Monday, November 05, 2007

How good is Dutch development cooperation?

The Hague, 2 November. In a briefing at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, David Roodman of the Center for Global Development shared the results of this year’s Commitment to Development Index, providing some assessments for the mainly Dutch audience to debate.

The tone of the session was set by the chair when he opened the session saying that “we are number 1 again, but there’s no room for complacency.”

Roodman explained that the Index seeks to track and assess the many different ways in which ‘rich’ countries are linked with ‘poor’ countries. Its underlying precept is that greater engagement of a government with developing countries is positive and can be ranked and rewarded in different policy areas.

The aim is to get beyond foreign aid, looking at areas like trade, security, investment, and migration. The Index does not strictly speaking ‘measure’ different policies – it helps people asks questions about their country’s – and especially their government’s – position in the Index.

The 2007 results give the Netherlands a 6.7 (out of 10) score – a slight decrease from 2006 but still enough to top the rankings. According to Roodman: “The Netherlands is about average in four areas, so if the best can do better, all of them can.”

Three of the key ‘take away’ messages of Roodman: That aid is much more than just quantity; that development is much more than just aid; and that even the top ranked countries have average scores on several of the measures.

Paul Hoebink (CIDIN) kicked off the panel reactions, questioning whether his country deserves the gold medal. He queried some of the methodological assumptions and asked whether the data used actually measure the ‘development friendliness’ of Dutch policies. Is high foreign private investment by Dutch companies necessarily development friendly? Perhaps it is a sort of tied aid?

Peter Konijn (Cordaid) took a different perspective, looking more into the usefulness of the the Index as a tool for change. He suggested that it might be a good tool to put ‘peer pressure’ on different governments and he wondered whether it might actually be a basis for governments to commit themselves to better scores in the various policy areas. He concluded by pointing out that a good result for the Netherlands does not help a civil society organization like Cordaid in its campaigning – the government can point to their high CDI rankings!

Questions from the floor ranged across various issues. What is the ‘development’ that the countries are ranked towards? What is the overall purpose of the Index? How can different elements be improved? What effects does it have in different countries, in terms of changing the behaviors of governments? The session clearly stimulated discussion on the relations among the policies, the degree they are –or are intended to be – development friendly, and the data and measures used. Roodman made it clear in one of his responses that the Index seeks to ‘measure’ policies, not the motives behind policies.

Following the presentations in The Hague and Brussels, there remain a lot of tantalizing notions: Countries where governments are closer to the people seem to achieve a higher rank. Taking action on climate change and the environment requires that the rich take the lead. Does the security ranking give undue emphasis to military measures at the expense of ‘softer’ conflict resolution and prevention actions? Measures of some policies, such as migration, are evolving with, for example, ‘brain-drain’ not as negative as was initially thought. Since data on support for research in tropical medicine and agriculture and other ‘development’ areas don’t seem to be accessible, the ‘technology’ scores generally reflect the ‘domestic’ R&D spend.

In some areas, the development-friendliness ‘performance’ of a government in a negotiation process – such as fisheries agreements – might be more important as a measure than whether or not it gives subsidies to a fishing fleet. Beyond the policies of a government, its ability to influence the processes by which policies are adopted by others – in European, OECD or UN forums – can also be more or less development friendly.

On further reflection, one wonders whether and how such an index of government commitment and policies might also reflect the wider commitment of different societies to development – in terms of public support. And what about the fast-growing small-scale ‘private’ cooperation projects by individuals and small citizen groups and perhaps the most widespread foreign experience of many individuals – tourism? Can these also be assessed on their development friendliness?

Story by Peter Ballantyne

The Commitment to Development Index ranks 21 high-income industrialized countries on how well their policies and actions support poor countries' efforts to build prosperity, good government, and security.

In 2007, for the second year running, the Netherlands comes in first on the strength of ample aid-giving, falling greenhouse gas emissions, and support for investment in developing countries..

The powerpoint presentations of David Roodman and Paul Hoebink are available on Slideshare.

The meeting was organized by CGD, Euforic, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and SID Netherlands. It was part of a series in different European cities.

More information on the CDI is on the CGD web site; The Dutch country paper is also available in English and Dutch [pdf format]

See also Euforic dossiers on aid effectiveness, coherence, Dutch development cooperation.