Effectiveness of sector-wide approaches in fragile contexts


What reviews have been undertaken assessing the effectiveness of working through a Sector Wide Approach (SWAp) in fragile contexts, specifically focusing on health and education SWAps and decentralised contexts?


There is no consistently strong evidence that sector-wide approaches (SWAps) have been effective at achieving development outcomes in fragile contexts. Available evidence is mixed, partly because of the uniqueness of each country’s context (Negin 2010, p. 5). SWAps are generally considered to be most appropriate in relatively stable low- and middle-income countries, with national political leadership and institutional capacity considered to be prerequisites (Pavanello & Darcy, 2008, pp. 17-18). However, there is some evidence that if given sufficient time, a mature SWAp can contribute to stabilisation and state-building processes (Boak & Ndaruhutse, 2011). Processes of decentralisation can either enhance or undermine state-building objectives depending on context (Boak & Ndaruhutse, 2011, pp. 9-10).

This report presents brief summaries of a selection of health and education sector reviews completed within the last four years, covering a range of fragile and conflict-affected states in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.

The reviews of health and education SWAps included in this report consistently find that:

  • Evidence of the effectiveness of SWAps in achieving development outcomes is limited, and what evidence exists is mixed, partly due to differences in country context and problems of measurement and attribution.
  • SWAps can lead to improvements in aid harmonisation, in relationships among development actors, and in processes for coordinating and planning.
  • There is a significant risk of focusing too heavily on developing coordination and planning processes and not enough on development results.
  • SWAps can help build national capacities for financial management.
  • It is common for donor agencies to continue to fund projects in the same sector outside a SWAp rather than being fully committed to the SWAp.
  • SWAps do not reduce transaction costs for country governments, and in some cases transaction costs have been observed to increase.