Sector strategies: Operational 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

  • Partner countries need to encourage sector stakeholders to pay more attention to CD in the preparation of sector development plans and strategies. In part, this can be achieved by including guidance for CD strategy development within general guidelines on the preparation of sector development plans and strategies. It also requires that there is a shared understanding among stakeholders on what capacity development involves.
  • Donors can assist partner countries by providing lessons of experience from other sectors and countries and by supporting learning on ways to integrate CD within sector strategies. Opportunities for south-south learning and exchange should in particular be explored.

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.

  • Sector stakeholders need to exercise ownership and leadership for sector CD and ensure coordination of all efforts. They should focus attention on how they themselves will address identified CD challenges before considering any possible external TC input. This should include identification of leadership roles, mobilization of domestic resources and development of a change strategy.
  • Donors can assist sectors to diagnose capacity challenges and develop an appropriate response strategy. In so doing, donors must refrain from proposing TC support until the roles, responsibilities and contributions of sector stakeholders have been agreed upon.

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 managers are encouraged to adopt an inclusive approach that involves broad participation of sector stakeholders from across government and civil society in the CD diagnostic and plan preparation, implementation and monitoring processes. 
  • Donors can play a helpful role in assisting sectors to facilitate multi-stakeholder processes and by creating opportunities for regional and international (south-south) exchange and learning. They also need to ensure that their own funding modalities do not exclude legitimate stakeholders from participating in the design, implementation and review of sector capacity development processes.

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.

  • Sector managers (and indeed those responsible for managing national reform processes) are encouraged to adopt more “joined up” ways of working that take account of the interfaces between sector specific reforms and cross-cutting public sector reforms including decentralization. This could includeensuring that agencies responsible for finance, planning, local government, are involved in sector working groups, and that sector managers bring sector perspectives into discussions on core reforms.
  • For their part, donors need to ensure coherence between their support to central agencies, sectors and sub-national government. This might include encouraging more enhanced teamwork within agency offices, as well as the development of guidance on coherence across programme areas. Similar actions are required between donors supporting a particular sector.

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.

  • Sector stakeholders need to assume ownership and exercise leadership of CD. For sector leaders, this means determining the commitment to change among stakeholders and identifying key CD priorities in both the short and medium term. It also means putting in place appropriate processes of change management.
  • For donors, it means investing adequate time in dialogue and engagement with sector stakeholders in order to understand the scope and level of ambition of possible CD support.   Donors need to be more aware of the political context of change and to adapt approaches to sector CD work according to context, especially in fragile contexts were pre-conditions are less likely to be in place.  This includes setting realistic timelines for achieving CD results that do not undermine national leadership and commitment 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. 

  • Sector stakeholders need to “localize” the aid effectiveness agenda to the context of their specific sector. This includes taking actions to address systemic constraints that will encourage donors to align their support behind sector strategies and systems.  Sector stakeholders themselves need to drive the demand for sector performance and system reform.
  • For their part donors should work with sector partners to address the main bottlenecks to the use of country systems as well as avoid practices that can undermine domestic capacity. Strengthening country systems should take account not only of up-stream public administration functions but equally critical down-stream or front-line service delivery processes.

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

  • Sector managers need to exercise practical ownership of their CD strategy and to seek opportunities to increase their management and oversight of external TC. This can range from demonstrating clear leadership for sector CD, through to active participation in the recruitment and supervision of TA personnel and related resources.
  • Donors should not provide TC outside the framework of a sector CD strategy, and should harmonise their support with other providers. Common monitoring frameworks help to focus on collective efforts at enhancing sector capacity and should be based on the principle of mutual accountability.