Position Paper
Aid, Governance and Fragility

This position paper on Aid, Governance, and Fragility was prepared by UNUWIDER under the ReCom programme of Research (Re) and Communication (Com) on foreign aid. It aims to provide an up-to-date overview and guide to two topics of central importance to international development: governance and fragility. This discussion is grounded in the central questions of the ReCom programme: What works, what could work, what is scalable, and what is transferable in foreign aid? We also consider the related question, what does not work?Governance and fragility are sometimes treated as entirely separate topics for donors, but we argue in this position paper that they are closely related and that considering them together makes good sense. Simply put, a useful way of understanding fragile states and situations is as extreme cases of ‘poor’ governance. In operating in fragile states and situations, donors face—in amplified form—many of the same core challenges related to political and economic governance that they face in all states and situations (fragile and not). The lessons of past experience with governance reform in developing countries more generally thus help to inform programming in fragile situations. Likewise, many of the core challenges for governance reform identified in the literature on fragility are core challenges for governance reform in developing countries more generally. Indeed, the five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) proposed by the International Dialogue for fragile states and situations, are relevant to aid and governance in all situations. They provide a framework for discussion in this position paper.The topic of aid, governance, and fragility covers broad ground and diverse sub-topics, from state-building in post-conflict societies to rights-based approaches to development assistance, from the development of political parties to the establishment of ‘good’ economic governance and regulatory policy. As discussed in this position paper, what works, could work, is scalable, and is transferable in foreign aid for each of these sub-topics is necessarily quite varied. However, several broad lessons are also clear with respect to ‘what works’ in how donors design and implement governance-related interventions in fragile and non-fragile states, including the importance of paying attention to local contextual factors, creating an authorizing environment for local ownership and decision-making, engaging broad sets of agents, and taking into account political factors. Building on the literature, we highlight the ReCom work on ‘Problem Driven Iterative Adaption’ (PDIA) as one key way forward for donors in programming in this area. PDIA is a set of principles that can be adopted in a wide range of situations. Rather than attempting to transfer a particular solution it transfers approaches and techniques that can be applied to a variety of country and sector contexts.This position paper is designed for a broad audience of development and foreign policy professionals. It is also intended to offer for a more specialist audience, a thematic introduction to the research conducted under the ReCom Governance and Fragility theme, including discussion of how this research contributes to the broader policy and scholarly literature. For this reason, the paper is structured to provide a broad overview of key issues with particular attention to findings developed in the ReCom background papers.