Brookings and the Center for Global Development recently released the Quality of Official Development Assistance Assessment (QuODA) tool for rating donor agencies on the quality of aid they provide. The findings are not too surprising, considering previous studies and the way the index is constructed. The United States scores poorly, with the exception of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and multilaterals such as the World Bank’s International Development Association score well. Of greater interest will be how experts and development actors respond to the data—planned to be released annually—and the measures which they consider important to the implementation of the Paris Declaration principles: results, ownership, alignment, and accountability.
The QuODA tool compares 31 donor countries and numerous development agencies according to how well they maximize efficiency, foster institutions, reduce administrative burdens, and operate transparently. The intent is to operationalize the Paris principles.
As CGD has pointed out, development depends on trade, investment, and other factors besides foreign aid, among which I would emphasize increases in productivity. As its title makes plain, the index confines itself to official development assistance, or aid to governments. The key roles played by the private sector and civil society—in setting development strategies, improving livelihoods, and holding governments accountable—should not be forgotten.
The QuODA indicators correspond only loosely to the Paris principles, and one must recognize the differences. As a proxy for results, the index uses a notion of efficiency instead of the demonstrated results of actual projects. This index is more about processes and practices than results. Moreover in connection with local ownership, the Paris Declaration and the complementary Accra Agenda for Action repeatedly mention the importance of partnerships with civil society and the private sector, and the need to build the capacity of these actors. These elements are not captured by the QuODA index’s dimension of fostering institutions.
Fostering institutions is a crucial ingredient of development. The index generally looks for support of local government institutions; however, the strengthening of government institutions will depend particularly on mechanisms of accountability, not only on donor support. Such mechanisms typically are embedded in democratic governance.
Significantly, the term “institutions” carries a much broader meaning than that of government bodies. Institutions refer to rules of the game at the heart of governance processes and market economies. Examples include mechanisms for public participation in policymaking, property rights, and contract law. Institutional strengthening in this larger sense (partly captured in the index under “efficiency”), requires reforms that extend beyond donor-recipient government relations.
No doubt the QuODA tool will be useful for a variety of purposes. Just take some time to examine what the individual indicators contain and be careful in interpreting the rankings.