The Unintended Effects of International Cooperation: An Eye Opener

On 16 and 17 January, a small delegation of our SDD community travelled to the Hague to attend the academic policy cross- over conference on the Unintended Effects of International Cooperation, organized by the Radboud University and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference attracted a large variety of interested: researchers, evaluators, policymakers, and students. What stood out was the amount of young people that were present at this conference as well as a significant amount of foreign participants! The overall approach of this conference was academic and had a big focus on a methodological discussion on a more systematic planning for an analysis of unintended effects.

During these two days, over 25 presenters from different disciplines presented their research and debated about the unintended effects (both positive and negative) of development aid and international cooperation. The aim was to determine if unintended effects needed to be taken more systematically into consideration by planners and evaluators and to explore how such effects should be integrated into evaluations. The panel discussions and presentations covered a wide range of topics, from global health care initiatives, the aggregate effects of aid to more theoretical debates about evaluation and impact assessments. Personally, I was very impressed by the findings of one speaker who found that sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo was misrepresented as the increasing international attention towards this topic spurred false rape claims. This finding blew me away as I’d never thought of the possibility of such effects to occur.

The conference served as an eye opener, at least for me. It became clear that there are many development programs that do not turn out the way it is expected (positive and negative). Though, the participants of this conference reached consensus on the fact that we need more insights in unintended effects, the academic world nor governments or NGOs have a clear systematic way of analysing and measuring effects of research and aid programs. Luckily, the participants set up a community of practice to further develop the outcomes and ideas of the conference! The first step has been set!

Now, the most important question.. What has this conference meant for our SDD community? Next to great lunches and the opportunity to network it has shown us that all those who are involved in development projects and studies should carefully reflect on the planned outcomes and goals. What do we, SDD students, aim to ‘develop’ and how are we going to do this? What will be the possible side effects and how can we know? Even though we have the best intentions and ambitious ideas for this world, we cannot be a 100% sure that this will work out the way we hope so. Acknowledging the fallibility of our work is necessary and we should open up for a debate on the possible negative and positive effects of sustainable development diplomacy.

Some of the facts used for this blog were found in the summary of the conference, which can be found on the following site:

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