German and U.S. International Assistance: Closer Than You Think

In the face of strained relations, could international cooperation support reconciliation between the United States and Germany?

Complementarities in approach and interests indicate yes. The United States and Germany topped the 2017 official development assistance charts, amounting to $35.26 and $24.68 billion, respectively (OECD-DAC). Both also have a strong regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, and make similar arguments linking the provision of international assistance with domestic socio-economic interests of access to new markets, national security, and reduced humanitarian migration.

Undergirding these complementarities are civil society interests in ensuring international assistance is transparent and effective in achieving development outcomes. Both the United States and Germany have civil society organizations and networks dedicated to transparency and accountability—the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network in the United States, and VENRO in Germany, are examples.

Due to civil society advocacy and government commitments to transparency, an increasing amount of German and United States development assistance information are available in open data formats. But an area that remains in-progress for both contexts is identifying an effective and useful way of measuring and communicating the results of development assistance.

Results data—information about program outputs, outcomes, and impact—are important for communicating to domestic audiences. Domestic communications typically focus on ensuring financial accountability, to prevent misspending through corruption or programs that don’t achieve their objectives. Just as importantly, results data should also be useful and used by government agency staff for managing and designing programs.

However, research suggests data and evidence are not being effectively collected, managed, or used by development agencies—in the United States, Germany, and other OECD-DAC member countries. Often, a mismatch between priorities, processes, and technologies limits the availability and use of evidence. Government-to-government exchanges exist that seek to address this issue; the OECD-DAC facilitates peer learning through a Results Community; the USAID and DFID-funded Global Learning for Adaptive Management program, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported Results Data Initiative, also foster peer agency learning.

However, more room for civil society-oriented dialogues is needed. Civil society can be effective “infomediaries” between between government and the public—helping governments understand what matters to citizens, and helping citizens see the value of international assistance.

Civil society can be effective “infomediaries” between between government and the public—helping governments understand what matters to citizens, and helping citizens see the value of international assistance.

To-date, much infomediation has focused on the monetary value of inputs—dollars or euros spent—and outputs, such as number of people trained, vaccines administered, etc. While these data points help make a straightforward story, they are often not a useful evidentiary basis for development effectiveness. More helpful are data that can answer questions like: did vaccines cause an increase in educational attainment, and if so, was the cost or delivery mechanism efficient?

Such answers are much less straightforward to communicate—often buried in academic journals or reports—but therefore stand to benefit much more from civil society attention. Particularly as German international assistance seems continues to rise, there will be growing pressure on the government to show results. There is ample space for the United States and German civil society to collaborate in urging government to prioritize the right kinds of data for financial accountability and development effectiveness.

There is ample space for the United States and German civil society to collaborate in urging government to prioritize the right kinds of data for financial accountability and development effectiveness.

One collaboration point could be through advocating for harmonized approaches to publishing financial data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard. Both governments publish IATI data and there is ongoing need for dialogue about prioritizing which data fields are most useful (or “demanded”) by civil society for accountability. In the results sphere, collaboration could focus on sharing lessons learned about what types of results data are most meaningful for communication and programmatic purposes, and find ways to harmonize/ prioritize between the two.

Ultimately, collaboration between U.S. and German civil society can lead to more transparent, effective, and efficient international assistance. Despite current differences domestically, joint efforts to strengthen the usefulness of financial and results information can bring both countries together for mutual benefit.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Paige Kirby

Development Gateway

Paige Kirby is a Senior Policy Advisor at Development Gateway, an international development firm based in Washington, DC. Her work focuses on understanding how data and digital technologies can support evidence-based policymaking, and the ways in which institutional incentives shape data use. She has experience working across development agencies, government ministries, and civil society organizations in the Americas, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Prior to Development Gateway, Ms. Kirby managed client advocacy campaigns for a communications consulting firm. She is pursuing a Master in Public Policy and holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (cum laude) from Georgetown University.

She is a 2018-2019 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).