J Brian Atwood, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


The problems of today cannot be resolved in isolation. J Brian Atwood, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, discusses bringing countries together to promote the economic and social wellbeing of people around the world


The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is committed to its member states, seeking democratic and market-driven economies that support the wellbeing of citizens. How are these values translated into effective policy in the context of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC)?

The mandate of the DAC is to promote development and poverty reduction in our developing partner countries, ie. countries outside the OECD membership. In working on development, the DAC respects the ownership that our development partners need to have over their own development processes. At the same time, our cooperation and partnerships are clearly based on the values we represent and believe in, both politically and economically.

There are many ways these values are translated into our development policies: promoting transparency and accountability; working with partners to strengthen their systems and reform their economic policies; supporting their capacity to trade and integrate into the global economy; and working to track, retrieve and recover illicit flows to developing countries. In all cases, however, putting our policies into practice is not just a question of executing policies; to be effective, we must work with developing partners.

Can you outline the OECD Innovation Strategy and explain why it is necessary to measure innovation? How are you supporting public sector innovation and knowledge acquisition?

The OECD Innovation Strategy acknowledges the need for cross-government policies to harness innovation as a major driver of productivity for economic growth and development. It is built around five priorities for government action, including improved governance and measurement of innovation policies. Evaluation, in particular, plays a key role in enhancing the effectiveness, coherence and efficiency of innovation and serves as the principal means of establishing the legitimacy and credibility of any governmental intervention. Efforts aimed at defining common standards in a way that allows benchmarking will also be very important for developing countries, who increasingly rely on innovation.

To this end, the Measurement Agenda for Innovation builds on a half century’s worth of OECD indicator development to support evidence-based policy making and evaluation. It identifies areas in which international action is still needed, including the development of innovation metrics linked to aggregate measures of economic performance; the creation of new and interdisciplinary approaches to capture knowledge creation and flows; and further research into the social impacts of innovation.

The new OECD book, Knowledge Networks and Markets in the Life Sciences, begins to explore some of the emerging organisations and mechanisms that share and trade an increasing variety of assets necessary to capture knowledge flows, but more work in this field is needed.

What policies have you been most influential in establishing? To what extent do you consider the needs and concerns of society when helping to design and implement policy?

There are few areas of development policy where the DAC has not played an important role. This starts with the definition of what is generally considered to be development cooperation, through the concept of Official Development Assistance (ODA ). It continues with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are based to a large extent on work in the DAC , as expressed in our 1996 publication, Shaping the 21st Century. This was important since it was the first time the world had common development goals that different stakeholders work towards and monitor themselves against.

Our mandate makes clear that the DAC exists to address the needs of societies, by contributing to sustainable development, including pro-poor economic growth, poverty reduction, improvement of living standards in developing countries, and a future in which no country will depend on aid.

Which countries are the latest to have joined the expanding OECD network? How are they providing new solutions to economic challenges and sustainable development?

OECD has 34 member countries, while the DAC comprises 24 members (including the EU, which, while not a country, is a full member of the committee). The most recent accession to the DAC was South Korea in 2010. However, the network that engages in the DAC work reaches far beyond our membership, covering development stakeholders from low and middle-income countries, the public, civil society and academia, as well as international organisations. The best example of our reach is last year’s High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, which was attended by over 160 nations, 48 international organisations, civil society representatives, private sector executives, parliamentarians, etc. All these actors bring expertise and knowledge, broadening the pool of experience on how to address development challenges individually and in partnerships.

The OECD has committed a substantial investment in developing countries to enable broader interaction – beyond the mere provision of aid – to support growth, development and poverty reduction. How do you allocate these funds to achieve these goals?

I take it that the investment you refer to is the amount of ODA – $133.5 billion in 2011 – that has been provided by the members of the DAC . This has not been an investment of the OECD or the DAC as an institution. The allocation of these funds remains the responsibility of the countries that raise them. ODA , or ‘aid’, has never merely been provided as a financial transaction. No DAC members see development cooperation as a simple question of putting money into a project pipeline and then waiting for growth and poverty reduction to come out at the end. Development cooperation has always been multidimensional. In emerging countries, development is not a matter of one department, but is essentially a question of progress and better lives that everybody works to achieve.

That is why development cooperation requires a partnership approach. ODA is the resource that facilitates this partnership, rather than any particular kind of financial transaction. It can be used in vastly different ways, from budget support to a classical stand-alone project, but can also be used to work with tax administrations in developing countries to raise revenue and/or to improve government accountability; take equity stakes in microfinance institutions; fund programmes in our own justice departments to prosecute and seize illegal assets from developing countries and return them; and establish a prize for the most transformative innovation for development.

A great deal has been achieved in the 50 years since the Organisation’s establishment. How do you foresee the coming years of the OECD/DAC? How will you remain effective in development cooperation?

I believe the key to effectiveness lies in the core principles of the DAC ’s work, notably evidence-based analysis, accountability and transparency. Working on the basis of these principles, with a clear focus on results, enables us to support our members to work most effectively in development partnerships with others – and increasingly helps to instil these principles in their thinking and policies as well.

This will allow the work of the DAC to continue to evolve, as it has with the evolution of development thinking. Over the coming years, the international community faces the task of agreeing on an international development framework that will succeed the MDGs. If the MDGs define what the international community wants to achieve, the Global Partnership focuses on ‘how’ we want to achieve it. Another important question concerns the resources – the ‘whereby’ – and how different sources of development financing relate to each other, and when and how they have an impact on development. The DAC will also work on this dimension in the years ahead.

The OECD has celebrated more than 50 years of heuristic, pioneering and credible debate and action on some of society’s greatest challenges. What inspires you the most about the work conducted through OECD collaboration?

The most inspiring thing about work at the OECD and the DAC is to have member governments, and increasingly non-member governments and other actors, come together because they want to improve and find ways to solve common challenges together. This is based on a very simple, yet unique approach: bringing them together as peers, who share the experience of dealing with policy challenges in their respective policy fields. They see how they can learn from each other to improve their policies and performance, and they understand the value of constructive peer pressure as an essential and helpful mechanism for accountability.

There is no other international forum in the world where countries work together based on information sharing, joint evidence-based analysis and knowledge exchange, making our work mutual in capacity development and an effective tool for finding shared approaches and common standards for approaching international policy issues. I believe this way of working together will become more important in the future for finding solutions to our shared challenges.