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The Evolution of Official Development Assistance: Achievements, Criticisms and a Way Forward

William Hynes and Simon Scott

IIIS Discussion Paper No. 437

The definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA) has for 40 years been the global standard for measuring donor efforts in supporting development co-operation objectives. It has provided the yardstick for documenting the volume and the terms of the concessional resources provided, assessing donor performance against their aid pledges and enabling partner countries, civil society and others to hold donors to account. Yet for all its value, the ODA definition has always reflected a compromise between political expediency and statistical reality. As such it is based on interpretation and consensus and therefore allows for flexibility. It has evolved over the decades, while preserving the original concepts of a definition based on principal developmental motivation, official character and a degree of concessionality.

While agreement on a consensus definition was a major achievement, discussion of the appropriateness of this measure has never ended, with a growing debate about whether ODA covers either too many activities or too few. We agree that the ODA concept has limitations. But the essence of it deserves to be retained, albeit in an amended state. To address prevailing concerns and to inform the debate, we propose an alternative measure of Official Development Effort (ODE). Furthermore, given that aid will continue to be an important part of development finance for some time to come, we argue that ODE could be useful in framing the post-2015 development agenda.


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Last updated 28 August 2014 by IIIS (Email).