Sector strategies: Executive summary


This Perspectives Note discusses opportunities for and challenges of capacity development in a sector context. It examines these challenges from an endogenous vantage point. Sectors are thus regarded first and foremost as frameworks for organizing the design and implementation of domestic development policies, rather than as instruments for structuring the delivery of aid. The endogenous perspective is, however, used to consider how external support for capacity development at sector level can be effectively provided, as an adjunct to locally driven processes

This Note is divided into 4 sections:

  • Section 1: introduction and background to the paper
  • Section 2: key findings drawn from evidence
  • Section 3: summary of key findings and sets out implications for good practice
  • Section 4: key messages to take forward to Busan

Key Findings

  • Partner countries and donors are exploring ways to incorporate CD in sector plans and strategies - There are, however, few sector plans and strategies that address capacity development as an integral part of the plan/ strategy.
  • The Aid Effectiveness Agenda is helping to raise the profile of sector capacity development by focusing on country ownership, systems and processes
  • Harmonisation and Alignment of Donor CD Support at Sector Level is still a work in progress
  • A “governance” approach to sector capacity development avoids a “sector narrow” perspective and helps recognize the interests, contribution and interplay of different sector actors and stakeholders    

Summary and Implications 

  • The preparation of medium term sector development strategies offers opportunities and incentives to think about sector capacity development in a more strategic and purposeful way
  • A strategy for sector CD should be at the heart of sector development and set out first and foremost what sector stakeholders will do to strengthen capacity. It is therefore much more than a roadmap to define TC inputs.
  • Developing a strategy to address sector CD challenges is demanding and requires broad-based engagement to avoid a “sector-narrow” approach. Ideally, it should involve all sector stakeholders and can benefit from facilitated discussions, learning events and knowledge sharing.
  • Sectors form part of a more complex public service system and attention needs to be given to the impact of that wider system on sector performance. In this regard the role of key central agencies (planning, budgeting, human resources) as well as of sub-national governments in facilitating or constraining sector performance needs to be carefully considered.
  • The effectiveness of external CD support is contingent on local demand for CD and a willingness to drive the process. This places an emphasis on gauging change readiness and taking account of context. A governance approach can help understand political aspects of sector capacity development including patterns of ownership, as well as the drivers of and impediments to change.
  • Implementation of aid effectiveness principles can help promote sector capacity, especially in aid dependent countries.  It can reduce many of the distortionary effects of fragmented aid that undermine capacity, while the focus on working through country systems, places greater demand on local systems to perform.
  • The Aid Effectiveness agenda creates an imperative to harmonise and align external CD support – in practice, this tends to lag behind that of financial aid, and much TC continues to be donor-managed.

Messages for Busan

  • The “sector” can provide a relevant entry point for partner countries and donors to jointly address challenges of capacity development, development performance and aid effectiveness. However, a narrow interpretation of the sector should be avoided, and joined up approaches that take account of crosscutting public sector management issues, as well as cross-sector challenges is imperative.  
  • A sector CD strategy should be an integral part of any sector development plan or strategy, and not regarded primarily as an instrument to manage donor technical co-operation inputs. Furthermore, it needs to be developed as part and parcel of the sector planning/ strategy process and not as a “bolt on” added after the plan has been completed and approved. This will help ensure that any CD support provided contributes to enhancing overall sector capacity and performance, rather than addressing the more limited implementation requirements of donor projects/ funding modalities.
  • A multi-actor/stakeholder approach should ideally inform the way sector capacity challenges are addressed. This is important because sector ownership needs to take account of the full range of actors and stakeholders that engage around a sector. It is also important because sector capacity is more than central government capacity. Effective sector performance depends on effective mobilization and coordination of sector actors and stakeholders and recognition of their potential contributions. Discussing the role and contribution of different actors and stakeholders should be a focus of dialogue between partner countries and donors.
  • Addressing sector CD needs also to take account of related public sector reforms and processes including pay reform and decentralization. A “joined up” approach will help promote coherence both among country stakeholders (sectors, central agencies, sub-national government) and among donors (sector, governance and civil society specialists). It will also promote synergies and avoid initiatives running at cross-purposes. 
  • While considerable research and analysis has been conducted on programme-based approaches, such as SWAPs, and on budget support, comparatively little work has been done on capacity development at the sector level.  The guidance produced is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done to learn from field experiences of what works and what doesn’t in terms of the incentives to drive good CD  at the sector level.