Mind the gap: lessons learnt and remaining challenges in parliamentary development assistance

Research reports and studies
November 2012
Alina Rocha Menocal and Tam O'Neil

Parliaments have never been more important. Most countries are now a democracy of some sort and the demands placed on parliamentarians have never been greater. Yet parliaments remain one of the least trusted institutions in the eyes of the population. And, while support to parliaments has steadily grown since the late 1980s, parliamentary development assistance is widely seen as one of the least effective areas of democracy assistance – a reputation that has become ever more problematic in the current results-based climate.

But what do we know about how – and how well – the international community support parliaments? Has the field changed over the past decade? Is there a need or an appetite for a multi-stakeholder thematic evaluation of parliamentary development assistance (PDA)? If not, what else might be done to move the field forward in the coming decade?

For this Sida-commissioned Evaluation Pre-Study, we undertook an extensive literature review and consulted widely with parliamentary experts and the organisations that support parliaments, as well as a small group of parliamentarians. Key findings include:

  • The PDA field is diverse and complex, with many different types of organisations and ways to support parliamentary reform.
  • A clear and consistent set of recommendations has emerged over the past decade or so, and there is now a consensus between donors on the principles for improved practice.
  • There are some important examples of innovation in the field, but change remains on the margins with many organisations unable or unwilling to apply lessons consistently or at all.
  • PDA is an under-evaluated area of development assistance – but a broad thematic evaluation of such a diverse field is likely to only reaffirm widely accepted principles of more effective support and will not provide much-needed operational guidance.
  • To move forward, the parliamentary development assistance community needs to undertake targeted research and evaluation exercises to fill knowledge gaps and better understand constraints on absorbing and acting on learning in the field.
  • For many organisations, the principal constraint on progress may come form perverse incentives in the aid architecture of PDA.
  • Priority areas include:
    • Comparative evaluations of similar organisations or approaches – in particular, parliamentary associations, political party foundations, issues-based support and integrated democracy programmes.
    • Substantive research on the (a) political economy of PD assistance; and (b) the interests, needs and preferences of MPs in different contexts.

We expand on key findings and recommendations in a 10-page briefing that accompanies the full report.