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Scenario Planning: Paving the Road towards Localization


In this AMID blog we will attempt to link the concept of scenario planning, the topic of our last lecture, with our own possible future as professionals within the field of international development. Over the course of the year we’ve been looking at important and extremely relevant ‘trending’ issues within the sector and, consequently, these also have implications for how we, as AMID trainees, embark on our professional careers. We have learnt a lot and gained many new insights, but now, being the change agents we are, is the time to reap the rewards of these valuable lessons and put them into practice.

On the one hand, this means realizing that the world around us is changing at a fast pace. The world of international development is certainly not lagging behind and it is therefore important to question what our relevance and contributions are from a Global Northern perspective. It means looking at possible other ways to support a more equal system and calling for a system of development aid that is “as international as necessary, and as local as possible”[1].

Although not new but key in this changing landscape, is the shift of power to the Global South, also referred to as “localization”. This term broadly refers to a commitment to consider and provide emergency and development aid through “grassroots” organizations. It aims to provide “closer aid”, aid “without intermediaries”[2]. In the following, we will tackle the issue of localization by placing it within four possible future scenarios. This analysis is built around the forces of change that will most profoundly and unpredictably impact the focal question, such as deconstructing neocolonial tendencies, donor dependency relations and contextual developments such as climate change.

Shifting roles

General consensus is that local and national development actors must and will play a much bigger role in responding to crises in the future. For example, the role of offices of INGOs in ‘Northern’ nations will move away from operational management to campaigning, advocacy, fundraising and the capacity strengthening of local actors [4]. This downsizing will be a long and uncomfortable transition, as for many this will mean a loss of livelihood. For policy makers in donor countries this also means a shift in their relations, moving away from an aid-based relationship to one based on trade, capacity building and partnership. It highlights the importance of a shared objective and the receiving country mandating the type of resources they want and need. Essentially, rather than deciding what is needed for the recipient, it means giving power and voice to the recipient to determine that for themselves.

However uncomfortable this transition may be, Northern actors need to understand their own complicity in the current aid landscape, by accepting that we are part of the problem in order to be part of the solution. The perpetuation of the development model can be justified only for as long as they add value to the ecosystem of aid delivery. This will be continually evaluated as the development landscape evolves. International development actors should prepare themselves to embrace the changes that they can make to increase the overall efficiency of the development ecosystem moving forward [5].

Scenario planning and the future roles of Northern development practitioners

One can raise the question what the future holds when facing this uncomfortable transition. Scenario planning can be used as a tool to observe what outcomes are generated when observing what different scenarios can emerge if we do or do not follow the developments towards localization. The focal question of a scenarios analysis captures the core issue to be explored. In this case, our focal question is: How will increased localization within development aid be accomplished whilst at the same time maintaining livelihoods of Northern development actors in the future?

In light of this question, the following four scenarios were developed, ranging from a best possible (high) outcome to a worst possible (low) outcome:

1. High: More locally led response and (somewhat sustained) livelihood(s) of Northern partners by shifting roles towards advocacy, marketing and fundraising. In terms of funding: direct sourcing of funds to local actors/first responders and Southern capacity of fundraising and marketing enhanced. Strong and equal partnerships between donors and implementing organizations. In conclusion, power has successfully shifted to the ‘Global South’ and actors in the North are supporting where necessary.

2.  Medium-high: High involvement of local partners and there is more localisation, but there is a lack of self-sufficiency and a sustained need to adhere to Northern expectations. Northern actors realize the need for change and also advocate for it but have not acted upon it appropriately. Therefore, no shift in power just yet.

3. Medium-low: “Aid-washing”, in terms of there being an involvement of local albeit vague and lacking equal share of power sources. Consequently, donor dependency for resources and superficial local contextualisation remains. Northern actors are still pulling the strings whilst unrightfully claiming a shift in power relations.

4. Low: Business as usual; continuing traditional (post-colonial) donor relations, reaffirming the ever existing top-down approach within international development. Northern actors are hereby also ‘complicit’ in perpetuating the age-old development model and unwilling to change their ways in fear of a loss of their livelihoods.

Localization Scenario Plan Diagram


International development comes with its many challenges and trends, whereby development aid has encountered significant transitions over the past decades. With each change comes the realization that another aspect in international development needs to be addressed. Importantly, identifying the neo-colonial tendencies in international aid has forced Northern actors to look at their own complicity and what actions they can take to break down the colonial structures. Yet, this is a difficult endeavor, as the increased awareness has simultaneously highlighted that the way forward is one with many forks in the road. From a theoretical scenario lens, our future careers within the sector can be perceived in multiple ways, with the least favorable scenario possibly being continuing business-as-usual and the ideal one causing a boost towards improved localization including equal partnerships, leaving us (AMIDs) to support only when necessary. Having completed the AMID year and learning from our skilled colleagues, lecturers and peers we will now embark upon a journey towards positively impacting the future of international aid. Realizing our own potential and having gained important insights over the past year, we can now reflect on our own positions in the sector and our relevance and contributions within it.

This AMID blog was written by Ellen Hell & Anne Dorst in December 2021


[1] HPG – Humanitarian Policy Group. (2018). “As international as necessary, and as local as possible.” Understanding capacity and complementarity in humanitarian action: https://cdn.odi.org/media/documents/As_local_as_possible_as_international_as_necessary_understanding_capacity_and_comp.pdf
[2] Martin Vielajus et Jean-Martial Bonis-Charancle (2020). Consultants and lecturers at Sciences Po and l’Université Paris-Descartes: https://alternatives-humanitaires.org/en/2020/07/23/aid-localisation-current-state-of-the-debate-and-potential-impacts-of-the-covid-19-crisis/
[3]  Rickards, L., Wiseman, J., Edwards, T., & Biggs, C. (2014). The problem of fit: scenario planning and climate change adaptation in the public sector. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 32(4), 641-662: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1068/c12106  
[4] START Network. (2017). Localisation of Aid: Are INGOs Walking The Talk? https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/WTT_FINAL.pdf
[5]  AAG – Action Against Hunger. (2017). “The Future of Aid” - INGOs in 2030. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/The_Future_Of_Aid_INGOs_In_2030 -20.compressed.pdf