Ten recommendations for the implementation of the SG International Development Strategy

06 January 2017

Just before Christmas 2016 the Scottish Government launched its new international development policy, 'Global Citizenship: Scotland's International Development Strategy'. The Scotland Malawi Partnership strongly supports this new Strategy.

Just before Christmas 2016 the Scottish Government launched its new international development policy, ‘Global Citizenship: Scotland’s International Development Strategy’. We strongly supports this new Strategy.

Read “Ten things we love about the new Scottish Government International Development Policy!" >>

We were impressed with the engaging, accessible and effective manner in which the consultation for this strategy was conducted, with events across Scotland inviting input from not only established international development NGOs but also wider Scottish civic society. We also applauded the transparency with which the collated responses to the consultation were publically shared. We see this as having been a fair, open and effective consultation process.

We’re pleased to see that most of the core policy recommendations made by the SMP (representing our 1,000+ members) in our own submission to the consultation, and a great many of the recommendations made directly by our members in their own submissions, are included within the new Strategy.

As we start 2017, following our Ten things we love about the new Scottish Government International Development Policy!“ article, we’re keen to set out ten constructive recommendations for the implementation of this excellent new Strategy.

1. Focus on the distinctly Scottish approach:

By focusing on supporting Scotland’s distinctive approach to international development, the Scottish Government has achieved phenomenal impact with comparably modest resource. There has been a powerful multiplier effect whereby Scottish Government commitment has inspired increased civic activism and engagement. Estimates suggest for every £1 committed by the Scottish Government to its Malawi Development Programme, around £8 comes from Scottish civic society: very few governments in the world can claim this same level of support and engagement. We believe the Scottish Government will have greatest impact if it continues to focus efforts on this distinctly Scottish approach: working through partnership and collaboration to support Scottish organisations and engage Scottish civic society involved in international development.

In times of economic contraction, governments are understandably always looking for ways to increase efficiency. There can be a temptation to think that diverting funds to a smaller number of larger projects may reduce administrative costs and achieve greater impact. We do not believe economies of scale necessarily increase impact or efficiency in international development. We fear that larger programmes, without a base in Scotland, may not have the same level of community involvement and could lose the distinctly bottom-up character of Scotland’s approach which harnesses significant energy, expertise and resource from across civic society. We therefore encourage the Scottish Government to continue to focus efforts on this distinctly Scottish approach, supporting a wide range of organisations based in Scotland, small and large, to make their contribution.

2. Always work through collaboration and consultation:

The Scottish Government is to be applauded for the genuinely transparent and engaging consultation behind this Strategy. We encourage the Scottish Government to continue this collaborative approach to all it does in international development. By sharing ideas as they are developed, new initiatives are able to build on the experience and learning of others, new partners are able to be found and additional resources levered. Worldwide, the very best international development programmes have been developed out of open, transparent discussions with a wide range of stakeholders before launch; the very worst have been developed behind closed doors in a unilateral manner. We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the former.

Networks like NIDOS, the Scottish Fair Trade Forums, IDEAS, SCVO, the SMP, MaSP and others are always keen to work with government and can be used as channels to engage and consult a broad and diverse swathe of Scottish civic society. New initiatives like the Small Grants Programme were developed in active consultation with these networks and their members: they are well calibrated to the needs, opportunities and context of the wider sector and have enjoyed significant impact and support as a result. We encourage the Scottish Government to work in close collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including representative networks, as it develops new initiatives, as we believe this will help increase overall impact and value for money.

3. Embrace transparency:

The civic multiplier effect enjoyed by the Scottish Government in its international development work relies on strong external awareness of the government’s programmes. We therefore encourage maximum transparency regarding what is funded, the learning it has generated, and the impact it is having. In our own submission to the policy consultation, we recommended the Scottish Government increase the quantity of online information publically available about its international development programme with individual web-pages for each project funded, to which grant-holders can upload photos, videos and up-to-date information. We feel this would help the government communicate the breadth and impact of its international development programme and give voice and agency to the actual communities involved.

Every six months the Scottish Government collects a great wealth of monitoring, evaluation and learning data from the projects it funds. We recommended the government considers releasing an annual impact and learning report, sharing the key learning points experienced by organisations funded and celebrating the impact achieved. Presenting information from this report in a range of accessible and engaging formats (including impact info-graphics for sharing on social media), the Scottish Government could develop a sustained positive narrative amongst a broad audience, showing the considerable impact its work is having in countries such as Malawi. Similarly, by sharing collated, and anonymized, information on the key learning experienced by projects funded, the Scottish Government could help identify trends and support projects to learn from each other’s experience. We feel the Scottish Government has much to be proud of in its approach to international development and the impact it is having, which is why we encourage maximum possible transparency.

4. Maintain supportive grant management systems:

We think the relationship between grant manager and grant holder is absolutely vital to the success of international development projects. Effective grant management requires a strong understanding of the project, the organisations involved, and the country of operation.

Countries like Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and Pakistan are complex and dynamic environments: it is not uncommon to have sudden and seismic political, economic or social change. This is a symptom of extreme poverty. The most effective projects in such countries have a strong understanding of the local context and are able to adapt and evolve to the changing needs and context of local communities. This requires agile, adaptive and understanding grant management techniques rather than a dogmatic adherence to log-frames, often written many years previously. Projects achieve the best results when there is strong mutual understanding and a positive working relationship between the grant manager and grant holder.

In our own submission to the policy consultation, we recommended the Scottish Government continues its excellent support for civil servants to visit the target countries, visit projects and speak with local communities. We applaud this commitment and think such human understanding is integral to a genuinely partnership-driven approach. We also encouraged the government to set and maintain minimum standards of engagement between projects and their project managers, with face to face meetings not less than annually, complimented by regular quick ‘catch-up’ calls to flag any live issues. This would create a regular space for safe, open and honest discussions about how the project is going and how plans need to evolve in line with developments on the ground.

5. Invest in sustainability:

Sustainability is something that’s easy to promise and incredibly hard to deliver. It is, nonetheless, the single most important element of any international development engagement. There has been a great deal written on this subject, by ourselves and by many others. In our consultation submission we set out a number of innovative ideas for how sustainability could be increased and assured: others will have their own excellent ideas based on their experience. We therefore encourage an open and consultative approach to the question of enhancing sustainability, perhaps with the creation of a sustainability working group bringing together networks and their members across Scotland.

The key to effective sustainability is ensuring that commitments made in this regard at the point of grant application are effectively delivered beyond the life of the grant. There is a need for channels to be able to really listen to the communities involved long-after the grant has ended, collecting meaningful longitudinal data about sustained impact. We recognize this presents myriad challenges, for both government and grant-holders, but without genuine sustainability development efforts offer little more than sticking plaster solutions. We feel, with its distinctive approach driven by partnership and collaboration, this is an area of real opportunity and the Scottish Government could be a world-leader, trailblazing innovative new approaches to supporting genuine sustainability.

6. Establish the right balance between funding streams:

In the Strategy, the Scottish Government sets out three funding streams: development assistance, capacity strengthening, and investment. We welcome this breadth of approach but we encourage the Scottish Government to focus the majority of funds (in our consultation submission we suggested not less than 80%) on competitive challenge funds which are open for all to bid for grants on an equal basis. We think this system has worked well: it is transparent, open and fair. It allows innovative new ideas to emerge by listening to a wide range of stakeholders and it ensures value for money by comparing one proposed budget against another.

We recognize that some areas of work can be more sensitive, or require participation of very specific groups (for example Parliamentarians) and are most effectively developed through direct engagement rather than an open call for applications. This is entirely understandable. However, we encourage the Scottish Government to retain open, fair, transparent funding calls as the default modus operandi for the majority of grant awarding.

7. Engage and work through network organisations:

We feel Scotland’s national civic networks are a great strength of the sector. Networks such as NIDOS, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, the SMP, MaSP, IDEAS, SCVO and the Open Government Network each engage specific constituents from across all sections of civic society. They create safe spaces for the sharing of learning, experience and information; they support the development of new work in a consultative manner; they help promote best practice and reduce duplication; and they build and maintain public and all-party political support.

Engaging and working through networks can be an efficient and effective way to engage wider Scottish civic society. Each of these networks is accountable to its members, is transparent about all it does, and is governed by its own independent member-elected Board of Directors.

The Scottish Government has enjoyed significant impact and support through its core funding of NIDOS, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, the SMP, MaSP and we encourage this to continue. The government is to be applauded for the independence it affords each of these networks – through this independence the Scottish Government is able to present a powerful model of good civic governance and engagement to its development partners. The operational independence of these networks allows them to be led by the priorities and opportunities within the sector, to respond to new developments in a dynamic and agile manner, and to speak externally with a credible and independent voice.

8. Create strong systems for the delivery of the SDGs:

We applaud the commitment within this strategy to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is a point of immense pride to a great many Scots that Scotland was amongst the first nations in the world to commit to these new Global Goals. We believe the Scottish Government could continue to be a SDG world-leader by developing engaging new channels to effectively disseminate information about what it is doing within and towards each of the Global Goals. In our consultation submission we supported current efforts to embed the SDGs within existing processes and systems, such as the National Performance Framework and the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights, but also encouraged genuinely new commitments to the SDGs both domestically and internationally. We encouraged vibrant, meaningful debate, reflection and action between government, parliament and civic society.

With NIDOS, UNICEF Scotland, UN House, IDEAS, Learning for Sustainability and others across Scotland we encouraged the Scottish Government to:

1) Establish a post within the office of the First Minister, either as a Ministerial appointment or senior civil servant, dedicated to the implementation of the SDGs. Such a post would look to mainstream the SDGs across every department of government and enable a coordinated, coherent response, with the First Minister retaining ultimate responsible for delivery.

2) Support effective national structures to engage civic society, business and local government in the delivery of the SDGs.

3) Commit to publishing regular implementation reports detailing Scotland’s progress against the SDGs, with channels for parallel reporting from Scottish civic society.

9. Establish principles with which the private sector will be engaged:

For the last three years the SMP has been active in supporting business, trade, investment and tourism links between Scotland and Malawi. We recognize that civic links can achieve far more if they are able to engage and support the private sector and sustainable economic activity. We therefore fully support the Scottish Government’s inclusion of private sector engagement as an explicit and integral part of its new international development strategy.

Getting the nexus between aid and trade right is neither simple nor easy, yet it is of vital importance. The differing values, language and culture between the private sector and the third sector, makes this a complex and potentially contentious interface. Where international development funds are invested in private companies for commercial gain, it is right and proper that a clear framework is in place to ensure the desired human development outcomes are achieved.

Recognizing this, in our consultation submission we made three recommendations regarding private sector engagement:

(i) To be clear, transparent about and accountable to the principles and values which all private sector investments must work within.

(ii) To ensure private sector investments are held to the same standards of delivery as third sector partners, with a clear theory of change, measurable outputs and outcomes, and demonstrable value for money.

(iii) To ensure all investments are informed by knowledge of the Malawian context – we should not assume that markets and expertise in Scotland are automatically replicable in Malawi.

10. Be pro-active in advancing the Beyond Aid agenda:

Another great strength of the Scottish Government’s new international development policy is its commitment to the Beyond Aid agenda and to the concept of Policy Coherence for Development – that the government will ensure its international development activities and values are not contradicted or undermined by other policies elsewhere in government. The Scottish Government is well placed to be a world-leader in this regard given an ever-increasing number of different government departments are actively engaged in the Malawi Development Programme in some way. In recent years we have seen Scottish Water help lead the innovative new Climate Justice Fund, delivering clean water to hundreds of thousands of Malawians; we’ve seen Police Scotland train and support the police force in Malawi; a new Scottish Global Health Collaborative has been formed by the Chief Medical Officer with the Scotland Malawi Partnership, the NHS and others; and Education Scotland has developed an innovative partnership agreement with the Government of Malawi to support school inspections. These are big achievements, and support for Malawi links can now be found in every corner of government.

This is a fantastically promising start and is to be applauded. We feel to really deliver on the Beyond Aid agenda a pro-active and transparent approach is needed, led by the very centre of government, to mainstream Policy Coherence for Development across government.

One obvious area for further cross-government working is in health which accounts for approximately 40% of Scottish Government expenditure, with a 2015 budget of £12.2 billion. The Scottish Government does not currently have any health-focused policy in relation to international development, except for a commitment to ethical recruitment of international healthcare workers and a 2006 Health Department Letter which launched the two-year pilot of a volunteering scheme (run by VSO) which was not continued. The new Scottish Global Health Collaborative presents a great opportunity to develop a Scottish Global Health Framework outlining how Scotland’s world class health systems will help support healthcare in partner countries, for mutual benefit.

In this, and many other areas, there are opportunities for Scotland to take a genuinely pioneering approach to the Beyond Aid agenda.

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