Effective interventions

Re-Perceiving Results: Aid programs and change in fragile societies

Conflict Research Unit of Clingendael Institute

This policy brief, by Erwin van Veen and Alies Rijper, builds on the discussions that took place during a series of events on adaptive programming.


Fragile societies face a constant risk of violent conflict that produces suffering, disorder and crisis. Unsurprisingly, it is in these contexts that development problems are most profound. Addressing such problems usually requires change in a status quo that features vested interests and structures of power. This makes the process of development subject to political contestation. As a result, change typically takes time, happens during ‘windows of opportunity’, and advances incrementally with occasional regress. Because developmental change is dynamic, aid programs need to be able to adapt their objectives and operations to changes in their (political) environment. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, meaning that donors reduce the positive influence their aid can have and risk wasting taxes. Three actions are needed to bring more adaptive aid programming about. While these actions make the political discussion on aid results in donor countries more complex, they also enable more effective spending of aid:

- Parliaments and ministries in donor countries should move away from reporting quantified and tangible results against preset objectives at output level. This focus should be replaced by a broader understanding of the type of results that aid programs can deliver.

- The same actors must shift the emphasis from programs being accountable for being executed as planned to being accountable for timely and politically savvy adjustment to contextual change.

- Funders and implementers of adaptive aid programs must sustain long-term partnerships that focus on establishing shared objectives, building trust, enabling joint learning, and conducting good risk management.

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