Mar 2, 2020

Country Platforms in Fragile States: A New Path for Development Cooperation

Jonathan Papoulidis , Executive Advisor on Fragile States

By 2030, an estimated 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states, amid higher concentrations of conflict and vulnerability to disasters and climate change.   Yet attempts at more effective development cooperation to address the crisis of fragility have largely failed to invest in country-level platforms to achieve greater unity of effort.  Instead, aid is often delivered in fragile states through uncoordinated, short-term and one-off projects, combined with scattered technical assistance in the face of systemic breakdowns in institutions, markets and social cohesion. 

Country platforms are government-led coordination bodies that establish a center of gravity for governments and partners to make sense of complex political, social and economic realities, agree on shared priorities and solve collective action problems.  Although country platforms have been tried in a range of fragile states over the past two decades, they have not been properly examined, refined or incorporated into successive aid and development effectiveness agendas.  

This may soon change. The World Bank’s first-ever FCV strategy highlights the importance of country platforms and how the Bank can support them. The Bank is currently piloting support for these platforms in 11 countries.  An influential G20 EPG report, under Japan’s presidency, has called for country platforms to promote development and private investment in fragile states. CGD and USIP have recently played key roles in elevating the policy relevance of country platforms for US assistance in fragile states. UNDP has committed to support country platforms in fragile states and there are prospects for the Resident Coordinator System to follow suit.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve played direct or advisory roles in support of country platforms, from Liberia and Haiti to Somalia, DRC, South Sudan and Indonesia.  There is a pressing need to better understand the country platform approach. Yet as with many other sectors, the knowledge gleaned in practice is sometimes invisible in policy doctrine.  

The Country Platforms Model

Country platforms for development cooperation in fragile states have gone by many names and configurations. Yet, there is an underlying, aspirational model that can be attributed to many of these country platforms:

  • A high-level steering group led by Presidents or Prime-Ministers and comprised of senior multilateral and bilateral donor officials, implementing partners and representatives of civil society to help contribute to a national development plan, collective sense-making of the context, resource mobilization, mutual accountability and troubleshooting.
  • A sector-level led by government ministers who assemble their own core sector groups of technical experts, operational partners and societal stakeholders to determine sector policy, resource flows and “who’s doing what where.” 
  • A secretariat-level led by the Ministry of Planning and staffed by domestic and international experts with analytic, convening and troubleshooting roles to administer to the functioning of the steering and sector levels and facilitate achievement of overall development goals.

Platforms in Practice

This common, aspirational model can be gleaned in the graphic examples of several country platforms in fragile contexts that appear at the end of this piece.  Yet, because there has been no shared doctrine to guide development cooperation through these platforms, there have been many false starts, missteps and reinventions of the wheel. 

In Haiti, the post-earthquake country platform had an impressive and highly active steering committee and secretariat but was (externally) designed without ministerial-led sector-committees; an omission that was corrected in Haiti’s current CAED platform (see below).  In Somalia, the high-level body meets only twice a year for political dialogue, but has no steering functions to address topline concerns, including tipping points, program silos and resource flows. In Liberia, the steering committee was functional and inclusive, including NGO and INGO representatives, but the secretariat was too small to administer the cluster committees.  A review of Liberia by the UN’s transitions working group made reference to the high-level (RFTF) steering group and secretariat (RIMCO) but didn’t capture—and therefore missed key learnings into-- the short-lived, government-led cluster committees that were meant to drive key reforms.  In Sierra Leone, the country platform incorporates local government into its configuration, a learning of potential relevance to Somalia’s platform.  In Somalia, the combination of three pooled funds (World Bank, UN, AfDB) into a common funding facility was highly innovative in harmonizing aid and will be potentially replicated in CAR.  

Somalia’s government-led country platform plays a central and evolving role in steering the country’s development transition and solving collective action problems between partners. Among the more subtle but critical dimensions of Somalia’s country platform is the perhaps inadvertent role it plays in helping the government to strengthen its own internal processes. The country’s national development council and national security council were both likely strengthened by virtue of the country platform (see below), which necessitated a “learning by doing” process of internal policy formulation, cooperation and coordination through the councils in response to the platform’s more formalized political dialogue and aggregation of donor priorities, requests and resource flows, alongside those of local elites, civil society and investors. 

Deepening Platform Effectiveness

The country platform model helps to promote development and aid effectiveness principles, like mutual accountability, country ownership and inclusive process, in ways that the external delivery of disjointed, one-off projects cannot.  The New Deal on Engagement in Fragile States, embracing many of these principles, would benefit from these platforms—and the g7+ has much untapped learning to offer from member state experiences with platforms—to guide the realization of the Compact and One Vision, One Plan.   Yet, deepening the effectiveness of these platforms will require more than getting the “hardware” right to ensure the proper functions and interaction between the platform’s three levels.   It will require shaping a new “software” for development cooperation. We are presently in between development paradigms in fragile states and so the new software is still being written.

The current development paradigm has a primary focus on poverty reduction and growth, not risks and resilience which are fundamental dimensions to address in fragile states.   It often favors pre-fixed solutions, metrics and linear timeframes, not problem-driven, iterative and adaptive approaches to complex risks, crises and their root causes.  It favors small projects over scalable outcomes and systems reform.  While there are positive indications that governments, multilateral institutions, donors and implementing partners are pivoting to the new paradigm, this pivot is neither complete nor assured. 

Country platforms must ultimately become a vehicle for more collaborative, resilient, adaptive and scalable approaches to help fragile states.  

Country Platforms and Delivery Challenges

Understanding the challenges that may confront country platforms is one area in which the Global Delivery Initiative (GDI) can play a role in the discussion. Last year, GDI’s annual “challenge accepted” conference was focused on fragile contexts.  I was pleased to join a rich panel discussion on country platforms.   During the conference, GDI’s taxonomy of delivery challenges – the diverse set of non-technical challenges that can hinder development interventions on the ground – were central to discussions.  GDI’s taxonomy and evidence base offer insights into “contextual” challenges, including on navigating complex political economies and identifying major risks of shocks (conflict, disaster, pandemics)  and stress (urbanization, market deterioration, gender and ethnic tensions). And GDI is also working to gather insights, case studies, and other evidence into how reformers have addressed these challenges in a range of sectors, societies and political economies.    

Seen through the prism of the “new paradigm” for fragile states, GDI’s taxonomy and accompanying evidence base have much to offer for shaping a more resilient, adaptive, scalable approach to development in fragile states. The taxonomy’s focus areas of coordination and projects offer comparative lessons on how to elevate collective action, political commitments and institutional capacities which can be applied to strengthening societal coping capacities to manage complex risks and their root causes.  These insights can inform decision-makers, analysts and practitioners working through a country platform to increase development cooperation and outcomes in a fragile context.  

Conclusion

To date, the country platform model has been seen through a glass darkly. Yet better understanding of this underlying model and its potential is of vital importance.  While country platforms are not a panacea, they offer a significant and much needed path to enhance development cooperation in the hardest places, especially for governments and partners who are embracing more collaborative, risk-informed and adaptive ways of working.

Structures of Selected Country Platforms 

The graphical examples below portray the structures of selected country platforms.

Somalia's Country Platform

Haiti's CAED Platform

Proposed Country Platform for the Central African Republic 

Rwanda's Country Platform 

Sierra Leone's Coordination Architecture