Grappling with localisation

By Graham Teskey

My colleague Dr Priya Chattier and I have just published a working paper on the Abt Governance Soapbox Website, entitled “Localisation: what could it mean for contractors?”. We wrote this paper due to our increasing frustration with the sheer unreality of the literature (and speeches) emerging within the development community on the nature and practice of localisation; and fact that few papers actually start with the views of national staff on this debate. Priya and I work for a managing contractor, Abt Associates. All practitioners, researchers, and consultants now take localisation seriously: some object to the term “decolonising aid” but no-one can object to the principle and objective of localisation.

Priya and I wrote the paper from the view point of our own company. What can we do to give meaning to localisation? The paper has three purposes:

  • to summarise what Abt national staff told us about localisation and what it means to them (as outlined in our first working paper on this issue – shaped by our national staff );
  • to propose a simple diagnostic tool to help practitioners reflect more systematically and rigorously on the extent to which ‘their’ programs and projects aid and abet the localisation agenda; and
  • to consider politically feasible options for donors who wish to advance this agenda: just what reasonably can be expected in current circumstances?

The paper does not seek to offer an unambiguous and unequivocal definition of localisation. Rather, we suggest that any meaningful interpretation of localisation must reflect first, the transfer of power and authority to local individuals, organisations, or actors, and second, an increased (and increasing) use of local systems and processes. This is our point of departure. We provide a very brief and partial summary of the literature. We summarise where we think our three main clients perspectives are: USAID, the FCDO in the UK and DFAT in Australia. We ask our national colleagues in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Timor Leste, the Philippines, and Nepal what localisation meant to them. Their responses fell into eight categories – as in the figure on the right.

We then set about creating a simple tool for diagnosing how far we in Abt are succeeding in transferring power and authority. We suggest that there are four dimensions of meaningful localisation: Systemic, Strategic, Spending and Staffing. We call these the four Ss:

  • Systemic: the extent to which individual donor investments are integrated into the host government’s national planning and budgeting system
  • Strategic: the extent to which investments are designed by the host, including its over-arching goal and the choice of the specific activities to be funded
  • Spending: the system for financial management, control, and procurement
  • Staffing: how staff are appointed, remunerated and managed

We gave each of these four ‘S’s three specific markers.

We then identified four possibilities in each of the four dimensions:

  • Localisation Proper: where full power and authority over all aspects of the project are passed to the host or its chosen implementing agent
  • Co-Creation: the host and the donor engage as full and equal partners in investment selection, design, and implementation
  • Consultation: the donor merely requests the views of the host, with no commitment to take those views into account
  • Stasis: where the donor takes full responsibility for the four Ss.

We then assessed two of ‘our’[1] programs (one in Indonesia and one in Timor Leste) against this four by four matrix. Unsurprisingly, given the context, the Indonesian program ‘scored’ better than the Timorese one. We would emphasise that the scores are our own (the authors) judgements made from afar, and are absolutely not the reason for creating the diagnostic. The purpose is for ourselves as Abt to consider how we can make progress on localisation in all ‘our’ programs.

The matrix below is the diagnostic tool. Managing Contractors, including Abt Associates, could do worse than consider where ‘their’ programs stand on each of these four dimensions. 

[1] Of course they are not Abt’s programs. They belong to the countries in which they are being implemented

One thought on “Grappling with localisation

  1. Travis Gartner

    Excellent work. We’re going to use this to see how our program fits within the localization agenda. We’d be glad to share our findings. Thanks to Eric Reading for posting it on LinkedIn.


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