This research demonstrates that US international development agencies can employ a range of ownership approaches to shift responsibility, accountability, and decision-making power to local government officials, civil society, and entrepreneurs. While it is too early to ascertain the full impact of the projects explored in the case studies, our findings demonstrate that—through varying ownership modalities—the US can foster local leadership with the capacity, resources, and mandate to drive and sustain development outcomes. Based on our findings, we recommend the following actions to the next US administration.
- The new administration should act within the first 100 days to appoint development agency leaders who are committed to advancing a country-owned approach to development. By the end of 2017, the administration should issue a development policy directive reaffirming ownership of development as a major guiding principle of US international development policy.
- In order to implement this policy directive and institutionalize ownership as a key pillar of their approach to international development, US agencies should:
- Adopt common metrics to ensure meaningful country ownership in practice and create internal agency incentives and accountability for achieving existing US ownership policies. A comprehensive approach would include metrics on priority-setting, implementation, resourcing, and sustainability as well as sufficient resources and staffing to pursue rigorous ownership.
- Continue to align their support with country and community-level development priorities. This should be based on active, ongoing dialogue with local leadership and communities, providing capacity strengthening, as needed. Alignment with broad national development plans is necessary but not sufficient.
- Work with and through existing local systems, including government systems, when strengthening these systems results in a sustainable impact. The US should continue to take the necessary precautions to protect US investments. When creating parallel implementation bodies, such as the Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA), the US should adopt actionable strategies to ensure the long-term integration of project results and structures into existing local systems.
- US agencies’ ownership policies should include metrics and guidelines to ensure that development projects reach vulnerable and marginalized stakeholders. As part of planning and executing country-owned development projects, US agencies should understand which groups exercise disproportionate amounts of power in a particular context and consider partnerships and initiatives that engage disempowered sectors of the population. Ownership should be as inclusive as possible.
- When designing development projects, US development agencies should default to using local systems and take specific measures to ensure sustainable results. This should include clear plans to move the country along the continuum to sustainable financing and meeting its own development needs. US agencies should establish and report against long-term development benchmarks in each country where they work, with adequate budgetary resources allocated to support monitoring and evaluation, including ex-post evaluations. As part of their plan for long-term sustainability, US development agencies should support countries to sustain the development progress they achieve, taking into account available local resources.