The Use and Utility of US Government Approaches to Country Ownership: New Insights from Partner Countries

Over the last decade, the US government and other major donor countries have repeatedly expressed their commitment to the idea that “country ownership” should be central to the way aid is designed and delivered.  The principle of country ownership is that partner country governments, in meaningful consultation with local stakeholders, should exercise leadership in the design and implementation of their own national development strategies. Donors should support the partner country’s leadership in these roles by closely aligning with local priorities, shifting responsibility for implementation to local actors where possible, and strengthening the capacities of local institutions to take on these roles. This paper seeks to complement existing assessments of donors’ country ownership practices by drawing upon experiential and perception-based information from mid- and high-level government officials and donor staff in 126 developing countries.  It explores how development policymakers and practitioners in developing countries evaluate various US government efforts that promote (or hinder) country ownership and the extent to which these efforts are perceived as useful.  The survey findings suggest that the US government does pursue some of the practices widely considered to be favorable for country ownership, though differences exist by agency and by partner country characteristics.  The data also show that the US government tends to rely more heavily on “traditional” aid modalities and that practices that put countries more firmly in the driver’s seat tend to be underutilized compared to their perceived utility.  While data limitations make it difficult to draw airtight conclusions, the picture that emerges supports four policy recommendations to improve how the US government can better adhere to its commitment to support country ownership in its foreign assistance investments.

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