Donor projects: is money a placebo, attention the drug?

In development, local self reliance is often seen as the main long term objective, while the delivered “hardware”, bridges, roads, schooling, are just seen as stepping stones to the road of self reliance.

I would like to raise the following issue: when working with a local partner in a structured way, the donor attention sometimes has more impact than the money. This means the current indicators to measure development value, based on money spent, might be of little merit.

A classical logical framework approach, or even better, a participatory German ZOPP procedure, helps the local partner to analyse his own problems, and search for solutions. It means that in the startup phase of a project, the partner creates himself a project he fully identifies with and can believe in. Further down the line, external attention helps to keep the partner focused to reach the benchmarks of the project.
In my limited experience, the effect of the external attention to the problem at hand, has an important effect on the success of the programme, where the spending of donor money could sometimes rather distract than focus the minds.
Indeed, a limited project to address one issue in the health system, e.g. introducing a new approach to TB treatment, needs different inputs from the different actors in the health department. The donor money itself for this project is only a very limited contribution, compared to the need for focus of the higher management, the time the staff must spend on training, the cost of maintenance and use of health department buildings, etc. The mobilisation of these inputs does not depend on donor money, but on stakeholder motivation on all levels.
In a developing country the problem is often how to bring everything together and motivate the understaffed and underpaid stakeholders. One way to do it is to give recognition. The old fashioned way: doing site visits, meeting officials, holding joint events, bringing overseas visitors to a rural backwater.
Exactly these elements are, in the post Paris declaration world, classified as “transaction costs”. However, the field visits of the donor might for structural multi-stakeholder change processes be the most efficient input, while the money itself is mostly the grease to keep the machine running.
Of course, when the main problem is debt relief, or the need for a concrete bridge over a river, just paying attention will not solve much, but as social programs are more and more central in development, I just wonder whether anybody has more than anecdotal evidence on this effect, or whether I am just  a development romantic?
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