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From Technical Cooperation Reform to a Wider Capacity Development Perspective

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23 September 2011

Three years after the launch of its reform of technical cooperation, the European Commission is now looking beyond technical cooperation at ways to support capacity development more consistently across all areas of development assistance.

CD & TC Reform

In mid-2008, as part of its commitment to the implementation of the Paris Declaration and after a critical Court of Auditors report on technical cooperation, the European Commission embarked on a reform known as the "Backbone Strategy". This strategy aimed to enhance the EC's approach to technical cooperation (TC) and the use of project implementation units (PIUs) so as to support capacity development (CD) more effectively. Instruments and tools were developed, procedures were simplified and staff sensitised and trained.

Three years after the launch of the reform, results are encouraging. Both self-assessments and external monitoring statistics from 2010 indicate a substantial improvement in programme quality.

"Two out of three programmes are in line with TC/CD quality criteria against one out of three during the Court of Auditor’s report in 2007," explained Paul Riembault, Head of the EuropeAid Capacity Development section.

Statistics also reveal a number of striking findings: 97% of EC programmes examined in 2010 contribute or have the potential to contribute to capacity development. Furthermore, other forms of support with no TC component such as working through international or local NGOs, score equally or even better than projects with TC components in terms of quality of the CD support process.

According to Mr Riembault, "these figures can only provide a snapshot of longer-term CD processes but they show the relevance to look at capacity development beyond technical cooperation only and to discuss how to address good CD practice more broadly in EuropeAid’s operations."

In order to discuss how the European Commission can be more effective in supporting capacity development, the EC organised last July in Brussels a workshop bringing together some 80 participants from within its own organisation, EU Member States and country partners.

During the two-day workshop, participants looked at selected country and sector case studies, examined CD approaches at EU level, discussed how to improve CD by better taking into account country contexts and opportunities and learned about the way the private sector addresses capacity development. The workshop was also an opportunity to formulate messages on CD that can inform wider preparations for the 4th High-Level Meeting on Aid Effectiveness which will take place in Busan, South Korea, in November.

According to the OECD DAC definition, capacity is the ability of people, organisations and society as a whole to manage their affairs successfully. In other words, capacity development is a human or institutional process of change, which aims at delivering more sustainable results and should be guided by integrity.

Since the 2005 Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness the debate on capacity development has broadened and evolved. Capacity development has not only been recognised as being intimately part of the aid effectiveness agenda, it has been progressively regarded as the driver of development effectiveness, combining strengthened country ownership and results on the ground. It has also been recognised as a forward looking strategy for exiting from aid dependency.

"Participants to our July workshop agreed that if the donor community is to improve the practice of capacity development, the first step is to invest more intensively in its own capacity to provide capacity development support," said Mr Riembault. " Development partners' own procedures and business processes will need to be adapted in areas critical to capacity development."

The tension existing between 'results orientation' and 'process support' is another aspect that, according to the workshop's participants, should not be overlooked.

"The pressure to deliver fast, measurable results is not conducive to a long-term engagement in Capacity Development processes," explained Mr Riembault. "In the end, capacity development is both a means to produce results and a strategic priority and the tension between the two needs to be managed."

"The need to use knowledge sharing and collaborative tools, such as, to share grassroots and practitioners' experiences is also an important aspect if we want to improve our practice of capacity developement," added M. Riembault.

Click here to download the presentation on the TC reform given by Paul Riembault at the July 2011 European Commission's workshop on Technical Cooperation and Capacity Development.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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