QDDR Series Extra: MFAN Member White on Development as a Discipline

Yesterday, MFAN featured a blog post by Karin Christiansen on aid transparency as follow-up to the QDDR blog series last month.  Below is another QDDR extra from MFAN member Jonathan White, senior program officer at the German Marshall Fund.  Do you think there are any questions – other than those noted by White – that the QDDR and PSD must answer to ensure these reviews lead to the creation of a national development strategy?


Enabling Development as a Discipline

By Jonathan White

The Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD) and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) represent an unprecedented confluence of factors which could fundamentally alter U.S. engagement with the world. But will the PSD and the QDDR coalesce around a unified outcomes-oriented strategy that enables the discipline of development in the U.S. political system?

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah mentioned “development as a discipline” in his Congressional testimony. What underlies this notion is that development represents a distinctive body of knowledge. Currently there is no center of gravity in the U.S. government for cultivating, testing, refining, and mastering the discipline of development which can harvest and importantly implement global best practices.

There are several “hubs of expertise” and numerous dedicated development experts in the U.S. government, but they are diffuse across agencies and bureaus; they are also tasked with pursuing a confusing array of overlapping and duplicated directives in the absence of any unified U.S. development strategy. As a result — as the world’s leading provider of U.S. foreign assistance — the United States is hitting below its belt in terms of potential economic growth and poverty alleviation that could be achieved in partnership with others.

The future of development as a discipline in the U.S. will hinge on the adoption of a unified development strategy emerging from the PSD and QDDR. These efforts must answer five key questions:

1) What are the goals (i.e. outcomes) of U.S. development policy to be pursued around which U.S. development expertise will be sharpened and honed?

2) How will modernized planning, budgeting, staffing, and operations at USAID link back to the strategy’s objectives (modernization cannot proceed in the absence of clearly stated goals)?

3) What institutional arrangements will be made to ensure that USAID becomes the “thought leader” in the U.S. government that will design and defend the strategy as resource trade-offs are made between long-term development and other competing foreign policy priorities?

4) How will the strategy allow the U.S. to pursue more flexible partnerships and instruments with other donors, NGOs, and the private sector and to employ a range of aid modalities that enable local ownership?

5) How will the strategy provide greater transparency and results that the Congress expects, as well as a coherent mission with monitoring and evaluation that the Executive requires to gauge its performance?

These are not easy questions. But they are worth asking if the necessary policy space is to be established for strengthening development as a discipline in U.S. policy.

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