Policy can be conceptualised as a middle ground between the political and the technical that allows stakeholders to structure their discussion along commonly shared concepts, methods and evidence. Indeed, one of the key lessons that we learned when we conducted the ﬁrst INSPIRED processes was how important it is to structure dialogue around concrete policy issues, to provide otherwise confronted stakeholders with an opportunity to develop a common understanding of the challenges at stake and then propose concrete solutions to those challenges.
To this end, the promotion of a culture of evidence-based policy-making among the largest possible number of stakeholders is crucial for the success of the dialogue process, as it forces the incumbent government to increase the transparency of its inner workings, which represents a ﬁrst step towards creating mechanisms of accountability. Moreover, basing discussions on knowledge and reliable data is the best way to ensure that the impact of the reform initiatives resulting from the dialogue process can be measured adequately and that any changes in the policy at stake are based on informed decisions.
All this may explain why the EU has recently adopted a ‘Policy First’ approach in the programming of its external action. Aware of the huge potential of working at the policy level, the EU’s own development policy currently calls its EU delegations across the world to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach and base the programming of EU funded support on policy dialogue.
As policy has progressively come into focus in international development circles, the notion of policy dialogue has gained traction too, including in the EU aid system. Given that the greatest chunk of aid is being mobilised through sector reform, budget support and other financial instruments such as blending, donors have been progressively realising that they need to move beyond the classical “project approach”. Instead, they are increasingly focused on influencing domestic policies and, in this framework, need to identify policy indicators that can determine if the reform processes that they are supporting stay on the right track. For the sake of objectivity and in order to promote transparency, the measurement of these policy indicators cannot be done exclusively with the government, but needs to involve other domestic stakeholders such as civil society organisations, think tanks or subnational governments so as to ensure that the datasets provided by the government are accurate and reliable instead of presenting the donor with a rosy picture ensuring the disbursement of the next financial tranche.