Two More Recommended Components for Self-Reliance

In June 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released its latest thinking about self-reliance. The announcement included the presentation of 17 metrics developed by USAID for the purpose of measuring the progress countries are making towards achieving self-reliance. USAID selected the metrics through a consultative process that involved various bureaus and units within USAID, as well as experts from different development sectors.

USAID defines self-reliance as a process driven by two components: Commitment and Capacity. To achieve self-reliance, countries need to strengthen these two closely-related components to plan, finance and implement solutions to solve development challenges.

As we know, the concept of self-reliance is not new. The international development community, including USAID, other donor agencies, and implementing partners, have spent considerable time and resources over the past decades testing and applying different frameworks for describing and understanding sustainability and country ownership that can guide better decisions towards sustainable impact, particularly as resources become scarce.

The involvement of many actors in the process–government, civil society, and the private sector–make the journey to self-reliance highly complex, often marked by non-linear pathways to achievement.  As USAID moves forward in developing and using self-reliance metrics, many of implementers and evaluators are asking whether or not we can use a defined set of metrics to monitor the journey to self-reliance and most importantly understanding the complex dynamics and contextual factors that vary by country and even within a single country.

Metrics will certainly help in better tracking the process for achieving self-reliance.  However, for metrics to be useful in providing a true reflection and understanding of real-world settings and dynamics, two additional elements should be considered. First, a robust Construct or programmatic rationale needs to be in place, including theories of change and theories of action, to better understand the complexity of delivering interventions, as well as the perspectives and interrelationships among key actors. And secondly, a full understanding of the Context where constraints, opportunities, problems and solutions intersect is also critical. When we think about self-reliance and take into account both Construct and Context, we address the inherent constraints in designing, financing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating development initiatives by the host government.

In addition, leaders and decision makers need not only metrics, but additional information to inform, learn and adapt throughout the journey for self-reliance. This is where evaluations, particularly the use of emerging evaluation approaches, are essential to better understand development hypothesis. Evidence that can be obtained from emerging approaches like developmental evaluation, realist evaluation, and problem-driven iterative adaptation can provide great insight into the complexity of development programs, their implementation and progress made towards self-reliance.

To build on decades of work toward the goal of achieving country ownership, sustainability and self-reliance, I offer a few ideas for consideration as USAID continues looking forward:

  • Involve country leadership and decision makers from the host government at the program design stage to ensure ownership from the beginning.
  • Design and implement development initiatives based on robust constructs of cause and effect, embracing complexity, systems constraints and a thorough understanding of contextual factors that must be taken into consideration when solving development challenges.
  • Contextualize the selection of the metrics by involving local leaders and decisions makers to measure their journey to self-reliance, adding a perspective to what is working, for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost.

With an understanding of the Context and use of robust Constructs, in addition to the Capacity and Commitment for development interventions, the new metrics can serve as an important measure of a country’s road to achieving self-reliance.

More on USAID’s self-reliance at

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