Technical cooperation: Key messages for Busan and beyond


Organized, South-North collective action on technical co-operation for capacity development is possible now: There is a willingness to carry forward the current reforms of donor supported technical cooperation. Its vision must be clear and better integrated with the broader issues of capacity development than that of technical co-operation alone.

Donors play a critical supporting role: Technical co-operation approaches can change substantively when donor policies and resources can be brought to bear on these issues. Much can be said about the need for the political will for change at the level of partner countries and this applies to the donor community, as well. Donors need to assess their own internal capacity to change if they hope to be effective in supporting the direction of this reform.

Future directions in aid-supported technical co-operation must be guided by the actual experience of partner countries. Effective action is highly context specific and for impact and sustainability must be guided by local stakeholders. Organized Southern leadership is emerging, including in Africa. Partner countries can help rationalize technical co-operation by setting out clear national policies and joint management arrangements.

Joint learning to joint doing: Considerable room still exists for better joined up learning about more effective use of technical co-operation. This should continue to be organized and could make better use of global or regional networks. Post Busan, partners also have an opportunity to more pragmatically implement, monitor and adjust their common efforts to promote more effective technical co-operation in countries directly concerned.

Thinking about increasingly operational challenges post Busan

A longer term determination to change

With reference to the characterisation contained in Box 2, if partners seek to evolve from a second to a third generation model of technical co-operation, it will require a deliberately structured effort. It implies an evolution away from narrowly interpreted managerial, technical and task oriented systems of thinking and doing, to one that proactively anticipates the complexity and risk reflected in the realities of country level action to shape a relationship that is built on greater mutual accountability and constructive collaboration. This will require that donors improve the overall framework for aid, rather than tinker with procedures. Similarly, partner countries can no longer absorb aid without translating it into improved service delivery.

Southern leadership

By definition, partner countries with weak capacities will find it more difficult to shape and invest scarce resources in the management of technical co-operation at the local level. Nevertheless, where political will is present, several countries already have shown that it is possible. Because of their significant resources and experience, donors play a critical role in supporting this leadership. Not only do donors need to ask if they really are willing to give up the “driver’s seat”, partner countries must ask if they are ready to take the wheel.

Greater involvement of non-state actors

Especially when looking at technical co-operation with a capacity development lens, the current aid focus on functions, institutions and skills in the public sector cannot be a long term solution. It is imperative that partner countries and donors shift greater attention over time to the appropriate empowerment of key non-state actors, especially civil society and the private sector, who already are recognized as the predominate developers of most forms of capacity in the formal and informal sectors of today’s partner countries. Future approaches to aid and development effectiveness need to identify the approaches, institutions and individuals who can best drive these agendas from the partner country perspective.

Capacity as the “exit strategy” for technical co-operation

Aid professionals have long contemplated “capacity” as the ultimate objective of development cooperation and aid agencies routinely use technical co-operation as a primary instrument to address this objective. At any level of partnership, more routine joint examination of impact and sustainability over time and their logical end point would be a simple way to ensure that technical co-operation (experts, training, educational grants) are regularly framed with a similar sense of urgency and focus.