Results – Evaluation action plan on policy coherence for development
Since 2016, the action plan on policy coherence for development provides a framework and thematic focus to promote policy coherence for development. Every year, the House of Representatives is informed about the progress on the action plan through annual reports based on a number of indicators. This evaluation provides an insight into the functioning of the action plan.
The initial action plan of 2016 has been revised twice: in 2018 and 2022. The figure below shows how the selection of themes has evolved over time. It shows that the number of themes has been reduced: from eight to three.
Policy coherence for development
Policy coherence for development means that a country ensures that:
The goals and results of a government’s development policies are not undermined by other policies of that government.
These other policies support achieving development goals where feasible
Policy coherence for development is often associated with policy coherence for sustainable development.
By policy coherence for sustainable development we mean alignment across all dimensions of sustainable development in national and international policies. This form of coherence is not only about achieving development goals in developing countries, but also about achieving development goals in the Netherlands.
There are three paths how an action plan can help better align policies, meaning increased policy coherence for development, as presented in the figure below.
The action plan ensures that parliamentarians, civil society organisations, knowledge institutions, the media and (other) stakeholders are better informed about policy incoherence and how the government is addressing it. This enables them to raise the issue of incoherence, resulting in better policy alignment.
The action plan ensures that officials in other departments and other directorates become aware of the lack of policy coherence and of the impact of other (non-development-cooperation) policies on the achievement of the SDGs in developing countries (and thus on sustainable development). This awareness improves policy alignment.
The action plan helps the minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation to put policy coherence for development on the agenda of other ministers and keep it there. The action plan sets out agreements and makes them concrete. This ensures policy alignment.
“How and to what extent does the action plan on policy coherence for development contribute to improving policy coherence for development?”
The conclusions of the evaluation are briefly listed below. A more elaborate description can be found in the main report.
The action plan on policy coherence for development instrument makes a modest contribution to interdepartmental policy alignment with development goals, especially at the level of policy staff, with a low level of investment (use of civil servants).
The action plan has an agenda-setting and governance effect. However, it achieves this mainly through existing agreements and in tandem with other instruments.
Predominantly, external factors such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have increased political and official attention to policy coherence for development. The action plan has made little or no contribution to this, which is reflected in the low level of awareness of and political attention for the action plan.
The recently revised version of the action plan is more relevant for alignment on policy coherence for development than the two previous versions. The most recent action plan (2022):
Assigns more tasks to the Netherlands
Calls for more engagement beyond development cooperation
Has a stronger link to the Sustainable Development Goals
The latest action plan focusses on three themes:
Reducing the Netherlands’ climate, land and water footprint
Tackling illicit financial flows and tax avoidance
Reducing vaccine and health inequalities
These themes are relevant to address the lack of policy coherence. These are issues on which the Netherlands has significant influence, and which are important for achieving the SDGs in developing countries.
The selection of themes lacks transparency and is partly politically driven. This leaves controversial topics where there is little consensus on how to address them – such as agriculture and migration – outside the scope of the action plan. Therefore, we cannot say with certainty that the action plan focuses on the most opportune and urgent issues.
The reports fall short in a number of respects. They provide little or limited insight into:
The Netherlands’ overall performance on policy coherence for development;
Progress on indicators compared to previous years;
Trade-offs and explanations as to why targets have not (yet) been achieved.
Many of the indicators used in the annual reports are not concrete or only limited. There is often a lack of clarity on target dates or target values.
Many indicators refer to the Netherlands’ commitment without an explicit policy theory linking this commitment to results in developing countries.
Based on these findings, the following recommendations have been drawn up:
Establish an intervention logicfor the action plan. Make clear what the goals of the action plan are and how it will contribute to them. In doing so, also indicate how the action plan relates to other instruments.
Maintain the focuson policy coherence for development, but explicitly as an integral part of policy coherence for sustainable development.
Specify the duration of the action plan and when it will be reviewed again. In doing so, two things have to be weighed up:
The need for continuity and clarity;
Room for manoeuvre to respond to changes in the geopolitical, social, and economic environment.
This can be done by:
Formulating specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) goals and indicators as much as possible;
Using target values and target dates for quantitative indicators;
For each goal, making it clear at which level it refers: input, output, outcome or impact;
Making it clear how goals at the input and output levels contribute to goals at outcome and impact level.
Carry out an analysis of policy inconsistencies or, better still, have them researched. Involve and consult officials from different departments as well as stakeholders. Maintain the focus on themes and (sub)goals where the Netherlands has sufficient influence and which are relevant for achieving the SDGs in developing countries.
Provide more insights in terms of:
Progress on quantitative indicators compared to previous years;
Explanations as to why goals have not (yet) been met;
How the Netherlands has performed in general;
The effectiveness of the action plan from the perspective of developing countries.
Keep the (revised) action plan and annual reports accessibleby limiting their length. Also translate these documents into English for international use.
Ensure sufficient alignment at more senior official levels in existing interdepartmental consultative structures. This facilitates alignment at lower official levels. This will mainly involve identifying common objectives in broad terms. The elaboration and detailing of these objectives can be left to policy staff.
Free up sufficient capacity to flesh out the action plan. Ensure that the action plan is supported by a significant number of policy officers who have sufficient knowledge of the themes identified in the action plan. This is necessary to enable the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enter into discussions as a more fully-fledged partner with officials from other departments.
Seek political commitmentto the action plan as an important precondition for alignment at the official level. Commitment is needed not only from the minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, but also from other ministers. Remember that policy coherence for development starts with the coalition agreement and that key decisions are ultimately taken in the Council of Ministers, with the prime minister having the final say.