Peer reviews of DAC members

Sweden (2005), DAC Peer Review: Main Findings and Recommendations


(See also Sweden's Aid-at-a-Glance)  

General framework and current directions

A tradition of leadership in development co-operation

Sweden is often perceived as a respected donor, both with regard to its generous Official Development Assistance (ODA) levels and to its innovative development co operation policies and procedures. Sweden is seen in the developing world as a committed partner. This reputation has permitted it to play a role well beyond the ODA volumes that it can provide. Its decentralised operations in the field help to maintain a strong presence among local partners and allow it to actively pursue issues of development collaboration at that level.

Sweden has responded to most main Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendations of the last Peer Review in 2000. Its reform agenda has been primarily driven by a major new Policy for Global Development (PGD), which was endorsed by parliament in December 2003. The PGD framework directly supports a national commitment to allocate 1% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA, it unambiguously focuses on poverty reduction as Sweden’s overarching development co-operation goal and it prescribes a whole-of-government approach to “equitable and sustainable global development”. Of special operational interest is the PGD requirement to provide parliament with annual reporting on the status of its implementation.

The critical issue of PGD implementation

PGD contains an innovative and ambitious agenda for action. Sweden is the first DAC donor to adopt and actively implement such a comprehensive development approach and, consequently, PGD is of particular interest to the DAC and its members. With PGD just beginning its second year, authorities are increasingly aware of the operational challenges of implementing the approach. Initial issues now being addressed include the need to obtain whole-of-government ownership of the policy, and operational targets that can be evaluated and subsequently reported annually to parliament need to be specified. While the PGD mandate is clear and has high-level political support, much remains to be done to implement its policies and intentions, whether at headquarters or in the field.

Seeking public and political support

Sweden’s long-standing public interest in the developing world has traditionally generated similar support at the political level and has facilitated the evolution of a strong programme of national development co-operation. Public support can fluctuate following newsworthy events, however, ranging from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which has heightened public support, to press allegations of developing world corruption which have detracted from it. To foster long term public support for the greater priority now given to global development, Swedish authorities have launched a major campaign built around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which refers to PGD as a policy based on the MDGs and underscores the importance of a broad-based Swedish effort to reach them. As with other DAC member countries, the Swedish public expects to receive credible feedback on the results being obtained by its national aid programmes.

The new national Forum for Global Development could also be a key instrument in fostering public and political support for developing-world issues while offering an opportunity for dialogue and partnership among the different development actors in Swedish society. The utility of this Forum, which is a PGD requirement, will ultimately depend upon high-level support for it and the extent to which it is viewed by participants as influential and inclusive.


  • Sweden is encouraged to share its experience in implementing the Policy for Global Development with the DAC members, especially the special role played by parliament and operational approaches which encourage whole of government ownership of the global agenda.
  • The higher priority now sought for developing world issues will require major public and political support. The Forum for Global Development is one innovation which will require high-level government attention and support for it to be implemented. Another will be the government’s ability to report back to the Swedish public on its international achievements, including the MDGs.

Aid volume and distribution

Promising ODA trends but persistent issues of strategic allocation

Sweden has traditionally been one of the world’s most generous donors. Its ODA/GNI levels declined somewhat over the latter half of the 1990s, but returned to 0.79% by 2003. Consistent with the PGD (and the encouragement of the 2000 Peer Review), this ratio is expected to reach 1.0% in 2006. The PGD also mandates the government to work within the context of the European Union and the OECD to promote ODA growth among other donors. Sweden’s effort to increase the size of its ODA is even more remarkable as it takes place against a backdrop of national budget austerity.

Consistent with the PGD poverty reduction objective, least developed or other low income countries are the target of some three-quarters of Sweden’s allocable bilateral aid, over one half of which is assigned to Africa. However, a tendency noted in the 2000 Peer Review to disperse ODA geographically still persists; consequently this reduces funds and administrative resources for the more strategically selected, long-term recipients. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is now reviewing a possible set of criteria for prioritisation of long term countries and currently lists some 30 “long-term and substantial” recipients of its programmes. Similarly, the wide range of sometimes overlapping sector priorities has implications for implementation focus and effectiveness. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA), which is interested in maintaining the Swedish presence abroad, prefers to spread ODA resources across many countries, but is receptive to limiting the number of sectors of involvement. For the moment, the growing size of Swedish ODA has lessened the pressure to address programme priorities. With the advent of PGD it should now be possible to establish a clearer policy on setting priorities. Greater geographic and sector selectivity will support both more efficient development aid delivery and better international collaboration around the MDGs.

A feature of Swedish development co-operation is its special reliance (18% of bilateral ODA) on non governmental organisations (NGOs). The new Policy for Global Development promotes even greater collaboration with these organisations. Given the importance attributed to this group by national policy, Sweden could reflect upon and update, as appropriate, the range of its actions and procedures in relation to NGOs. Already, Sida has begun to intensify its dialogue with NGOs and is reviewing its internal guidelines on topics such as NGO selection and results reporting.

The need for a more strategic multilateral approach

The multilateral share of Swedish ODA was 25.9% in 2003, slightly over the DAC average. To this could be added the large amounts channelled to the multilaterals by Sida. In an increasingly globalised world, Sweden attaches increasing importance to multilateral co-operation. The PGD stresses the importance of implementing the internationally agreed development agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals and the fight against poverty. Sweden has traditionally supported the United Nations and the International Financial Institutions and is increasingly predisposed to make use of the European Community channel. This gradual evolution toward multilateralism has yet to be accompanied by similar levels of strategic thinking and performance monitoring. An immediate implication for the increased use of this channel is, therefore, the formulation of a clearer multilateral strategy and an organised system which more systematically tracks the performance of the multilateral institutions. Sida is now undertaking a study on how to strengthen linkages between multilateral and bilateral operations.


  • Sweden is encouraged to continue its financial commitment to a 1% target and to support international efforts which foster donor interest and funding commitments.
  • Sweden is encouraged to continue its work towards a more strategically selective concentration of countries and sectors, consistent with the PGD.
  • The MFA should continue to work with Sida to develop a clearer multilateral strategy and an appropriate performance tracking system as a basis of its engagement with these institutions.

Policy coherence for development

Sweden’s traditionally strong role

Sweden has long recognised both the need for national policy to address trans boundary issues and the fact that national decisions have international impacts. Sweden has been a major source of influence on the growing consensus among DAC donors on the importance of policy coherence for development. This interest has culminated in the PGD, which ambitiously mandates an integrated policy for global development, affecting all policy areas of government. PGD suggests a government role in support of policy action in multilateral contexts, such as the European Union or other specialised forums (e.g. Doha, Monterrey, Johannesburg). It also promotes candid international examination of industrialised country policy choices and of fulfilment of their commitments toward the developing world.

Despite this high-level advocacy role, the government realistically recognises that difficult economic environments and strong national lobbies can divert the attention of policy makers from developing world perspectives. Reference is made to “the other side” of policy coherence – the belief of some that developing world considerations reciprocally need to be consistent with other Swedish national policy demands in the domestic political environment. In the light of such pressures, it is important that the government remain fully engaged in defining an effective approach to issues of policy coherence.

Becoming more systematic – from vision to implementation

Swedish policy coherence for development received major political momentum from the PGD. The level of enthusiasm for carrying forward this agenda is high, although the difficulties of its implementation are increasingly recognised. The government has a strong mandate to take relevant action, but will need to move quickly to take full advantage of the new PGD guidelines. Institutionally, the MFA will need to learn how to remain engaged while leaving space for a creative approach to government-wide ownership of policy coherence for development. Analytically, the annual PGD report to parliament is viewed by the Swedish government as its primary tool for addressing coherence issues. Additionally, to ensure that actions undertaken by the government comply with PGD guidelines, some type of regular, external monitoring of government-wide performance would seem important. Public awareness and mutual learning could be promoted through creative use of the next Forum for Global Development.


  • Sweden could promote an approach, through a broader network of like minded donors, that would more systematically identify, analyse and promote resolution of issues of policy coherence for development.
  • Sweden is encouraged to maintain a credible and high level approach to monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of PGD policy coherence for development.
  • As the MFA develops the new evaluation agency mandated by the PGD, it should to take care to avoid redundancies with existing development co-operation structures and it could consider a role for the new agency more in line with a whole of government approach.

Aid management and implementation

A more cohesive approach and simplified process

The central, practical issues of today’s Swedish development co-operation often relate to finding operational solutions which respond to the ambitious vision and mandate laid down by the PGD. Many of these reforms are essentially administrative in nature, given the strong PGD policy framework, a positive public and political attitude to development and a flexible set of core implementation procedures. Success in implementing this agenda can provide valuable insights for other DAC members.

Sweden is fortunate to have a relatively simple and well organised institutional architecture for development co operation. Most key decisions in the Swedish system require appropriate co-ordination of parliamentary guidance (PGD), national development policy (MFA) and sound field experience (Sida). Improvements in the internal efficiency and effectiveness of this decision making core will require the MFA and Sida to maintain an increasingly strong team focus, in headquarters and in the field, on their joint role of promoting “equitable and sustainable global development”. Because the embassies are already organisationally integrated, they can only function efficiently if MFA and Sida counterparts in Stockholm operate in a similar team fashion. Conversely, the MFA should discuss with Sida leadership the perception that the annual letter of appropriation and other formal instructions are increasingly detailed, giving the impression of micro management of Sida operations.

The less than fully co-ordinated operations between the MFA and Sida can result in unnecessarily complex and cumbersome implementation guidelines for the field operations. Viewed from the field, Sweden has a “forest of policies” (policies, position papers, guidelines, etc.) and multiple implementation procedures and quality controls which merit continued review and simplification.

Practical implications of recipient ownership

Since the 2000 Peer Review, Sida has made a significant effort to decentralise operational decision making to the embassies. Building on its three pilot experiences in 2000, Sida now has thirteen “fully delegated” missions and six partially delegated ones, with expectations for further delegations over the next few years. This is consistent with Sweden’s interest in recipient ownership of its programmes and more harmonised partnerships with other partners. One consequence of this rapid shift of responsibility from Stockholm to the field is the need for regular high-level re-examination of relationships between headquarters and the field, which increasingly need to become one seamless team.

An important, long term consideration that is critical to Sweden’s effectiveness in the field is the presence of adequate staff (skills mix, headquarters field proportions and delegation of personnel management to the field) to meet the future needs of the Swedish system. Personnel policy objectives in a decentralised environment can include staff planning well in advance of field needs, a special status for local professional staff and better delegation of personnel contracting authorities to the field.

Sweden has multiple objectives for its embassies in the developing world, while it has limited resources at its disposal. Embassies such as the one visited in Nairobi are obliged to take on multiple objectives (bilateral and regional, development, commercial and political, etc.) which require it to manage operations very strategically. Sweden should provide embassy leadership with strategic guidance that encompasses the full range of its operational functions. In the case of Nairobi, for example, the embassy could benefit from a properly framed, integrated regional strategy (east Africa and Great Lakes) to more effectively situate its complex field operations and thereby help the efficiency of overall operations (funding channels and modalities, sector focus, use of civil society, optimal use of staff). Such an approach in Nairobi could potentially serve as a model for other complex embassy operations elsewhere.

Sweden is at the forefront of the international agenda on harmonisation and alignment. Sida has a formal action plan for harmonisation and the field visit to Kenya suggested that considerable progress is being made in implementing it. Because of its flexible implementation procedures, Sida has been able to successfully implement delegated partnerships with some other like minded donors, such as the Netherlands and Norway. Sweden now should be able to extend these partnerships in more countries and with more partners, thereby significantly advancing the global harmonisation agenda. Similarly, Sida has tested numerous forms of alignment with local government procedures and systems and could actively help monitor the pros and cons of such arrangements to the benefit of all DAC donors.

Better demonstration of results

The PGD calls for more careful monitoring and evaluation, and more results-based management in development co-operation. It also calls upon the government to help strengthen the capacity of the developing countries to monitor their own efforts wherever possible. PGD suggests that targets be established in country, regional or other planning documents and that they are used as points of reference in regular reporting of performance. Although Sida field feedback is regularly provided to higher level authorities, this information may not always be impact oriented or systematically linked to specific predetermined indicators. New approaches to the demonstration of results are now under review, such as the new country strategy guidelines. A greater attention to impact monitoring and reporting will enhance Swedish aid credibility with the public and provide a more specific basis for promoting performance-based systems.


  • The MFA and Sida should pursue discussions on operational relationships which permit greater system efficiency and promote more of a team environment. Decentralisation is an important new direction and Sweden is encouraged to review regularly and collaboratively its field operations, how they can be made better and the organisational trade-offs between headquarters and the field that may be necessary to its efficiency. Additionally, a clearly integrated, regional strategic vision for operations at the embassy level could improve operational efficiency.
  • As the government continues to implement PGD, it should continue to examine ways that its system can be further simplified, consistent with recipient country ownership, reduced process requirements and greater system transparency and efficiency.
  • Staffing needs to be an ongoing preoccupation. As the government and Sida implement their operational reforms in the field, they will need to continue to reflect on the size, type, skill base and location of its professional development staff.
  • Sweden’s approach to harmonisation and alignment of its aid is well advanced and offers both policy and implementation lessons to other DAC members. Sweden can continue to work systematically with other donors who are similarly able to generalise their involvement in delegated partnerships.
  • Sweden is currently reviewing reforms in the way it measures results. It is encouraged to do so in a way that most effectively integrates monitoring, evaluation and other results-based management approaches.

Humanitarian aid

A strong presence in the humanitarian field

Sweden allocates a large proportion of its ODA to humanitarian aid (16% in 2003) and provides timely and flexible funding. Many of Sida’s partner countries are in difficult situations of transition or armed conflict and this has stimulated the government to focus more on the relationship between humanitarian aid and development co-operation. It has introduced a humanitarian policy which confirms previous practice, while strengthening compliance with principles and practices of Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD). This approach to policy could serve as a model for other donors.

Humanitarian aid management is divided between the MFA and Sida, with MFA responsible for policy development and co-ordination of humanitarian aid and Sida responsible for implementation and follow-up. A national disaster response unit, the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA), which is under the authority of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), may also be called upon to implement humanitarian action. Consultations between the MFA and Sida are formal and instructions to Sida have become more detailed as Sweden’s interest in humanitarian action increases. Humanitarian aid is not delegated to the field, but Sida uses regional humanitarian co ordinators to improve assessments, monitoring and follow-up.

Improvements at the margin

Although Sweden’s new humanitarian policy does not introduce entirely new issues, it will, together with the PGD, place new demands on humanitarian aid operations. Existing Sida strategies merit some review, consolidation and revision. Furthermore, there seems to be no plan as yet for systematic follow-up of the way policy is translated into practice. In 2004 the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the MFA imposed new guidelines for management of ODA budget lines. These changes have the potential to negatively affect Sida’s provision of timely and flexible funding for humanitarian action and its ability to manage transition situations.

Management of humanitarian aid could be further streamlined: different units in the MFA manage the multilateral agencies involved in humanitarian action. Sida manages its humanitarian aid programmes from a department with multiple responsibilities including support to civil society, humanitarian aid and conflict management. The logic of this organisational set-up is potentially inconsistent with the efficient management of this large and growing portion of the Sida portfolio and may interfere with the independence of humanitarian action in relationship to other agendas. Management at the field level could also be further strengthened by reinforcing the role of the regional humanitarian advisors. The present arrangement for supervision of the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (MOD, MFA and Sida) appears to be an inefficient management approach.


  • Sweden’s humanitarian aid policy requires further operational articulation. The MFA should clarify, in a more operational manner, how to protect civilians. It should also examine possible negative effects of current humanitarian aid budgetary guidelines. Sida should consider the merger of its existing strategies and position papers into one comprehensive strategy with an implementation focus. The MFA and Sida are encouraged to jointly develop methods and systems for monitoring implementation of the humanitarian aid policy.
  • Current humanitarian aid management merits attention. The MFA should consider managing humanitarian multilaterals through one administrative unit and Sida should consider creating a separate department responsible for humanitarian aid to ensure the independence of humanitarian action and improve transition support. The role and functions of regional humanitarian co-ordinators could be better integrated between MFA and Sida in Stockholm and at the level of the embassy. MOD, MFA and Sida should also clarify their operational relations and procedures with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency.

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