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Community Contribution

Getting to Locally Led Development: What We Can Do to Move the Needle

Aug 06, 2018

This blog synthesizes key discussion points from a Moving the Needle 2018 afternoon breakout session on local ownership.

Time to Listen summarizes and analyzes the experiences of nearly 6,000 people in 20 aid-receiving countries, and the reflections of aid workers themselves, on the effectiveness of international assistance efforts. While they do appreciate international assistance, cynicism among people in aid recipient communities is high and they are eager to see real efforts to make international aid become more effective and achieve more sustained results. Authors conclude that, “People do not want to need assistance! They do not want to depend on outsiders for help” (pg. 21). They want to be more engaged and to have more voice and decision-making power in how aid efforts are conceived, funded, carried out and evaluated. They are calling for a shift from an externally driven aid delivery system to a more collaborative aid system (see table below).


Externally Driven Aid Delivery System

Collaborative Aid System

Local people seen as beneficiaries and aid recipients

Local people seen as colleagues and drivers of their own development

Focus on identifying needs

Focus on supporting/reinforcing capacities and identifying local priorities

Pre-planned/pre-determined programs

Context-relevant programs developed jointly by recipient communities and aid providers

Provider-driven decision-making

Collaborative decision-making

Focus on spending on a predetermined schedule

Fit money and timing to strategy and realities on the ground

Staff evaluated and rewarded for managing projects on time and on budget

Staff evaluated and rewarded for quality of relationships and results that recipients say make lasting positive changes in their lives

Monitoring and evaluation by providers on project spending and delivery of planned assistance

Monitoring, evaluation, and follow-up by providers and recipients on the results and long-term effects of assistance

Focus on growth

Planned draw down and mutually agreed exit/end of assistance strategy

From Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid (pg.138), available for purchase on Amazon and downloadable for free here.

Time to Listen concludes by asking: “Can a field of change agents change itself?” (pg. 146). The focus of an afternoon session during Moving the Needle 2018 was to begin to answer this question by identifying specific recommendations for USAID and implementing partners to take forward to make locally led development and the approaches identified in the collaborative aid system column above standard practice, rather than an exception.

Participants generated the following recommendations broken out by USAID vs. implementing partners (in some cases ideas are relevant to both) and whether the idea is “low-hanging” (meaning more easily achievable) vs. systemic. This list is not exhaustive of the ideas generated in the session.


Implementing Partners

“Low-hanging fruit” / more easily implemented options

  • Do more field-based portfolio reviews so mission staff listen to and interact more with stakeholders directly impacted by programming
  • Use co-creation design approaches (such as Broad Agency Announcements) to integrate local voices more into activity design
  • Collaborate on strategy, project and activity design with host government counterparts
  • Integrate listening, relationship-building, and engagement periods into activity start-up and work plans to avoid rushing to implementation without appropriate consultation with and buy-in of local actors (see this resource for some approaches).
  • Incorporate questions about locally led development in interviews to make sure staff hired believe in the importance of local ownership
  • Use more participatory approaches to M&E like Most Significant Change
  • Create and facilitate local advisory committees or boards that leadership engage for input and advice
  • Be as intentional about managing relationships as we are about managing agreements
  • Establish and implement Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) plans to identify critical local stakeholders and how collaboration will be carried out
  • Consider indicators that are more process oriented (not just outcome oriented). For example, how satisfied were participants with the activity? Did they feel heard, engaged in decision-making, etc.?

Recommendations that require systemic change

  • Overhaul of the activity design and solicitation process so that it is locally driven (see this resource for some ideas)
  • Change in funding processes so that local needs and priorities can dictate funding streams
  • Integrate a phase in all activities where the activity is essentially redesigned with significant local input and ownership (see this resource for some approaches)
  • Consider novel organizational management and ownership structures that make use of feedback loops to be accountable to local constituents (see IRC’s client-responsive framework here)
  • Redesign organizational incentive structures to incentivize staff to focus on sustainable, locally led development vs. solely the achievement of immediate results
  • More local context and language training for foreign staff
  • Empower local staff to take a stronger role in collaborating with local stakeholders and train foreign staff how to listen and engage in culturally appropriate ways
  • Longer agreement timeframes to enable more time for local engagement, capacity building, and handover

We hope that you consider trying one of the ideas above, or use them as inspiration for identifying other ways to support greater locally led development. What have you tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t?