International development programme - review: summary report

The 2020 Programme for Government announced the intention to review the approach to international development in light of coronavirus and this report summarises the findings from that review.

Annex 1: New Programme Principles

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a re-fresh of the Scottish Government's approach to International Development. Coupled with that, the demand for change by the Black Lives Matter movement has raised serious questions to which all Governments should consider their response. This refresh of the Scottish Government's International Development offer is to ensure our programme is future-proofed against an ever-changing global outlook. 

Our new Principles are complementary to the 2016 International Development Strategy and sit below our overarching Vision which has not changed:

"Vision from the 2016 International Development Strategy

The Scottish Government's vision remains that through embedding the UN Global Goals, Scotland will contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality internationally.".

A key addition in introducing our new Principles is our statement of the Overarching Ethos for the Principles: 

"International Solidarity in an interdependent world means embedding a human rights approach in all our work. We speak out with clarity of purpose and compassion, in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

In establishing the Principles we were keen to make sure that the Scottish Government's Human Rights Approach clearly underpinned them, to make clear that this framework would continue to govern all that we do and our partnerships with others. Another key ongoing commitment that we want to reconfirm is to the UN Sustainable Development Goals ("SDGs", also known as the Global Goals). Initially some stakeholders raised concerns with us that we were not explicit in the draft Principles about their relationship with the existing Vision in our Strategy and its basis in the SDGs. Following that feedback, we incorporated changes to clarify this, that our commitment to the SDGs is retained and central to how we work and how we measure success. 

As stated above, the other overarching concept that has been initiated by the review is in response to the Black Lives Matter ("BLM") movement, which demanded action of all Governments but has specific meaning for the International Development ("ID") sector in terms of the related issue often referred to as "white gaze". Discussing what BLM means for the ID sector has been considered as a real strength of this review and we are keen to ensure that, moving forward, we don't lose the urgency which the movement demands. In discussions with ID Ministers and government officials from other European countries, it became apparent that in engaging in this debate in relation to ID, Scotland is ploughing new furrows.  Stakeholders in the partner-country roundtable discussions were pleased that these issues were raised and UN Women Malawi found this to be a powerful approach and of interest to their work. 

We recognise that many of those working in the field of international development have been engaging in debate on the issues raised by BLM – such as systemic racism and inequality – for some time, but also that sufficient structural change has not yet come. These are clearly not issues for the Scottish ID sector to solve on its own, and must be faced by all those involved in international development. However, from this review, and in particular our new Principles, we believe Scotland can lead by example in how we design and fund our ID programme.

We recognise that much more work is needed in this area and these challenging debates on how we all work together towards shifting power to the global south will need to continue to improve how our network of partner-countries is better able to work together so every country achieves the SGDs. We believe that our new Programme Principles will enable us to lead by example and better support us all on this journey. 

Each of the new eight new Programme Principles are detailed here, with the background to their creation including the feedback received on the initial draft along with explanations behind the changes made to respond to that feedback:  

1. Partner-country led development 

We recognise that countries prioritise their own needs and lead their own development, therefore we fund work that is aligned with national / local plans and other in-country development partners. In supporting partner-countries we make sure we have sufficient expertise and skills to form a partnership and add value, and also support them to move beyond aid to sustainable development, including adapting to the global climate emergency.

Across the Review, there was strong support from all stakeholders on the intention behind, and drafting of this Principle. Central to this Principle is being guided by our partner-countries on their needs and priorities, whilst reflecting on whether we are best placed to meet these needs. If we believe that we are not the best match for an identified need, we will say so. 

There was a range of discussions on what we meant by 'partnership' 'best match' and 'added value' and in the draft, and this is outlined in more detail below. However for this Principle our measure of best match and 'form a partnership and add value' from a Scottish side is whether the Scottish Government, the Scottish civil society networks, and/or Scottish institutions are the best fit in terms of expertise, skills and/or knowledge to best support the partner-country network to have a more sustainable, better impact than if they partnered with other donors, networks or expert groups. Undertaking this initial assessment will be key in making sure we deliver the best impact for the partner-county network from the limited funds that we have available.  After further engagement across Scottish Government, Trade and Climate directorates were keen to make the links with moving 'beyond aid' and the climate emergency. We have therefore expanded this principle to make this clear.

2. Equality

We recognise the enduring and intersectional inequalities that exist and we ensure reducing inequalities is central to how we work.  We oppose racism in all its forms and aspire to be anti-racist in our work. We prioritise the rights of women and girls, their advancement and equality. 

Across the Review, there was strong support from all stakeholders on our Principle on tackling inequalities. It is widely recognised that inequalities have been severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Much more is needed to support the vulnerable and marginalised and to bring the rights of women and girls to the forefront. Not just because it is their human right, but also because societies need the views and contribution of those who currently live on the periphery, including women, if we are going to tackle and overcome the pressing global challenges to human well-being in a time of environmental degradation and climate change. 

Earlier versions of this Principle were drafted to include other elements under the banner of 'do no harm', for example, white privilege and safeguarding. On reflection we took on board that this risked confusion and therefore the final version focuses on our commitment to reducing inequalities and our commitment to anti-racism. A separate principle (Principle 4) focuses instead on Inclusion and Diversity.

3. Amplify global-south voices

We encourage advocacy by and in support of the global south including the poorest and those living in vulnerable situations.. 

There was strong support from all stakeholders on the intention and drafting of this Principle. A key challenge with this Principle is how to turn words into action. Broad discussions took place on how to amplify global south voices, including; looking for partners already involved in particular areas; supporting civil society organisations to holding duty bearers to account by working with communities; supporting and building capacity in organisations already involved; building community capacity so they know their rights and where to go to address issues; engaging with universities and student activists; and drawing on diaspora.  One stakeholder felt that if the Programme was really trying to make a difference, there was the option of shifting away from traditional development and focusing funding solely on advocacy. 

A linked discussion throughout the Review, was debate around 'who are the experts?' and therefore 'whose voices should be advocated?' This relates beyond this Principle, but discussions in one group appeared to conclude that 'expertise' is linked to subject knowledge (learnt or lived experience) yet beyond that, the value and prioritisation of that knowledge was subjective. In other discussions it was argued that local communities; rural communities; and people on the ground were the experts due to their lived experienced. In other cases, local government, national government; international practitioners; professions; and NGOs and in some cases local elites and urban dwellers were argued as experts due to their broader knowledge, and overview of complex systems and governance structures. Equally the opposite for almost all the categories above was argued at some point depending on situation and context. 

Such divergence in views, is less a theoretical issue, but much more a practical challenge when trying to get the best out of a small fund with limited resources. When reflecting on the feedback from review events, we decided to alter the wording in this Principle slightly from 'we support advocacy for the poorest people' to 'we support advocacy by and in support of the global south including the poorest.'  This was to recognise that in many cases, the advocacy we are best able to support will most likely be by representation via particular channels and networks rather than via direct grass-roots community approaches by the Scottish Government that, in practice, requires significant resources to deliver on successfully. Again, this change was as a result of helpful feedback from civil society stakeholders on our original text.

4. Inclusion and diversity

We question whose expertise we value, who we listen to and who holds the levers of power. We support new and innovative ways to break down barriers to harness a diverse range of new voices and new ideas to drive change.

Across the Review events, there was again strong support from stakeholders on the intention of this Principle, however we refined the draft to make sure the focus was clear.  Originally drafted with "inclusive" as the header and "diversity" within the following statement, feedback from stakeholders was that the two concepts are different and should be addressed as such. Therefore, the first half of the new Principle, as restated, addresses inclusion by questioning whose expertise we value and how we plan to do this, whilst the second half addresses the need to bring more diversity by removing barriers. 

A number of stakeholders felt more work is required to explore what this means both theoretically and practically. One stakeholder felt that being open to exploring the issue of systemic racism and the issue often referred to as white gaze, highlight by BLM and not assuming that we have the answers at this time was a helpful starting point in bring about change.  

Another Malawian stakeholder was keen to stress that for them, the BLM movement should not result in white people keeping quiet about development issues, but that change in partner-countries should nevertheless be led by that country's citizens and elected leaders. However, these citizens and elected leaders still needed to be held to account locally and internationally and there needs to be mutuality in doing this, being equally open to external criticism.  

Other members, whilst supportive of this Principle, were keen to understand how increasing diversity would be executed. This question came against a background that a few stakeholders who felt that it was the same partners and organisations, who had benefited from funding in the past, were still benefiting now and how could new projects and partners access funds in the future?  We shall consider this as we look at ways to engage with and support new organisations, but our key interest in increasing diversity is focused on widening access to our programme to local Civil Society Organisations and institutions in partner-countries, but also balancing this against our interest in establishing certain longer term partnerships with institutions in each of Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.

An initial mechanism for delivering on this Principle will be the Scottish Government's Global South Programme Panel on International Development.  Having discussed both thematic priorities and the development of programme Principles with partner-country representatives and other key global south representatives during the Review process, we want to ensure that the Scottish Government continues to hear and benefit from "experts by experience", in line with this commitment. With an emphasis on internationalism and working with the international community for the benefit of our partner-countries, this Panel will, we hope, further develop those international connections in the spirit of inclusivity and to increase diversity.

5. Collaboration and partnerships

We build partnerships with a shared ethos and vision that benefit from expertise across partner countries to foster joint learning and co-create solutions to further our commitment in our 2016 International Development Strategy to the "Beyond Aid agenda".

Across the Review, there was also strong support from stakeholders on the intention of this Principle. However, in the original drafting with its emphasis on partnerships with "a shared ethos and vision that benefit from expertise from Scotland and foster joint learning", there was concern expressed in the academics event that the wording was too focused on Scottish expertise rather than the range of expertise across the partner-country network. There was also a desire to stress the needs for joint learning and co-creation to be emphasised and to recognise that partnership should be focused on sustainability in line with the beyond aid agenda, a key component of our 2016 Strategy.   

Concerns as to how the reference to "Scottish expertise" could be negatively interpreted were highlighted very early on in the Review process. The original drafting was therefore amended and the above wording proposed at the majority of stakeholder events from October onwards. In general, partner-countries welcomed the acknowledgement by the Scottish Government, and especially the Minister, that Scotland does not hold all of the expertise and suggested that this acknowledgement was already a step in addressing the issue of 'white gaze'. Others also welcomed the role that subject experts in Scotland bring to partnerships especially the work of NHS Scotland and Police Scotland and the peer to peer programme and capacity building projects built around that subject expertise. Whilst some had been critical around promoting expertise in Scotland, others felt that this should not be discounted but equal recognition needed to be given to the range of expertise and skills present across the network of partner-countries.

An important point made at the Rwandan roundtable on building sustainable partnerships was that collaborations should first start in that region, as Africans need to collaborate more. Wider partnerships with countries like Scotland should then follow. 

6. Innovative, adapting and sustainable 

We design programmes that are: flexible, resourceful and capable of responding to changing circumstances; are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, with interventions that consider long-term aims, and take account of risk. Recognising that we are facing a global climate emergency, we will support increasing resilience to climate change and to transition to becoming, as appropriate, net-zero economies in a way that is fair, just and leaves no one behind.

Across the Review, there was support from all stakeholders on the intention of this Principle. However, many stakeholders felt the practical challenges of implementing it would be extensive and complex.  In relation to sustainability, a key criticism of current approaches was that we focus too much on impact assessments and evaluation support structures that can be counter-productive. Preliminary impact assessments or pilot studies, which involve multiple stakeholders and engage with complex systems, before full interventions are initiated, were considered better by some event attendees for embedding sustainability. There was general agreement that the acknowledgement of risk (and appetite for risk in a small programme) is important for both innovation and sustainability and a key output of assessments should be learning not just success. A range of processes and mechanisms were discussed on flexible funding and building capacity to more adaptive to change.

A further element that was discussed was long term social and economic sustainability and its links with the beyond aid agenda. Support to local organisations to build capacity should be prioritised, along with system-strengthening and issues surrounding good governance. However, programmes or organisations whose long-term survival is dependent on aid need very careful consideration given the fundamental concerns around their social / economic sustainability. After further engagement across Scottish Government, other directorates where very keen to reiterate our commitment to the climate emergency and a just transition.  This was therefore included.

7. Embrace technology

We support innovation to progress human health, wellbeing and environmental sustainability, such as improved access to digital services and using technology to reduce the need to travel, while acknowledging that technology can be a barrier to participation for some people in the global south.

Across the Review, there was strong support from all stakeholders on the intention of this Principle.  Whilst the technology adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed highly developed countries to keep functioning, it has also demonstrated the need for digital reform, to address the major gaps in access and accessibility to technology – not only within some of those countries where inequalities lie, but also across the developing world. Human health and wellbeing is becoming increasing tied to the technology revolution and therefore this needs consideration across our Programme to make sure unequal access to technology is reduced and we are using new technology options to reduce the environmental impact of our Programme on the planet. 

This Review has fast-tracked our consideration of how we future-proof against current and future threats, not only pandemics but also to respond to our climate change commitments in the design of our ID funding in terms of decreasing travel and increasing digitisation to support partnership working.

8. Accountable, transparent and safe

The Scottish Government and our delivery partners are transparent and accountable to local communities and the general public in our partner countries and in Scotland; we ensure, that all of our work has appropriate safeguarding policies and practices in place. 

This Principle was not tabled during the stakeholder events as accountability and transparency were viewed to be implicit in the way that we work in terms of current public reporting and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.  However, when listening to the views at the roundtables with civil society, there were particular asks in relation to transparency and accountability. For example attendees at the roundtable hosted in Malawi asked how would the Scottish Government hold itself to account, not just in delivering our Programme but in adhering to our new Principles. 

The ongoing concerns around safeguarding were also discussed at some events and the need for more work to embed the changes across the sector to make sure people are properly safeguarded. Safeguarding and a commitment to reducing inequalities was considered to be a fundamental part of every organization funded. 

In recognition and response to these discussions, we have added this Principle and commit to building on our existing monitoring and evaluation framework to strengthen this, as well as keep under review how we and our partners report on our spend, and how we adhere to our Principles. 



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