A different set of parameters to ascertain development cooperation becomes essential as the current SDG indicators provide an incomplete picture
The development cooperation landscape has undergone a tectonic shift in recent years thanks to the influx of emerging economies occupying a fair bit of the limelight. With the traditional donors, popularly known as the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee donors, consistently coming under the scanner for their ineffectiveness in aid delivery, transparency and accountability, the idea of developing indicators for measuring development cooperation attains greater significance.
To think of it, we live in a world where sustainability dominates every other conversation. In such a scenario, measuring the level of sustainable development is a priority for examining the trends and challenges for attaining equitable growth in the coming years. In fact, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under Agenda 2030 has its own set of 17 targets and 244 indicators, universal in nature, thereby, providing a worldwide accepted framework of development. Although there is a dedicated target on global partnerships and international cooperation (SDG 17), its indicators do not particularly focus on the aid dynamics involving what one country does for another. It, hence, presents a fairly incomplete picture of development cooperation. Besides, the SDG indicators primarily cater to a nation’s performance without much of a cross-border element. Having a separate set of indicators solely for development cooperation, therefore, becomes essential.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under Agenda 2030 has its own set of 17 targets and 244 indicators, universal in nature, thereby, providing a worldwide accepted framework of development.
Indicators are defined in a variety of ways; some are quite generic in nature and others are moulded according to the type of indicator in certain contexts. In 1993, the OECD came out with its definition of an indicator as “a parameter or a value derived from parameters, which points to/provides information about/describes the state of a phenomenon/environment/area with a significance extending beyond that directly associated with a parameter value”. Simply put, indicators give us precise information about an intricate scenario in a streamlined manner, which is easy to communicate to the different stakeholders involved. Although their utility is limited towards assessment, they cannot explain why certain circumstances erupt or a change takes place at a given time. Moreover, the OECD, in 2003, defined an indicator, especially in the context of development cooperation as “a quantitative or qualitative factor or variable that provides a simple and reliable means to measure achievement, to reflect the changes connected to an intervention, or to help assess the performance of a development actor”.
The effectiveness and reach of a major chunk of the development cooperation initiatives are driven primarily by a host of indicators. In fact, the relevance of such ‘development indicators’ gain further ground when they facilitate in developing country-specific or country-owned policies or institutions. Moreover, as per the Eurostat, these indicators are also considered vital towards adequate and proper allocation of resources and also for monitoring of development aid in the long run.
The typology of indicators varies as per the function it performs or the criteria that it fulfils. As pointed out by experts such as Sarah Holzapfel, indicators also vary at what stage it is targetted i.e., at an agency, country, or a project or programme level. Starting from performance-based indicators, contextual indicators, standard/custom indicators, results chain-based indicators to sustainability indicators, there are several overlapping categories giving space to a variety of these elements. For example, a performance indicator would give us an idea about how far has a particular parameter or a target achieved or failed to achieve from the requisite level. On the other hand, the European Commission utilises the Input-Output-Outcome-Impact typology to categorise their indicators (see Figure 1).
Moreover, the sustainability indicators move in tandem with the efficiency and effectiveness factors. This relates more to judging the efficacy of an intervention rather than measuring the development. The sustainability indicator pertains to the outcome aspect; for example, if the intervention is linked to capacity-building of teachers in schools, then, how far these teachers have helped in meeting the goal of quality education would cover the sustainability indicator.
Starting from performance-based indicators, contextual indicators, standard/custom indicators, results chain-based indicators to sustainability indicators, there are several overlapping categories giving space to a variety of these elements.
However, it is worth noting that there does not exist any pre-defined indicators that can possibly serve as a blueprint for fulfilling the priorities for each partner country or a particular project implementation. Contrary, choosing the correct indicators can actually turn out to be an uphill task for policymakers. The OECD, for example, reported in 2013 that a majority of the DAC members found it difficult to select the appropriate indicators that are suitable for measuring results at a particular level. In fact, several of the aid agencies such as Global Affairs Canada or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) develop and employ their own indicators for monitoring their aid programmes. Some of the countries, such as Ireland, also consider it essential to train their staff in understanding the rational, concept, terminology, processes, and frameworks involved in developing indicators. Recently, in 2018, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) developed a dashboard to assess the effectiveness of development cooperation with the help of 10 indicators. These included the factors of untied aid, inclusion of civil society, reliable disbursements of finance, partner country’s own profile, to name a few.
In addition, the correctness of the indicators also depends extensively on the availability of comparable, reliable, and timely data. It yet again reiterates the need of building the capacity of the aid agencies in identifying precise indicators, training them in updated statistical systems, and keeping themselves apprised by knowledge sharing between the other aid groupings and multilateral forums. As a pivotal development partner in recent years, New Delhi’s aid initiatives are playing a vital role in changing the tide of the global aid architecture. Although, the Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) Performance Dashboard enumerates the development partnerships under the three categories—Lines of Credit, Grants and Loans, Capacity Building, it does not publicly present an assessment of these initiatives. The Indian Development Partnership Administration (DPA) can possibly take cues from other aid agencies by creating its own framework or model of essential indicators for examining the development initiatives undertaken till date.
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Dr Swati Prabhu is Associate Fellow with theCentre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). Her research explores the interlinkages between Indias development partnerships and the Sustainable ...Read More +