Guiding concept of the Knowledge Platform on Development Policies

A draft paper on content and process.

Social Development Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 September 2012

Objective of this paper

The objective of this paper is to propose a guiding concept of the Knowledge Platform Development Policies. Through this proposal the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aims to encourage the development of the guiding concept by Platform members in the next month up to the first formal Platform meeting convened in The Hague, 22-23 October 2012. The guiding concept, once endorsed by the Platform, will serve as the framework for the identification of research questions, the research agenda and the Platform’s work programme.

The paper has three parts:

  1. A brief review of the Terms of Reference of the Knowledge Platform Development Policies;
  2. What should be the content of the guiding concept of the Platform Development Policies?
  3. Conclusion: a process for the development and identification of a guiding concept.

Based on the concept note Platform Development Policies (June 2012), the present paper elaborates as a guiding concept Inclusive Development in Africa, the evolving Roles of Governments and Donors.

This guiding concept concentrates on the positive shifts in economic growth and resource flows in Africa and the challenges in transforming these into inclusive development. It focuses on strategic policy options of African governments and non-state actors in supporting inclusive development, while increasingly relying on resources beyond ODA. A directly related focus is the changing role of traditional donors: how should traditional donors redefine their policies assisting African partner countries to attain inclusive development? The changing role of donors should be analysed in the context of an increasing importance of other financing modalities for development than ODA.

The paper includes and where possible integrates the ideas presented by platform members in discussions and papers submitted for the October platform meeting.

I. Terms of Reference of the Knowledge Platform Development Policies

Obviously, the guiding concept of the Platform Development Policies is closely linked to the ‘Terms of Reference’ of this Platform, as set out in the Concept Note of June 2012. The Concept Note addresses the objectives, methodology and institutional setting of the Platform Development Policies. This platform is one of the five Knowledge Platforms announced in the Letter on Knowledge Policy by Minister Ben Knapen.[1]

In elaborating the guiding concept, it is important to note that the Platform Development Policies has a number of specific characteristics that have been developed in the Concept Note and the ensuing discussions:

  • An overarching and supporting role vis à vis the four thematic platforms[2], not overlapping with theme-specific research;
  • Focus on African partner countries in Dutch development cooperation;
  • Research results should feed into the process of designing policy innovations and policy choices in Dutch development cooperation;
  • Focus on policy-relevant knowledge on strategic development policies, responding to the demand expressed by policy-makers and other development actors, primarily in African partner countries;
  • Focus on effective demand articulation and use of knowledge outcomes through specific activities and outputs like policy and social dialogue, debate, advisory functions, dissemination;
  • Focus on country- and context-specific approaches, with attention for regional dimensions and mixed research methodologies including comparative and contrasting research;
  • Mutual reinforcement of research from various disciplines and development paradigms, with a preference for interdisciplinary research;
  • Integration of on-the-job capacity building in the research and research uptake;
  • Collaborative research  through consortia led by an African and a Dutch knowledge institute and preferably involving NGOs and/or the private sector; active involvement of Southern research networks in South-South-North collaboration;
  • The Platform Development Policies has a limited number of members -thus allowing face-to-face exchanges-, who act in a personal capacity. Membership consists of 50/50 African and Dutch members. This platform is complemented by a virtual platform in which any interested and committed organisation or person can participate.

The five newly established platforms have one challenge in common, as was highlighted in the discussions during the launch meeting of the Knowledge Platforms on June 13th 2012 in The Hague.

A major challenge is how to bring the worlds of knowledge, of policy-making and development practice together.[3] If we want to harness knowledge for evidence-based development policies and practice, platforms need to continuously address the following questions:

  1. Whose demand for knowledge on specific areas of policy and practice will be addressed? (government authorities, research institutes and academia, NGOs and private sector in partner countries and/or the Netherlands)
  2. What type of knowledge is required for evidence-based policy-making in differing areas and cases: making existing knowledge accessible and usable to policy-makers, building evidence by conducting experiments, long-term research on fundamental policy issues not inspired by a policy question, knowledge and capacity in the area of bringing evidence-based policy-making into practice?[4]
  3. How to ensure that the right knowledge ends up at the right place at the right moment?

II. Guiding concept : Inclusive Development in Africa, the evolving Roles of Governments and Donors

The Concept Note Platform Development Policies presented a general thematic approach for the Platform:

“Many African countries have shown strong economic growth since the beginning of this century. Policy research has an important role to play for informed policy development and decision making to sustain this growth and ensure that it will contribute to the development of more equitable and prosperous societies. Key challenges are many and the Platform will put its joint knowledge and experience together to stimulate country-specific policy research and its use in national policy dialogue while maintaining an international framework. It is here that the Knowledge Platform for Development Policies sees its added value”.

In response to the Concept note, many inspiring suggestions for specific themes and subjects have been submitted by platform members: industrialisation/transformation, science and technology, assessment of Public Private Partnerships in relation to service delivery, need for a knowledge bank in Africa, deepening our knowledge of Africa’s ‘powerhouses’ (Angola, Nigeria) and relations between Africa, Asia and Latin America,  population growth and demographic dividend, incoherent policies in developed countries [5].

The present paper proposes to first identify and develop the platform’s guiding concept on a more general level, based on the notion of sustained and equitable growth and development set out in the Concept Note. The next step for the Platform is then to look at more specific and detailed themes and subjects. Below is a first outline of the guiding concept of inclusive/equitable growth and development.

1.      Inclusive growth and development in African partner countries

Rising Africa

Since the beginning of the 21st century the world has witnessed fundamental socio-economic and geo-political shifts. A remarkable and positive development is the high sustained economic growth in Africa started in the early 2000s. This inspired journalists to coin the term of ’rising Africa’, which reflects a new sense of optimism and confidence embodied in a newly emerging middle class, a dynamic and ambitious young generation (the so-called Cheetah generation) and the information revolution which spurred new African ICT-based technologies.

Poverty is on the retreat in Africa: the proportion of people living below the poverty line decreased to 40% in 2008 from 47 % in 1990, making it the first ever reversal of the long term poverty trend.[6]

Making growth inclusive

Yet, African and international organisations and analysts agree that the decrease in poverty is not enough and too slow. The African Development Bank sees three main factors why poverty reduction in Africa is slower than in other continents. Firstly, Africa would need to grow by an annual average of at least

7 % GDP to meet the MDG of reducing poverty by half by 2015. Only a handful of countries recorded GDP growth of more than 7 %, average annual growth rates did not surpass 5.3 % in the period 2001-2009. Secondly, the link between poverty reduction and economic growth was weaker in Africa than in other regions. Thirdly, inequalities in Africa ‘significantly dwarfed the beneficial impact of the continent’s economic growth’. The Bank signals a weak link between economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa and calls for promoting inclusiveness through a strategy that creates long-term productive employment and for emphasising equity and equality of opportunity.

Many recent reports reach the same conclusion: the Africa Progress Panel, UNECA 2012 Report, The OECD African Economic Outlook 2012, the long-term strategy of the African Development Bank, to name but a few.

In fact, the increasing hope in Africa is damped by increasing plight in many countries. For instance, growth is mainly urban-based and even in urban areas the number of slums is on the rise. Productivity growth in agriculture lags far behind overall national growth, as a result of which the rural-urban divide in Africa has continued to widen[7]. Youth unemployment is on the rise.

Structural transformation for sustained growth

The limited impact of growth on poverty reduction is closely related to another concern about current growth patterns in African countries. Growth is based mainly on the exploitation of natural resources and not on higher value added products and services. Many analysts doubt whether growth of this nature can be sustained and shared broadly. Foreign investment is mainly concentrated in mining and minerals. Growth and investment patterns do not create sufficient jobs and fail to encourage African private enterprise. Recently, important articles have been published observing that Africa, like other successful developing countries, should urgently focus on industrialisation as the main driver of growth and development. In reality, manufacturing has decreased in Africa. De-industrialisation is a serious concern.[8]

At the same time, African countries are confronted with many risks, threatening the sustainability of the economic growth in the long run. Some risks originate in the global context, such as the financial crisis and economic recession in Europe and the impact of climate change, while others are local in origin, such as demographic pressure resulting from its ‘youth bulge’ (as of mid-2011, the top 10 countries with the youngest population were in Africa).

2.      An African agenda for inclusive growth and the need for country-specificity

A broad consensus seems to be emerging among African organisations and research institutions on the coherent agenda and strategies needed to meet the challenge of inclusive growth: structural transformation and industrialisation, employment creation, investments in secondary and tertiary education, infrastructure and other basic services (including access to energy), social protection. Similar issues appear in the emerging perspectives from Africa on the post-2015 Development Agenda: a focus on economic growth and transformation, infrastructure, education and technology and addressing inequality. In these discussions the need is stressed to enhance the ‘enablers’ of development, which include the quality of governance and institutions that facilitate economic transformation and social inclusion.[9]

The challenge is whether the endorsement of this general agenda can be translated into actual prioritized policies and policy-making at national level. Relevant knowledge and evidence-based policy-making may be an important and missing link for this to happen and here the Platform Development Policies could make a useful contribution.

Role of the Platform Development Policies

The Platform Development Policies could undertake to explore at country level the knowledge gaps and demand for knowledge in the African agenda for inclusive growth. In line with the concept note, the platform could identify the binding constraints and strategic opportunities (economically, socially, ecologically) to inclusive growth at national level. The platform would help identify binding constraints that in the views of African stakeholders merit further research. Or, on the positive side, it could try to answer the question: what strategic opportunities are available in a specific country for sustained growth and transformation of the economy? Is industrialisation the only way out of poverty or are there alternative strategies for transformation of the economy in a specific country?  Is it feasible to include the dimension of social inclusion in an analysis of binding constraints to growth? [10] What are the determinants of inclusive growth in a country-specific context?

3.      Policies for economic transformation and inclusive growth

The challenge is to identify and analyse the constraints and strategic opportunities for achieving both economic transformation and social inclusion in a country. Public policies play a key role in facilitating and guiding these processes. An important role for the state is to set the macro-economic policies. Also, the state provides public goods that are essential to strengthen both the pace and pattern of growth. Support for entrepreneurial talent, new ideas and new enterprises is possibly the crucial element in strategies for transformation and inclusion.  At the same time, making growth more inclusive requires a wide array of measures and institutions by governments in the area of employment creation, investment in human capital, basic service delivery, equality of opportunity and safety nets. Governments can also enable the rise of a strong civil society that increases the voice and participation in socio-economic change of the emerging middle class as well as of poor and vulnerable groups.

Clearly, the private sector and non-governmental organisations have an important role and added value in inclusive growth policies and policy implementation. A key question is: which policy options are open in a given country-context to ensure an explicit focus on inclusive growth? How can the public and private sector complement each other optimally?

Role of the Platform Development Policies

The Platform Development Policies could examine what policies and strategies are likely to be effective in a specific country, and what policy trade-offs may have to be made.  It can help to address the knowledge gaps identified by the government and actors involved in the policy debate (civil society and private sector organisations, academia and think tanks).

It is essential to start with the demand for knowledge, research and evidence of these actors. Generally, the Platform needs to ensure as much as possible that in its activities the knowledge cycle is aligned to national policy-making cycles.

The Platform could aim to help national actors and donors in finding answers to the following type of questions. Which policies are conducive to inclusive growth? Which priorities should be chosen in a specific context?  Does this require an explicit focus on specific goals and instruments? What public sector organisations and institutions play a key role? What are the critical competencies and institutions required to make policies work?  In which areas do either markets, or the private sector or non-governmental agencies work better or how can they work in complementarity?

4.      Resources for inclusive growth: financial and political foundations of inclusive growth

A critical factor in operationalising strategies for inclusive growth is the resources available to African countries. Profound shifts have also taken place in this area. Financial flows have changed since the 2000s and this change is likely to continue. Alternative financial flows such as foreign investments and remittances are growing. Overall, the national tax base is on the increase, although government resource mobilisation is often still weak and undermined by outflows of capital and tax evasion by multinational enterprises. South –South cooperation in the form of investments in infrastructure, loans and technical cooperation is on the increase.

As a result of these developments, the importance of ODA is decreasing and may further decrease.

This trend could be reinforced as a consequence of budget constraints in donor countries and weakening domestic support for traditional government-to-government cooperation.

The issue of resources for national inclusive growth strategies is important for the Platform to include in its work. How governments mobilise and spend public funds for inclusive growth strategies determines the effectiveness of these strategies, in partnership with the private sector and other non-state actors.

Well-spent public funds by accountable governments, who provide value for money, are not only important because they result in assets like a better educated and healthy workforce, feeder roads and efficient transport systems. At least as important is the positive impact on mutual trust and social cohesion.

Role of the Platform Development Policies

The Platform Development Policies could include in its research agenda issues relating to political and financial conditions for inclusive growth. What are the financial cost implications of alternative policy options and what consequences do they have for public resource mobilisation and public spending? Which factors influence whether tax reforms are successful and sustainable? How do citizens, policy-makers, academics and the private sector assess the role of the public sector in providing basic services?  Which are the knowledge gaps in this area? How can donors support effective and efficient investments in inclusive growth?

Given the diminishing role of ODA as part of total resources in a partner country, what is the most effective use of ODA in strategies for inclusive growth? Should ODA be concentrated on catalysing additional resources ? When is government-to-government aid the most effective instrument and in which areas are other bilateral aid channels more suitable? What does a donor like The Netherlands have to offer?

III. Conclusion and next steps

This paper is an elaboration of the Concept Note for the Platform Development Policies presented in June 2012.  It reflects the views and knowledge needs of experts within the Directorate General of International Cooperation (DGIS). For DGIS the theme of Development Policies for Inclusive Growth in Africa is centre stage in Dutch development policies. This is closely connected to the Dutch policy view that ODA should demonstrably contribute to economic self-reliance of partner countries and to social inclusiveness.

In line with this focus, policy-relevant research and debate in partner countries on strategic choices for inclusive growth are the core business of this knowledge platform. In addition, DGIS wishes to reinforce the voice of African researchers and non-academic knowledge partners in our efforts to harness knowledge for evidence-based aid policies in the Netherlands and other donor countries. These are the reasons why this paper has identified the African agenda for inclusive growth and evidence-based policymaking by African governments and donor countries as the guiding concept for the Platform Development Policies.

A concept as described above would have a threefold focus in examining inclusive growth policies:

(i) binding constraints and strategic opportunities; (ii) policy dilemmas, trade-offs and options and

(iii) resources needed for achieving inclusive and sustainable growth. Such a concept would provide welcome additional information for both African stakeholders and donor countries and suggest innovative ways to support inclusive and sustainable development in the medium and long term. The research is to be actively disseminated in various fora, and could thus contribute to national policy making in African countries and the Netherlands, as well as to global discussions on development beyond the MDGs.

Platform members are invited to present their comments and suggestions by 11 October, well before the Platform meeting of 22-23 October.


[1]  Letter of 14 November 2011 from Ben Knapen, Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation, to the President of the House of Representatives on knowledge policy and working with knowledge institutions on development cooperation. The functions of the knowledge platforms are:  i) jointly identifying, selecting and defining research questions; ii) setting up a coherent joint research agenda; iii) mapping and deploying existing knowledge; iv) linking research findings to policy and practice.

[2] Food security, water, sexual and reproductive rights, peace and rule of law)

[3] See the presentation by Dr.K.Y. Amoako on 13th June: Think like a policymaker: Turning research  into sustainable development policies and the paper submitted by Paschal B. Mihyo Building Capacity for Better Governance and Social Policy Research

[4] See the typology presented by Professor Jan Willem Gunning in his presentation 13th June 2012: Dutch Development Policy: Evidence-Based?

[5] Papers presenting proposals for the knowledge platform were received from Bill Lyakurwa, Paschal Mihyo and Ton Dietz. Suggestions by email were submitted by Roel van der Veen and Josine Stremming

[6] See Poverty is on the retreat in Africa, African Development Bank, Mar 26th 2012, www.afdb.org/en/blogs/afdb-championing-incusive -growth-across-africa/post

[7] Strategies and Prioirities for African Ariculture, IFPRI, July 2012

[8] See ACET, Dani Rodrik, No more growth miracles, 8 August 2012, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/no-more-growth-miracles-by-dani-rodrik,  and John Page, Aid, Structural Change and the Private Sector in Africa, UNU-Wider working Paper No. 2012/21

[9] See Assessing Progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals, 2012, UNECA; UNECA Economic Report on Africa 2012, Unleashing Africa’s Potential as a Pole of Economic GrowthInclusive Growth Agenda, Briefing Note 6 of AfDB’s Long-Term Strategy, AfDB, 10April 2012; Jobs, Justice and Equity, seizing opportunities in times of global change, Africa Progress Report 2012, Africa Progress Panel; Reflections on Africa’s Development, Essays in Honour of Abdoulie Janneh, UNECA 2012.

[10] See Inclusive Growth Diagnostic Analysis: New Approaches to Determining Country Priorities, Conference Proceedings, Nairobi, September 28-29, 2011, organized by the World Bank;  presents country-cases (Uganda, DRC, Kenya) and  thematic/sectoral focuses

Date of publishing: 15-01-14

About this knowledge platform

INCLUDE was initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2012 to ‘make knowledge work’ for policymakers and practitioners. INCLUDE is an independent knowledge platform that shares knowledge and insights on inclusive development in Africa with Dutch and African policymakers and practitioners, including the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As such, our platform aims to contribute to more effective Dutch foreign trade and development cooperation policies, as well as regional and national policies for inclusive development in Africa.

Website: www.includeplatform.net