I came away from Busan feeling a bit queasy. Not because of the week-long jet lag and lack of sleep, or because Busan has been desperately disappointing for aid effectiveness. It has not, although it remains to be seen whether it will be remembered as the last whimper of the aid effectiveness agenda or the first hurrah of a global partnership for effective development cooperation.
Neither is my queasiness about donors not being held to account for their failure to meet previous commitments, nor about the fact that the aid effectiveness agenda remains somewhat poorly linked to evidence about development outcomes. Nor is it about the fact that there’s little honest discussion of the risks that are involved when investing in development, particularly in places with challenging governance environments. The queasiness comes from the fact that there remains a sense that “we” -– aid industry insiders, with money and power -– know best; as if having money and power necessarily means that one has relevant expertise. However, an antidote to my queasiness may be at hand.
Discussions at Busan briefly highlighted the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and its role in pushing forward greater transparency and accountability among both developed and developing countries. At a joint Busan event with Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative, USAID played the opening video from the OGP event in September. By making the link between OGP and the aid effectiveness agenda -– a link noted by Owen Barder, too -– USAID made clear that making development cooperation more effective is not just about providing better services and vaccinating more children, but is also about providing people in developing countries with the information that they need to make good choices and to hold their governments to account.
So, while I left Busan feeling queasy, I also have a sense of optimism. Beyond aid, through open governance, there is the promise of open development -– a democratic development where people, not “experts,” have the power. As Rakesh Rajani puts it, “The purpose of development should not be to create and apply expert solutions, but rather to help enrich the conditions in which people can do more of what they already do well — by making it easier for people to get, compare and share information; to learn from each other and outsiders about how they have made things work; to search, experiment with and craft solutions; and to team up to get things done” (World Bank, Open Development report, September 2011).