The Microeconomics of Technical Assistance

A personal and unorthodox approach

Marko Skreb,
January 2018

Introduction

Ever since I started working in the area of Technical Assistance (TA) I have sometimes felt like a salesperson knocking on door to door and offering gadgets that no one actually wants. I have always wondered about that. Considering that TA is usually free of charge for the authorities and that it is supposed to be “demand driven”, the problem should lie in its insufficient supply, rather than in the lack of demand for it. There are different definitions of TA. Here is the definition by the UNESCO, which can also be applied to the economic area: “Technical assistance is non-financial assistance provided by local or international specialists. It can take the form of sharing information and expertise, instruction, skills training, transmission of working knowledge, and consulting services and may also involve the transfer of technical data. The aim of technical assistance is to maximize the quality of project implementation and impact by supporting administration, management, policy development, capacity building, etc. The technical assistance focuses on particular needs and priorities identified by the beneficiary country …”
Technical assistance is typically in the business of on-the-ground capacity development, which is defined as:”… the process of strengthening the abilities of individuals, organizations and societies to make effective use of the resources, in order to achieve their own goals on a sustainable basis.”

Admittedly, my overall experience with providing TA in different countries (mostly in Europe and Africa) has been extremely positive and rewarding, but in a few cases and countries (which I will not name) I felt redundant. This text is about such experiences. It is not supposed to be a thorough evaluation of TA, but rather a personal account. You may call it a case study of some negative experiences, which also makes an effort to suggest some improvements in TA efficiency. I have no doubts about the usefulness of TA or capacity development in general. What I would like to do is nudge TA donors, providers and recipients (i.e. all stakeholders) to think outside the box about how to make this important function more effective.

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