Worldwide, donors spend millions of euros on governance support but are often left assessing a mixed bag of results. Delegates at a recent workshop in Brussels considered why it is so hard to achieve reliably good results and concluded that the time is ripe for a change in approaches to supporting governance.

Earlier this year, more than 20 representatives from European Commission delegations across the African continent took part in a seminar on governance. They wanted to examine progress in the field to date, and consider why results are so often mixed.

Seminar leader, Jean Bossuyt of the European Centre for Development Policy Management, said that delegates agreed the time had come for donors like the EC to take a long hard look at their activities in this area and overhaul their approach.

“Governance is not a project, it’s a society transformation,” and trying to assist such a transformation from the outside is very difficult, said Mr Bossuyt. His message resonated with another recent seminar, see article "Developing the Collective Change Capacity of Societies".

“It’s now really time to say, ‘how do we fundamentally improve our approach to governance?’ and insist on building on the good experiences of the last ten years.”


Summarising the lessons drawn from the seminar participants, Mr Bossuyt said: “The message here was clear: If you want to have results, change the way in which you support governance.”

Together, delegates came up with four ‘directions of change’ for improving support to governance.

DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE 1: Understanding the Context Better
This involves EC staff understanding the context in which they are operating, identify pathways for change and understanding the risks involved. In brief, this approach is best summed up through the political economy analysis.

DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE 2: Engaging More Deeply
Whether it’s engaging with parliaments or civil society organisations, donors need to know and have the tools to interact with these groups.

DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE 3: Working Together and Networking
Development professionals have a lot to learn from each other, sharing experiences and lessons learned. Tools like can be useful in maintaining contacts made at seminars or trainings or building new connections with colleagues working on similar issues. But staff also need the time to nurture these networks.

DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE 4:  Be Ready to Deliver
We may commit to ‘getting smart’, but are we ready to make this happen? EC staff need to look realistically at their own capacity to deliver and demand the support from Brussels that they need. Capacity development of EC staff is a wise investment.

A powerpoint presenting the key findings of the seminar is available for download, here.

One important lesson that delegates took away from the seminar was that staff are not working alone, according to Jorge Rodriguez Bilbao who works at EuropeAid Headquarters and formerly worked at the EU Delegation to Madagascar.

“It is not the same thing to manage a programme, than to facilitate a process," said Mr Rodriguez Bilbao. “The main lesson is that when you do these kinds of things, you are not alone… [Through this seminar] I discovered a lot of people who had a similar experience to my own.”


According to Thomas Huyghebaert from the Governance, Democracy, Gender, Human Rights Unit at EuropeAid, initiatives are being taken to address the need to strengthen quality support.

Furthermore regional democratic governance seminars have been tabled, one in Lebanon in April 2012 and another in Cambodia in the Autumn of 2012. While virtual informal networking is underway between seminar participants, it is the intention of the Governance, Democracy, Gender and Human Rights Unit of EuropeAid to help facilitate such discussions and exchange using the platform, with an initial focus on democracy support and gender issues.




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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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