Is it Time to Renew the Development Effectiveness Agenda?

During CGD’s 2020 Development Leaders Conference, conversations with heads of development agencies revealed that most viewed the 2011 Busan Principles for Effective Development Cooperation as “no longer sufficient” for covering the breadth of the development agenda. Leaders questioned whether the effectiveness agenda has kept pace with major trends that  define the “new normal” of the development landscape—including calls to support both global and local challenges and use development finance in a more “catalytic” way—and which are altering the roles and purposes of official development assistance (ODA). As we reach the mid-way of the Sustainable Development Goals which remain “tremendously off track”, the development community faces important questions about whether renewal of the effectiveness agenda is needed, and, if so, how it should change.

This blog summarizes findings from a new paper, which uses a survey of officials from development agencies and partner countries to explore these questions. Our results show that respondents think the effectiveness agenda remains useful, yet express demand for change to ensure it keeps pace with the challenges ahead. With little consensus on how to move forward, we propose four options for reform.

As the international community prepares to convene this December at the next High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), policymakers will have to consider the scope of reforms that best match their vision for the future of effectiveness.

Why does the changing development landscape matter for effectiveness?

The simple fact is, it’s been more than a decade since the Busan agenda was agreed. In the decade prior to Busan, high level meetings in Accra (2008), Paris (2005), and Rome (2003) had successively expanded the scope and ambition of the agenda. But as changes in the development landscape accelerated throughout the 2010s, particularly alongside the formalization of the SDGs, the pace of change to the effectiveness agenda slowed.

In this context, there remains debate about whether the current effectiveness principles are broad enough to guide new types of development action across the changing landscape. On one hand, the Busan agenda has been viewed as basic principles that are applicable across contexts, including (in theory) in the “new normal” of development. On the other hand, some argue that the changing development landscape in the SDG era justify calls for a new effectiveness agenda. In between, the tension is about whether and to what degree the current principles remain fit for purpose, whether revision or renewal of the agenda is necessary (or desired), and if so, what direction this change might take.

Is the current effectiveness agenda still relevant? Respondents say “yes…but it needs to change”

When asked whether the Busan effectiveness principles remain relevant for guiding best practice in development, 85 percent of respondents from development agencies answered “yes”. However, when asked whether there is value in revising or renewing the effectiveness agenda for the years ahead, 75 percent of respondents from development agencies also answered “yes”. Respondents from partner countries also overwhelmingly answered “yes” to both questions.

Respondents gave a wide variety of rationales for why changes to the effectiveness agenda are now necessary, with answers ranging in both scope and ambition. In broad strokes, responses could be grouped into three categories, with officials seeking revision or renewal to:

  1. Improve technical applicability of principles to changing contexts: some respondents suggested that the changing development landscape necessitates reforms to clarify the applicability of the current principles across new cooperation modalities (including blended and private finance) and different country contexts (including in fragile states and middle-income countries). Such efforts are underway as part of the GPEDC’s ongoing  review of its monitoring framework.
  2. Strategically rethink effective cooperation in the new normal: some felt that revisiting the effectiveness agenda was important to rethink what it means for cooperation to be effective in the context of the SDG agenda, climate change, and the aftermath of COVID-19—each of which strengthens the imperative to simultaneously support both global and local challenges via development resources. Some argued that there is value in rethinking effectiveness from the perspective of an emergent paradigm of global cooperation, where all actors share knowledge and resources in support of sustainable development.
  3. Reignite political momentum: many noted that while the effectiveness principles remain relevant, limited political attention on effectiveness has hampered implementation partly by reducing domestic incentives to follow-through on commitments. As a result, they argued that renewing or revising the agenda could re-engage politicians at home, and potentially (re)generate political interest from other actors, including those who have disengaged from the GPEDC process (such as the BRICS).

While these results underscore strong demand for reform, responses do not point to a clear, singular path forward. Instead, they highlight a range of possible options that differ in terms of their scope, the actors involved, and the level of political will required for success.

The future of the effectiveness agenda: four options for reform

Based on the entirety of our survey findings, we propose four possible scenarios for the future of the effectiveness agenda. The scenarios are drawn from a simple 2 x 2 framework that considers inclusivity in terms of the actors, modalities, and flows covered by potential iterations of the agenda, and the political will available for reform (Figure 1). The x-axis captures the intended inclusivity of the agenda, ranging from “comprehensive” to “narrower” iterations and scope. The y-axis considers the ambitiousness of the reforms based on differing political will, spanning from a substantive “renewal” of the agenda in cases of high political appetite for reform, to a modest “revision” of parts of the agenda if political appetite remains low.

Within these dimensions, we suggest that there are four main scenarios, each of which is necessarily imperfect.

Figure 1: Framework of scenarios for the future of the effectiveness agenda

Scenario 1: Align effectiveness with the SDGs

This scenario involves a full rethink of the effectiveness agenda to align principles with the spectrum of cooperation partnerships and action needed to achieve the SDGs. It aims for broad coverage across actors, flows, and modalities, and would require substantive political engagement to be successful. Under this scenario, it may be necessary to transfer leadership and monitoring of the effectiveness agenda to the UN system. (We are not the first to suggest this option, see here, and here for instance).

Scenario 2: Revisit the current effectiveness principles

This scenario proposes a modest revision of the effectiveness framework to account for changes in the global development landscape since Busan, revising and clarifying effectiveness principles and monitoring indicators to improve applicability across different flows and contexts. This scenario would also aim at inclusive re-engagement of all development actors.

Scenario 3: Develop parallel principles tailored to specific challenges

This scenario builds on the foundation provided by the current effectiveness principles, with the addition of tailored principles for effective practice on specific issues. To a degree, this scenario is already materializing, with, for instance, the publication of the OECD Principles for Blended Finance and the Kampala Principles for Effective Private Sector Engagement providing additional standards for development partnerships involving the private sector. Under this scenario, all actors remain engaged under the umbrella of the Busan principles, but specific sub-principles are targeted to the most affected group of actors.

Scenario 4: Refocus on ODA effectiveness

This scenario involves narrowing the development effectiveness agenda to (re)focus on ODA flows. Based on the understanding that ODA is a unique source of development finance, this scenario would aim to renew the effectiveness principles for ODA, while accounting for its changing roles and purposes. Doing so would require renewed political commitment to the agenda, which would become the primary responsibility of ODA-disbursing agencies to uphold and champion, including when implementing ODA with other partners.

An ambitious path forward is risky, but provides the best opportunity for meaningful change

As the international community prepares to convene at the 2022 HLM of the GPEDC to discuss the future of cooperation, there is a moment for policymakers to meaningfully rethink development effectiveness for the road ahead. Yet questions remain about the specific path forward and the ambitiousness of the reform.

There is no perfect solution—all scenarios have costs and risks of failure. Renewing the agenda could bring political momentum back to questions of effectiveness and align the effectiveness agenda with the complex realities of “doing development” in the 2020s, yet risks diluting the agenda to achieve an inclusive consensus that may not materialize. Alternatively, revising the agenda may address more technical concerns, but could do little to draw the political attention needed for meaningful implementation.

Ultimately, the question is whether the risks of failure to renewal outweigh those of more limited action. While decisions of whether and how the agenda should change will undoubtedly involve a long and complex process and tough negotiations among actors with different viewpoints, reigniting discussions on development effectiveness is a necessary first step to ensuring the agenda can keep pace with the challenges ahead.

So, is it time to renew the development effectiveness agenda? We think so.



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.