarchy and control. Power is exercised overtly, for example through tied aid, and covertly, for example through the effect of donor countries’ domestic policies on poor people’s lives. Aid should not be separated from donors’ domestic and foreign policies.
- Donors’ control over finance means control over the agenda, and poor people rarely have a voice in policy making. Thus, aid continues to be governed by a series of fashions determined by strong personalities and political affiliations, rather than poor people’s priorities.
- Direct budget support has been spearheaded by economists, who are powerful within organisations, against the advice of sociologists or anthropologists. The hasty implementation of this policy has neglected the needs of poor people.
The third section of the book looks at ways for development organisations to move forward with the new agenda:
- The rights approach reflects the complexity of the aid system and a holistic conception of well-being. It also implies that poor people have entitlements to political voice and equal treatment. This places responsibility on donors to manage their lines of accountability and make them explicit.
- Donors need to become responsible and self-aware co-players in political processes. Internal efficiency and improved performance have been priorities, leading to the neglect of inter-organisational issues.
- Donors struggle with dilemmas related to their desire for local ownership, and the inherently political nature of relationships, conditionality and policy influence. One way to overcome such dilemmas is to encourage individual reflection and change. A profound shift in the personal practices of individual development actors is needed.
- Individual development practitioners have agency to address political issues within and beyond their own organisations. The increasingly intertwined global and local levels require practitioners to understand these complexities.
- Excessive control freezes systems into patterns that are unsuited to local conditions, whereas minimal rules allow complex and diverse behaviour to flourish.