Aiding Governance in Developing Countries: Progress Amid Uncertainties

Aiding Governance in Developing Countries: Progres
International aid donors have learned important lessons about how to provide effective governance assistance to developing countries, but turning these insights into practice remains a major challenge.
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Since emerging as a new donor enthusiasm in the 1990s, governance support has become a major area of aid to developing countries. The idea that remedying debilitating patterns of inefficient, corrupt, and unaccountable governance will unlock developmental progress appeals not just to aid providers but also to ordinary people throughout the developing world who are angry at unresponsive and poorly functioning states. Yet despite the natural appeal of improving governance, it has proved challenging in practice. Many initial assumptions about the task have run aground on the shoals of countervailing realities. As a result, aid practitioners have begun accumulating important insights about how to improve governance aid:

  • Governance deficiencies are often primarily political and cannot be resolved through technical assistance alone.
  • Fostering citizen demand for better governance is as important as topdown efforts aimed at improving the “supply” of governance.
  • Governance aid may be more effective at the local level than at the national level.
  • Despite the intuitive appeal of governance best practices, concentrating on locally determined “best fit” may be more productive.
  • Informal institutions are a central part of the governance puzzle and cannot be treated as developmental marginalia.
  • Governance concerns should be integrated into the full range of assistance programming.
  • Donor countries should address international drivers of poor governance.
  • Aiding governance effectively requires development agencies to rethink their own internal governance.

These eight insights represent the framework of an emergent but still tentative second generation of governance support. Often embraced in principle, they are still far from being widely implemented in practice.

Even as governance assistance progresses, it struggles with several continuing uncertainties. The empirical case that improved governance is necessary for development progress is less straightforward than many aid practitioners would wish. The increasing pressure faced by most aid organizations for rapid, clearly measurable results sometimes works against sophisticated governance assistance. Larger international aid trends, especially the rise of new donors with other priorities, threaten to weaken the governance agenda.

Fully operationalizing these insights and overcoming the uncertainties will be hard. But the central promise of governance assistance—finally getting to the heart of the development challenge—is great enough to justify the effort and to ensure that even partial success will be worthwhile.

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Comments (5)

  • CDRnik
    These eight points seems far from fundamental. Two fundamental determinants of poor governance are corruption and lack of expertise. Where are they represented in the eight points. There is a danger in drawing secondary lessons before the primary lessons are fully absorbed.
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  • Milena
    The full text link does not work!
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  • Carnegie web
    Milena -- the link seems to be working on our end. Sometimes, pdf downloads can act up in certain versions of Firefox, or be slow due to spotty internet connection. If you continue having trouble with this, please contact and use the subject line 'Trouble accessing a full text link' and we would be happy to help figure out why you are having trouble.
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  • Milena
    Thanks much, Carnegie web!
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  • Carnegie web
    Happy to help!
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