The puzzle of parliamentary assistance

At the end of September GPG Founder & CEO, Greg Power, addressed the inaugural meeting at the House of Commons of a new ‘Community of Practice’ on international assistance to parliaments. Greg introduced the forthcoming DFID ‘How to Note’ on parliamentary and party assistance which aims to provide a state of the art reflection of the current evidence base in this field. 

The search for more effective forms of international development assistance in the last few years has seen increasing emphasis on the need for more flexible and responsive forms of programming, that engage fully with local political dynamics and recognise the importance of changing behaviour as much as formal rules and structures.

While there is general consensus on the principles behind ‘Doing Development Differently’, the challenge is in translating these insights in to practical guidance for those designing and delivering such projects, particularly in the field of parliamentary assistance.

It was these themes that formed the basis of the discussion at parliamentary assistance ‘Community of Practice’ at Westminster, convened by the House of Commons, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The event took as its starting point the forthcoming guidance in the DFID ‘How to Note’ on parliamentary and party support. Written by Greg Power and Tom Carothers, the Note recommends practical ways in which assistance projects can better understand political institutions and incentives, and design programmes that are capable of adapting to the changing political environment.

The central point highlighted in the Note, and the discussion that took place in Westminster, is that parliamentary assistance needs to move away from its traditional reliance on pre-designed templates.  No two parliaments are alike, and the most effective support programmes start by engaging with the interests of those working inside the parliament – that is, those who will be most directly affected by change.

As the Note points out, a key question when looking at the prospects for reform in any parliament is “What does the institution look like through the eyes of those who have power?”

Implementing this sort of approach will, though, require changes at almost every stage of project implementation.  Accepting that programme designers do not have all the answers means that projects need to adapt to the changing political environment, experiment with new ideas, and occasionally fail.

Both the ‘Community of Practice’ and the ‘How to Note’ are a welcome response to the International Development Committee’s recommendations from its January report that DFID should put parliaments at the heart of its governance work.

The ambition is now that both initiatives will enable greater innovation and sharing of best practice between those working with parliaments, and ultimately increase the effectiveness of parliamentary assistance in its entirety.

The DFID ‘How to Note’ on Parliamentary and Party Assistance is due to be published in November.

This piece was taken from our  newsletter dated October 26 2015. To subscribe, please visit our homepage.