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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Norad - Aid, not Bombs: The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation’s website

by Greg Armstrong



User-friendly search functions make The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation website worth visiting. The interactive Norwegian Aid Statistics section of the website provides some interesting and attractively presented  information on the geographic distribution of Norwegian aid, by sector and mechanism, and the user-friendly search function for Norad documents makes it relatively easy to find  handbooks, evaluations and reports on specific sectors, and countries.  Among the 9 documents on quality assurance, however,  there is only one, from 1999, which provides any hands-on guidance to the practical steps in defining problems and results.

Level of difficulty: Moderate
Primarily useful for: Project managers &  aid agency staff interested in working with Norad, anyone interested in aid data visualization
Most useful: Norwegian Aid Statistics interactive graphics, flexible aid document search
Limitations:  Most of the RBM resources on the site are overviews for embassy staff, not hands-on guides for implementing agencies

Who this is for

The Aid statistics section of the Norad website is of interest to anyone who wants to see how an aid agency distributes its assistance by country, sector and mechanism, and the easy to access reports and evaluations could be of use to planners and evaluators who want to know how the agencies Norad funds operate.  

8 of the 9 guides on quality assurance, results based management and planning, intended primarily for Norwegian embassy, Norad, and Foreign Affairs staff,  are, however, too broad to be of use to project field managers or their partners, who might be looking for practical tips on results based management. But some of these documents could  be of use as an explanation of general Norad policies on results and sustainability,  for partners from other donor agencies, or for implementing agencies, to understand what Norad expects in terms of plans and reports, if it provides funding.  The oldest document, a 1999 handbook on the Logical Framework Approach is, however, moderately useful for those who have to work their way through the trenches of results definition and indicator selection.

Norad’s presence in international development aid


In 2010 I reviewed the donor agency RBM frameworks and guides provided by SIDA, AusAid, Danida, USAID, DFID, CIDA, Europeaid and some UN agencies.  Recently a colleague, interested in the professional opportunities presented by recent development projects funded by the Norwegian aid agency, asked me what I knew about Norad’s results based management.  This is interesting, because while  some aid agencies such as CIDA appear go have been cutting back on new projects, and requests for consulting services, a brief scan of the Devex  database on tenders shows that in the past year (December 2011-December 2012) there were 38 tenders, for project implementation, individual evaluations or other work issued by NORAD, almost as many as for USAID, and far exceeding other major donors such as AusAid and CIDA.


And while it might be argued that agencies such as AusAid and CIDA use other mechanisms for recruitment, (although in CIDA’s case that too has been declining)  there is no doubt that Norad is a significant factor in international development, and obviously one of interest to development partners and implementing agencies.

Norad on the web


Despite its very real presence in international development  the acronym for the Norwegian aid agency’s name, does it no favours in internet search. Simply searching for “Norad” on the web won’t provide much usable data. On Google, for example, a recent search showed the first 4 pages, or 45 hits referring primarily to the North American Air Defence Command, Santa Claus and a few bars,  but number 46, for readers who go in that far, will indeed take us to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.


Norad “Tools and Publications"





Clicking on “Tools and Publications" on the Norad home page gives us three choices.
Three choices for Norad's tools and publications
Norad's tools and publications start page
Source: Norad

1. Norad Guidelines for Quality Assurance 


There are 9 documents listed here.  
These are the 9 quality assurance guides on the Norad website
Source: Norad


6 of these deal with administrative and funding arrangements.  The website quite clearly says these were produced primarily for Norway’s embassy staff, staff of Norad, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and that some might be of use to partners.  To the extent that implementing agencies  (NGO’s or private companies, and local partners) want to know what Norad expects in terms of RBM and quality assurance, it would be worthwhile to read at least two of these documents.  And staff of other aid agencies, which may be working in coordination with Norad, can find in these some general background on its approach.  But there is only one, the oldest of the lot, which provides any practical guidance on RBM.

Norad RBM Guides


  • Of more immediate use as a practical handbook for those trying to work their way through the RBM issues during project inception, is, in my opinion the 103 page The Logical Framework Approach (LFA): Handbook for Objectives-Oriented Planning, published in 1999, which gets into the details of how to run a workshop to bring participants together to define problems, explore possible results, design the activities to reach the results, select indicators and collect data.  Readers should not be put off by the fact that this discussion is framed within the context of developing a Logical Framework – because the questions and processes outlined in this document are relevant whether we are using the LFA or a Logic Model, or any other framework to help us clarify results.  This handbook includes an appendix with an example of different steps for a hypothetical project, on pages 91-101.   Although it is longer, this handbook reminds me somewhat of SIDA’s The Logical Framework Approach: A Summary of the Theory Behind the LFA method, which I reviewed earlier.  Overall, however I think the University of Wolverhampton’s  Introduction to Multi-Agency Planning using the Logical Framework Approach, remains the most user-friendly of the LFA guides.


Norad's sustainability assessment handbook

The more recent 39-page Assessment of Sustainability Elements/Key Risk Factors: Practical Guide appears intended to help Norad staff assess risks when decisions are to be made on funding projects,  recruiting technical assistance, and assessing performance.  While there is nothing startlingly new here, this guide does provide a useful reminder of the primary questions to ask when going into, implementing or leaving projects, assessing them for factors which could undermine sustainability.  There are individual 4-page sections on assessing how projects deal with  
  • gender, 
  • environment and climate change risk management,  
  • HIV AIDS, 
  • institutional capacity development, (although the 2000 Handbook in Assessment of Institutional Sustainability, found elsewhere on the site is, at 30 pages, more useful),
  • conflict sensitivity, 
  • financial management and corruption, and 
  • human rights and equality.  
Each short section lists questions which can be asked on these issues of sustainability at the preparatory stage of project design, during project implementation, during monitoring and evaluation, and after the project ends.  Again, nothing startling here, but this document does put the major questions related to sustainability in 7 important areas, together in one document, and might be of assistance to someone drafting terms of reference for monitors, planners or evaluators.  There are, however, more detailed handbooks available under the document search section (see discussion below).


2. Other publications on Norwegian Development Aid


The second choice under “tools and publications” is Publications on Norwegian Development Aid.  
This is a collection of discussion papers, internal reviews, independent evaluations, and reports from partners, of interest to those who may want more detail on how the individual projects Norad funds, are working.  

There are, for example, at this writing more than 1200 of these, and the excellent search function permits readers to narrow down the universe of possible reports by type (evaluation, action plans, reports from partners, for example) by country, and by theme.  They include:
There are, interestingly, no documents listed under the search category "results reports" but there are clearly a number of documents in the other categories that deal with results.

If the lists above prove daunting, the search function allows readers to specify subsets, by country, by one of 31 programme themes, by year, or type of document.  Thus, a search which started with well over a thousand possible documents, could be narrowed down, into a workable number.

Norad's document search function narrows down the range of documents
Norad document search functions narrow down the range of relevant reports
Source: Norad


3. Interactive Data Visualization on Norwegian Aid


The third of the choices under “tools and publications” is Norwegian Aid Statistics

This is a useful interactive tool allowing users to find Norwegian assistance  not just by geographic distribution, but also sorted geographically by sector (Good governance, economic development and trade, education, health and social services, environment and energy, emergency assistance, multilateral, and by something called “donor costs”.  Readers can also sort the programmes by partner type - NGO's in Norway, in other countries, multilateral agencies, public agencies, private agencies and public-private partnerships.

All Norwegian assistance between 1966-2011 on a map
All Norwegian aid displayed visually
Source: Norad
  

Sectors are also disaggregated, so, for example, readers can see not only in which countries Norway provided assistance on education, for example, but, for example, to which countries Norad provided aid on basic education, in 2010-2011 - and if desired, through the partner type.

Norad Aid to basic education by NGOs shown on a map
Users can narrow the focus in the aid statistics search
Source: Norad

The bottom line

The document search function and interactive data presentations on Norwegian aid are both worth looking at. The interactive aid map shows more imagination in the presentation of data than many donor agencies display, and together with the documents on the site, may help those interested in learning more about opportunities to work with Norad, or to collaborate with it on multi-donor projects, to find specific countries in which specific sectors are targeted by Norwegian assistance.

In terms of results based management, however most of the documents on file here will be useful primarily as summaries of Norad policies, and with one exception, not practical guides for field workers or project managers.



 
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