Unpacking 'country ownership': four messages from the field

The new and improved Global Partnership monitoring framework for effective development co-operation, launched in 2022, is now fully in motion, with over 50 countries participating. One of its most novel aspects is the emphasis on 'collective accountability' as a cross-cutting dimension across the entire framework. This underscores that understanding the complexity of ‘ownership’ within the development landscape is vital to attaining development effectiveness. 

The following insights into operationalising ‘country ownership’ at the ground-level emerge from our study based on a research programme led by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), in partnership with the Group for the Analysis of Development/Southern Voice. The study drew on experiences across three sectors, i.e., agriculture, education, and social protection in six countries, i.e., Bangladesh, El Salvador, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Understanding development priorities

One of the first signifiers of a recipient country's ‘ownership’ is explicitly delineating the recipient’s development objectives via a policy, plan, or strategy document.  While this may demonstrate a recipient's commitment to achieving the development objective, it does not always guarantee that the associated activities will effectively contribute to its fulfilment. For instance, in El Salvador’s agriculture sector, there has been a persistent lack of clarity surrounding outputs and results and their contribution to achieving a higher objective. This lack of understanding (and evaluative thinking) was driven by a significant disparity in how individuals, even within the same institution, interpreted ‘development objectives’. 

The significance of self-financing

An increase in recipient government financing for an externally supported project is recognised as another parameter of increasing ‘country ownership’. To illustrate, the Government of Uganda increased their share of financing for their Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) Programme when the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Irish Aid pulled their funding for the programme in mid-2022. This was viewed widely as a signal of increasing ownership.  Indeed, an increase in budget allocation for a programme from a recipient government is often highlighted as an essential measure of ‘ownership’. However, one should not overlook the following caveats in this context. 

First, an increase in financing may only be allocated exclusively for a specific programme segment rather than distributed across the overall sector. This situation may arise due to funds being reallocated within the sector, resulting in a scenario where there is not necessarily a genuine increase in 'ownership' through enhanced budget allocation.
Second, an increased budget could underwrite operational costs instead of development expenditures. An increase in budget allocation, relative or absolute, may not always indicate the predictability of financing. Thus, the rise in ‘ownership’ via an increased budgetary allocation for a sector may only be for the duration of a specific sector development project.

Modality of foreign financing makes a difference

The type of financing a lender provides, e.g., grants or loans, can affect the sustainability of sector development outcomes achieved in a recipient country. For example, over the third and fourth phases of the Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP) in Bangladesh, it was observed that grant providers were comparatively more interested in attaining project/programme outcomes related to education quality. In contrast, loan providers were more interested in completing the project, i.e., short-term outputs. This disparity has been attributed to the time constraints within which loan providers operate, ultimately influencing lending countries' ownership over the progress and results of a sector project or programme. 

Inclusive participation is important

Beyond the financing prism, ‘country ownership’ can also be viewed via the participation of different stakeholders across the ‘process chain’ of development cooperation. In this context, the process chain encompasses the sequential stages of executing a foreign-funded project/programme. These stages broadly include conceptualising, designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the processes and outcomes achieved. Therefore, when we talk about an increase in ‘country ownership’, it should be understood as an increase in the participation of various key actors across the process chain. This is especially necessary to incorporate local and cultural contexts into the formulation of programmes, projects and policies. 

The meaningful involvement of key stakeholders, particularly non-state actors, was, however, concentrated solely at the early stages, i.e., conceptualisation and design of the sector project/programme. And inclusivity only grew sparser farther down the process chain. By the time we get to the later stages, active participation of non-state actors is practically non-existent in nearly all the sectors examined as part of our study. Take Senegal's agricultural sector, for instance, where various key stakeholders, including non-state actors, participated in joint project reviews between 2014 and 2018 through various types of dialogues. However, the recommendations provided at these dialogues saw little to no implementation down the line. The failure to follow up on recommendations only exacerbated non-state stakeholders' growing disinterest in participating in future sector-level processes, consequently undermining effective development cooperation. 

Thus, our research underscores the substantive participation of three broad stakeholder groups as key to delivering development effectiveness. These include the recipient government, non-state actors in the recipient country, and representatives from the lender's headquarters and country offices. These lessons should be onboarded while interpreting results from ongoing and future GPEDC monitoring rounds. 


The content of this blog article is based on the findings of the WIDER working paper, Unpacking ‘ownership’ in development co-operation effectiveness: Perspectives of Southern recipients.

This article first appeared on the website of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) and is republished here with permission. The original article is here

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.