Impact Assessment on South-South Cooperation Initiatives: Video Message from Xiaojun Grace Wang for the Inter-Ministerial Conference on SSTrC

Show all

Xiaojun Grace Wang
Deputy Director, UNOSSC
20 September 2018

Video Message for the Inter-Ministerial Conference on South-South and Triangular Cooperation: Emerging Population and Development Issues Influencing the 2030 Agenda (Bali, Indonesia, from 18 to 20 September 2018)



Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for inviting me to contribute to this important discussion on South-South and triangular cooperation impact assessments.

While traditional monitoring and evaluation frameworks are concerned with measuring results against a pre-defined set of targets and criteria of efficiency and effectiveness, we understand that impact assessments focus on the effects of an intervention and the extent to which these interventions are making a difference in the lives of people.

If we apply the two purposes of evaluation – learning and accountability here, in essence, impact assessments are learning exercise – they are designed to find out what change has taken place, and why. It can also serve an accountability purpose at an outcome level. However, it is not designed to account for things such as how much money has been involved, how these funds are being spent, whether activities are occurring in the most efficient and effective manner, etc.

In many ways, these high-level purposes of impact assessments are very much aligned with the characteristics of South-South cooperation, which highlights mutual learning and long-term capacity gains benefiting the developing countries in partnership with each other. Therefore, in the discourse of South-South Cooperation, while evaluation is often inviting controversial views in relation to “on whose terms and for what purpose”, impact assessment seems to be more acceptable to many Southern partners, especially with the Sustainable Development Goals providing a clear common vision for the world.

There are also technical challenges faced in evaluating, or even assessing impact of the SSC agenda. For example:

  • Different views exist on the extent to which information should be provided and to whom. Some Southern partners see their primary accountability is mutual between the governments involved in a certain South-South initiative, not to any external parties to evaluate, nor should it be applicable to use frameworks defined by “others”.
  • The diversity of South-South and triangular activities presents a range of modalities including financial support; technical cooperation; knowledge exchange; some including also South-South trade facilitation and investment promotion measures, which often coming in a package between South-South cooperation countries. Different views exist on how to measure these elements of inputs. Some like to monetize their contributions. Others oppose this, arguing that it leads to underestimation of the real and mutual contribution, or does not accurately reflect the spirit and principles of South-South cooperation.

Despite such subtle different perceptions between evaluation and impact assessment in the SSC discourse, and despite the technical challenges, there are active attempts among the academic community and practitioners to identify approaches and propose frameworks for SSC evaluations and impact assessments. These are often linked to each other.

China Institute for South-South Cooperation in Agriculture/College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University has just launched a research at a recent occasion facilitated by the UNOSSC (September 2018).

Based on the experience of China-Tanzania cooperation in agriculture, basic infrastructure, and public health, the study has made an attempt to go beyond the five principles of “aid effectiveness” and instead analyses from five dimensions: Political; Economic; Social; Environmental; and importantly, Learning.

It draws from both the Nairobi Outcome Document (2009) as well as China’s “Eight Principles for Economic Aid and Technical Assistance to Other Countries” put forward in the early 1960s, to highlight 9 principles including mutual respect, non-interferences, mutual benefits, capacity development, sustainability, etc. It also presented 15 measurable indicators for assessing these principles.

It notes that key to the evaluation of South-South cooperation is to assess “whether the cooperation is conducive to both sides and whether the partner has built its own internal development system and gained momentum with foreign capital, laid a new development foundation based on the previous system through gradual exploration and study, and explored a new development direction”.

Another example comes from NeST Africa (March 2017). Developed through a series of consultations, the NeST Africa study is rooted in the understanding that an assessment framework for South-South cooperation could not be based on the standards developed by the OECD DAC. Rather, it needs to be based on the principles and experiences of cooperation and exchanges within the developing world. It also proposed a list of indicators across the following dimensions: inclusive national ownership; horizontality; self-reliance and sustainability; accountability and transparency; and, development efficiency.

The NeST framework relies heavily on qualitative assessment measures, although there is some discussion about supplementing this with quantitative measures. One way of achieving this could be to systematically collect perception data and assess responses from different stakeholders, and then provide an average score to characterize the performance of this dimension.

South Centre (July 2017) formulated a financial assessment model but concluded that South-South cooperation should not only focus on monetary impacts but also assessing coherence between all sorts of inputs and the actual development gains deriving from the cooperation partnership. Key to this understanding would be that “quantity is not quality” (i.e. while financial contribution matters in volume, more money does not necessarily mean better results; you can achieve good development outcomes utilizing relevant skills and expertise).

As an office dedicated to promoting and supporting South-South and triangular cooperation, UNOSSC strives to ensure that the unique history, principles and spirit of these modalities are reflected in evaluations that we undertake. In practice, this means that in addition to UNDP and UN Evaluation Group guidelines and policies – which ask us to look at relevance, impact, efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability – we also ask evaluators to look at how aligned programmes are with South-South principles, and what was the “value add” of undertaking programmes through the South-South or triangular modality.

In 2014, our office commissioned a discussion paper which drew from the experiences of the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty Alleviation (the IBSA Fund). The paper explored the IBSA Fund’s contribution to South-South cooperation through evidence-based analysis of the Fund’s adherence to five core South-South principles: national ownership and leadership; mutual benefits; equality and horizontality; non-conditionality; and complementarity to North-South cooperation. In undertaking this study, the authors provided some guiding questions that can be used to look at these dimensions, for example:

1. Was the project sourced through a demand-driven approach?
2. Does the partner government provide strategic direction to the project formulation and implementation? Was a national counterpart identified and actively engaged?
3. Are there mutual gains?
4. Is there preference for using local capacities and strengthening these?
5. Are partners free to express their concerns? Do they discuss and negotiate on an equal footing?

UNOSSC is responding to calls for greater access to research and information. On UN Day for South-South Cooperation (September 12) we launched the second volume of the report Good Practices in South-South and Triangular Cooperation for Sustainable Development. This report contains more than 100 good practices submitted by Member States, UN entities, and other stakeholders, based on criteria including results to address SDGs, horizontal partnership, cross-country transfer, innovation, scalability, and sustainability.

These are technical examples. In order to support the Global South to advance the thinking on South-South impact assessment, we think it is important to empower and support Southern research institutions and think tanks. Most relevant for this discussion, in 2016 UNOSSC and UNDP jointly launched the South-South Global Thinkers initiative. This initiative brings together 6 think tank networks from the global South, encompassing more than 200 individual think tanks – with an aim to encourage dialogue and facilitate multi-disciplinary and cross-thematic research. Under this initiative, research on impact assessments is already emerging.

As we head towards the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation (BABA+40) in March next year, the issue of impact assessments/measuring the success of South-South cooperation initiatives is very much at the forefront of global discussions. BAPA+40 is an opportune moment to discuss possible frameworks and approaches to assess the impact, and how best can institutions at global, regional and country level support advancement of the impact of South-South and triangular cooperation to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. I look forward to your insights shared in this session to contribute to the thinking leading up to BAPA+40.