In a new policy brief called “Consultation & Participation for Local Ownership: What? Why? How?,” MFAN Partner Save the Children examines how to make the Obama Administration’s emphasis on “country ownership” a successful model for stakeholder participation in development programs.
Through two major initiatives on global food security and global health (Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, respectively), as well as his new global development policy, President Obama has established country-led approaches as a core principle of effective development practice, so that U.S. assistance is more responsive to recipient-country priorities. This brief makes suggestions for how the U.S. government can best strengthen its own models of engagement and consultation, while also providing support to national governments and civil societies “to make their own processes more inclusive, more fully owned, and ongoing rather than one-off.” As Save points out, “When done well, wide stakeholder consultation and participation in program design and implementation lead to mutually reinforcing benefits, encouraging the local ownership of development resources and activities.” These benefits include increased sustainability, better targeting of resources, and greater accountability among all stakeholders.
- Tailor participatory requirements to country-specific contexts;
- Give equal emphasis to both the quality and quantity of engagement; and
- Equip U.S. policies and bureaucratic structures with adequate country-level flexibility.
According to the brief, minimum standards for engagement “should not be overly prescriptive.” Guidelines should instead allow for U.S. government personnel and other in-country experts to identify opportunities for meaningful host country participation according to each country’s institutional capacity and political culture. To do this, Save offers the following:
- Establish levels of and approaches to engagement tailored to each country’s circumstances: The processes and approaches used by the U.S. and national governments to conduct their consultations should be selected according to the capacities and willingness of governmental and non-governmental actors.
- Consider different modalities to institutionalize stakeholder engagement: Depending upon the capacities and willingness of host governments and nongovernmental stakeholders, there are a variety of institutional structures and modalities that can be used to promote the ongoing and quality engagement of stakeholders with each other around development policies.
- Establish transparent selection procedures for nongovernmental representatives to improve the quality and diversity of participation: Those organizing consultations or other events to engage public stakeholders should publicize their events widely and appropriately, also actively seeking the inclusion of organizations working for the poorest and most marginalized. If the consultation process cannot be open to all, nongovernmental groups should be relied upon to select their own representatives according to a transparent system devised by themselves.
The brief also highlights bureaucratic obstacles in our foreign assistance structure to sustainable, locally-owned development, and applauds the efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for undertaking reforms to address some of them in what they’ve called USAID Forward. In addition, Save makes the following recommendations:
- Reduce earmarks and directives on foreign assistance and increase country level flexibility to program resources: In many countries, earmarks are prohibitively high, restricting the ability to reprogram funds if circumstances change and preventing U.S. government personnel from responding to the outcomes of discussions, analysis and consultations with stakeholders.
- Augment USAID’s staff numbers and supplement mission operating expenses: Throughout its research, Save the Children has heard the frustrations of USAID personnel about their transformation from direct practitioners of development programming to contract managers. In countries like South Sudan where security concerns and transportation costs are burdensome on budgets, staff often felt they were overly confined to mission compounds and restricted in their interactions with beneficiary communities of U.S. assistance.