Small but mighty: Denmark ranks highly as a development partner, according to report

Denmark is one of only six countries in the world to achieve the UN's development assistance target, though this is only part of the equation for development success. How do Denmark’s development efforts measure up from the perspective of its partner countries?

October 5, 2016

Samantha Custer, Soren Patterson

Denmark is one of only six countries in the world to achieve the UN's development assistance target of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to foreign aid, and it has been doing so continuously since 1978.

This financial assistance, though essential, is only part of the equation. How do Denmark’s development efforts measure up in other areas — such as the usefulness of its policy advice, its influence in setting reform agendas, and its helpfulness in reform implementation — from the perspective of its partner countries?

The Danish flag flies over the skies of Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Jacob Bøtter(CC BY 2.0), licensed under .

In a new study, Danish Development Cooperation from a Partner Perspective, AidData finds that leaders from 40 low- and middle-income countries rate Denmark as a high-performing development partner. To better understand past performance and inform future strategy, Danida, the Danish International Development Agency, commissioned AidData to evaluate Danish development efforts using insights from a survey of public, private and civil society leaders who had previously worked with Denmark between 2004 and 2013 —179 in total.

The survey finds that Denmark performs well compared to a cohort of 12 other multilateral and bilateral development partners, placing in the top third on three dimensions -- agenda-setting influence, usefulness of policy advice, and helpfulness in implementation (see Figure 1, below). This may indicate that Denmark’s strategy of long-term partnerships and focused investments in a limited number of priority countries is paying off in terms of its perceived performance.

Figure 1: Danida's Performance (Usefulness of Policy Advice, Agenda-Setting Influence, and Helpfulness in Reform Implementation)

The cohort of 12 comparison donors includes: the five largest DAC bilateral donors (the US, UK, Germany, Japan, and France), three major Scandinavian donors (Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway), and three most prominent multilateral organizations (the World Bank, EU and the UN).

The usefulness of policy advice is measured on a scale of 1 through 5, with 1 indicating "almost never", 2 "less than half the time", 3 "about half the time", 4 "more than half the time", and 5 "almost always." Agenda-setting influence and helpfulness in reform implementation are both measured based on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 indicating the leas influence / helpfulness and 5 the utmost influence / helpfulness.

Despite its small size, Denmark communicates with host-government counterparts at a frequency comparable to large multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. This higher frequency of communication may generate a performance dividend: Denmark is seen as more influential and providing useful advice in countries where survey participants reported communicating most often with Denmark.

In 2009, Denmark made a strategic shift to place a greater emphasis on supporting private sector development and supporting social progress through its development cooperation. This shift appears to be well aligned with Denmark’s reported areas of comparative advantage: survey participants with a specialization in private sector development and social policy perceived it to be particularly useful, influential and helpful.

In addition to Danida, DEval (the German government’s evaluation agency) commissioned AidData to conduct a study of German aid from a partner perspective, and will publish its results soon. These studies draw upon a 2014 survey of over 6,700 decision makers in 126 low- and middle-income countries. Later this month, AidData will field an updated version of the survey as an outlet for policymakers to share their perceptions of development partners and the most pressing priorities in their countries.

The Danish flag flies over the skies of Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Jacob Bøtter, licensed under (CC BY 2.0).