Achieving Sustainable Demand for Governance:
Addressing Political Dimensions of Change

Doubts about the effectiveness of international aid have led to radically new agendas for how aid should be delivered. New approaches put recipient governments, peoples and civil societies at the centre of the development process, with ‘ownership’ of development agendas. In current thinking, aid effectiveness requires that donor agencies, renamed development partners, take a step back, harmonizing their aid with locally defined needs, processes and institutions.

The aid effectiveness agenda renders more urgent than ever questions that have long taxed aid and development practitioners. How far should aid agencies set agendas for poor countries, and how far should they accept national priorities if those conflict with their own? Does it matter whether those national priorities were arrived at democratically or not? Should aid agencies attempt to intervene in the relationship between poor people and their own governments? Where they do intervene, can they help or do they inevitably make things worse?

Aid agencies grappling with the aid effectiveness agenda are finding it increasingly important to address these questions, and consequently, analysis of the politics of developing countries as a context for aid projects and programmes has increasingly been of interest to international aid agencies. However, the challenge is to translate analytical findings into aid programmes that walk the fine line between making space for local politics and empowerment on the one hand, and funding authoritarianism on the other. 

Since 2008, researchers at the Asia Research Centre have been researching this problem. The outcome of their research is a new framework for donor action, which achieves three innovations.

  • First, it links the political economy within which donor agencies themselves exist with modes of aid delivery on the ground.
  • Second, it proffers a critical conception of development, characterised by perpetual struggle between social forces over the distribution of resources, and in which the scope for donors to play a decisive and transformative role is limited and contingent.
  • Third, building on this understanding of development, it offers new ways of working for donors based upon analysis of the contingency of alliances for reform to build frameworks for formulating achievable objectives.

Detailed project description and publications.