Recognizing that poor governance poses a major obstacle to sustainable development, in the mid-1990s bilateral and multilateral donors began efforts to improve the quality of governance in developing countries. Initially, assistance programs were primarily targeted at major governing institutions relating to core national issues such as economic management, national administration, and lawmaking. Yet major development agencies have increasingly concluded that such a focus is insufficient. Governance impacts all areas of development and governance perspectives should thus be integrated within all programs.

Development actors already take governance issues into account to some extent in traditional socioeconomic sectors such as health, education, and agriculture. Substantial questions nevertheless remain about how to deepen and broaden this governance emphasis, from policy disagreements on the meaning of quality governance to the operational challenges of running integrated programs.

To advance practical thinking and action on governance integration, Carnegie joined with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and the U.S. Agency for International Development to convene a practitioners’ workshop on this topic. In order to ground the discussion in practical experience, part of the workshop was devoted to examining the question of integration in two specific thematic areas, health and climate change. The discussion brought together aid practitioners from ten different development organizations, including both governance experts and specialists from health and climate change sectors.

Key Themes

Participants in the workshop agreed on the following major themes and conclusions:

  • Varying Donor Experiences: Development actors have arrived at the need to integrate governance assistance and development in different ways. A few donors, such as the World Bank and the United Kingdom, have approached governance as a cross-cutting issue since they began work in this area. Another group, including Canada and Norway, have recently pushed for governance mainstreaming as part of a move toward focusing on fewer thematic priorities. Others, such as the UN Development Programme and the United States, are seeking to advance integration on top of their existing foundation of standalone governance work.
  • Balancing Core and Integrated Programs: The push toward integration raises questions for sector-specific programs. Socioeconomic and governance programs do not have perfectly overlapping goals and some practitioners worry that integrated programs could dilute core sector objectives. Governance specialists often argue that while integration is important, there remains a need for foundational governance work aimed at broad cross-sector processes.  
  • Persistent Debate Over Democracy: Some aid practitioners contend that integrated programs should seek to promote socioeconomic and democratic development simultaneously. There is some consensus on the importance of integrating principles often associated with democracy, such as accountability and participation, into programs. Yet significant disagreement persists over whether democracy per se is a necessary component of sustainable development. These differences complicate cross-sector agreement on common goals and reinforce the tendency of some democracy advocates to resist integrated programs.
  • Demand From Sectors: Major governance challenges clearly exist in health, climate change, and other socioeconomic sectors. As a result, many practitioners in these areas are strong proponents of a governance focus. Some socioeconomic programs already address governance, but governance specialists could provide additional expertise and practical assistance.
  • Entry Points for Implementation: Donors have made progress on multiple tools to advance integration, including governance checklists for programs and projects, governance trainings and toolkits for sector staff, and joint work between governance and socioeconomic practitioners. Governance perspectives can be incorporated at various stages in the program planning process, including in sector strategies, governance and political economy analyses, program and project designs, project implementation, and evaluations.
  • Difficulties: While the case for governance integration is strong in theory, it can be hard to clearly prove the added value of a governance perspective in sector programs. This contributes to the challenge of persuading staff across an aid organization of the importance of integration and encouraging more cross-sector collaboration. Integrated programs also face various operational challenges, including the limited number of governance specialists available to advise integrated programs, the risk of overwhelming field staff with extra planning and reporting requirements, and a lack of clarity around how to budget and pay for integrated programs.