What is the Development Assistance Committee?

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is a voluntary body of member countries, established within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with a mandate to promote good practice in development co-operation and monitor DAC agreements.  The focus is members’ development cooperation programs, whose priorities are solely determined by these members and not by the DAC.

The DAC currently has 30 members, including the European Union as a full member, with 6 multilateral Observers from regional development banks, the UNDP, the IMF and the World Bank.  See the list at http://www.oecd.org/dac/development-assistance-committee/#members.  DAC Members are often represented by Permanent Delegations that are based in Paris.

The DAC Chairperson provides leadership and guidance in setting DAC priorities and managing the inter-donor collaboration within the DAC on these priorities.  The current Chair of the DAC is Susanna Moorehead.  She has set out three general priorities for her term, which can be found here.

The Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD) (http://www.oecd.org/dac/)  is the Secretariat for the DAC and is the OECD Directorate within which the DAC operate.  It works with the DAC to set international principles and standards for development co-operation, and monitor how donors deliver on their commitments.

DAC has a number of important Subsidiary Bodies that bring together particular member expertise.  Some of these bodies invite non-DAC member participants in their discussion:


The DAC works by member consensus achieved by the Chair (or not) through regular meetings:

High Level Meetings (HLM) (generally every 2-3 years) whose participants are Members’ development ministers. The last HLM was held in September 2017.  This Meeting agreed to some key elements in the DAC “aid modernization agenda”: the approval of the Blended Finance Principles, adoption of clarifications to the statistical reporting directives on in-donor refugee costs, agreement to work on rules for reinstatement of recently graduated countries on the DAC List of ODA Recipients, and adoption of the revised DAC mandate and strategic vision.

See http://www.oecd.org/dac/dachighlevelmeeting2017.htm.  The next HLM is planned for early 2020.

Senior Level Meetings (SLM) are convened in between High Level Meetings, attended by heads of aid agencies, to review the Committee’s work on current policy issues.  SLMs are held at least once a year.  The last SLM in February 2019 approved the DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. This Recommendation aims to promote more coherent action among the world’s leading donors of humanitarian, development and peace programmes in fragile and conflict contexts.

Ordinary DAC meetings to review ongoing program and plans are attended by Paris-based delegates of DAC members and by officials from member capitals. Minutes and documents: http://search.oecd.org/officialdocuments/?hf=10&b=0&r=%2Bf%2Fofficial_documents_committee%2Fdevelopment+assistance+committee&sl=official_documents&s=desc(document_lastmodifieddate)

Why is the DAC important for CSOs?

Since its establishment in 1961, the DAC has been a forum for DAC members to agree on the “rules” for what they can claim as Official Development Cooperation (ODA) and to collaborate to review practice in ways that improve the quality of ODA.  While members’ ODA includes contributions to multilateral institutions and the Multilateral Development Banks, in both these areas the focus at the DAC is on members’ bilateral policies and practices, not the multilateral system.

Until recently CSO access to DAC deliberations and processes has been marginal, by invitation and/or ad hoc in nature.  But in September 2018, the DAC CSO Reference Group and the DAC established the Framework for Dialogue between the DAC and Civil Society Organizations.  This Framework has opened the doors to more substantial institutionalized dialogue between CSOs and the DAC Chair and Members.  While there is more consultations with subsidiary bodies on particular subjects, more work remains to regularize these dialogues.

CSO are advocating for better aid focusing on poverty eradication and inequalities in many important fora not least in both DAC countries and partner countries in the South, but also at the United Nations and the World Bank.  There are four main reasons why the DAC can be an important and complementary forum (both political and technical) for CSOs advocating for better aid policies:

1)  Setting the rules for what counts as ODA.  ODA is a commitment by all DAC Members.  Yet at the same time, ODA is a statistical calculation of different financial flows from DAC providers to recipient partners, which share common characteristics: they are concessional in nature and focused on development and humanitarian needs of designated eligible countries.

While ODA may not be the largest external resource flow for many or most developing countries, CSO argue that it is a critical and unique resource for contributing to the reduction of poverty and inequality.  Among other characteristics it is a public resource that in principle can be fully allocated for these purposes, flexible in responding to partner needs, and accountable through the parliaments of provider countries as well as the DAC.  It is an essential resource for achieving the political and transformative goals of Agenda 2030 in ways that leave no one behind. 

Each DAC member determines the level of ODA for these purposes based on the shared DAC rules for what can be included.  The current consensus rules governing the reporting of ODA can be found here (What is ODA?).  Changes to these rules (expanding into Private Sector Instruments (PSIs) or including in-donor costs for refugees in their countries) are negotiated at the technical level in the Working Party on Statistics (WP-STAT) and agreed at HLM or SLM of the DAC members, based on consensus.

2) Establishing recommendations for good practices in the delivery of aid.  The DAC provides a number of Subsidiary Bodies (see above) where members come together to review current practice, discuss and develop good practice guidance in areas such as gender equality, environmental policies or the nexus between humanitarian and development assistance.  In some areas, such as aid and PSIs the DCD or DAC Secretariat take the lead.

Recently, for example, the DAC undertook a review of member practices in relation to CSO partnerships, which was coordinated by the Senior Civil Society Specialist in the Directorate with consultation with CSOs. This process has produced a Working Paper that will inform the updating of DAC guidelines on working with civil society.  Also recently, the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) contributed to the development of the recently agreed DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian, Development, Peace, Nexus to guide members’ actions in fragile contexts.  A DAC Recommendation is a legal instrument of the OECD that is not legally binding on members that vote in favour, but these members are expected to “do their utmost to fully implement the Recommendation.” (OECD Legal Instruments)

While CSOs have much to contribute in identifying good practice in many areas of aid and development cooperation access to particular Bodies and/or policy discussions for non-DAC stakeholders such as CSOs remains limited or ad hoc.  The DAC CSO Framework does not automatically provide for dialogue in these Bodies or policy debates.  It says that “the DAC will invite CSOs to substantial dialogue meetings on key issues of mutual concern,” but these are broad dialogues and not with particular Bodies (who have the discretion to involve CSOs or not in their deliberations.

  1. Undertake regular peer reviews of Members ODA policies and practices           Once every five years, a DAC mandated review team reviews each DAC Member’s development co-operation program and institutional system.  The Member’s performance is assessed against key international standards and DAC guidelines, many of which are derived from agreed good practice and DAC Recommendations (see point 2 above).  The Review team consists of two DAC Members supported by the DCD.  The Review involves dedicated time by the team at the Members’ Headquarters, where there is usually an opportunity for CSOs to provide their views on the Member’s performance.  The Team also visits one or two country programs, which are nominated by the Member being reviewed (where there usually is little interaction with CSOs on the ground).  The Peer Review provides a detailed analysis of the Member’s aid performance and makes non-binding recommendations based on the findings.

The process and the peer report can be an important focus for CSO advocacy, but to date primarily in the provider country.  There is no follow up in partner country programs.  For more information on the peer review process and various reports see http://www.oecd.org/dac/peer-reviews/.  The DAC CSO Reference Group has produced a more detailed guide to the peer review process and its practice in various member countries (“How CSOs can make the best of the DAC Peer Reviews” – available on request from Laureline Borotto ([email protected]) or Julie Seghers ([email protected]) at Oxfam France.

  1. The DAC’s role in the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) The GPEDC is a broad multi-stakeholder platform dedicated to advancing aid and development effectiveness based on agreement from a series of High Level Forums. The DAC plays a very important role, but by no means the only leading voice, in the GPEDC.  It supports the GPEDC through a Joint Support Team made up of staff from the DAC and the UNDP.  The GPEDC takes it leadership from four Co-Chairs (one Provider, two Partner Country and one Non-Executive Stakeholder – currently the CSO platform) and from a multi-stakeholder Steering Committee.  The GPEDC, with the support of the DAC/UNDP Joint Support Team, undertakes a regular country-led monitoring process on the implementation of four principles for effective development cooperation, based on ten indicators, in which CSOs participate in varying degrees at the country level.  The Joint Support Team also enables a GPEDC multi-year Workplan, which in its last iteration led to the Kampala Principles on Effective Private Sector Engagement in Development Cooperation.  The GPEDC is also an important fora for CSOs’ advocacy on closing civic space and restrictions in the enabling environment for CSOs as development actors.  For more on the GPEDC, see http://effectivecooperation.org/, including the 2018 Monitoring Results and the July 2019 Senior Level Meeting.  The main CSO platform that engages the GPEDC is the CSO Partnership for Effective Development.

Brian Tomlinson

AidWatch Canada

November 2019


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