Chapter 4. Norway’s structure and systems

This chapter reviews Norway’s organisational structures and management systems for its development co-operation and the extent to which they are fit for purpose, with appropriate capabilities to deliver its development objectives. The responsibility for Norway’s development co-operation is complex, involving different ministries and agencies. Although Norway has made significant progress in its programming approaches and mechanisms, these could be further improved by strengthening linkages between programming and strategic management and oversight. As overall ODA levels continue to increase, Norway would benefit from strategic workforce planning to ensure that it can deliver on its changing aid model, in particular its shift from bilateral to multilateral co-operation. While there is a good understanding of risk management, corruption risk in particular needs to be further integrated in programme design. Norway’s approach to innovation is good practice that should be shared across the Development Assistance Committee (DAC).


Authority, mandate and co-ordination

Peer review indicator: Responsibility for development co-operation is clearly defined, with the capacity to make a positive contribution to sustainable development outcomes

The responsibility for Norway’s development co-operation is complex, involving different ministries and agencies. While Norway has made progress in strengthening cross-government co-ordination, the planned reforms aim to improve oversight and accountability. They should also address and strengthen synergies between multilateral and bilateral development co-operation.

Responsibility for development co-operation is complex and will benefit from the planned institutional reforms

The institutional arrangements for the leadership and delivery of Norway’s aid programme are based on the principle that it is an intrinsic element of Norway’s foreign policy. Since 2013, however, the way the aid programme is led and administered has undergone various reforms, and a relatively complex structure of ministries and agencies are now involved in its delivery. For the first time since 2013, the position of Minister for International Development was re-established in January 2018. However, ministerial responsibility for the aid programme remains shared between:

  • the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is responsible for overall policy, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe; the Middle East; North Africa; Afghanistan; humanitarian assistance; human rights, and; elements of the aid programme’s focus on oceans. The Minister is also responsible for the budget lines on peace and reconciliation, as well as transitional funding and fragile contexts (stabilisation);

  • the Minister of International Development, who shares responsibility for development policy and has responsibility for multilateral partners, Norad and Norec (formerly FK Norway) and for the aid programme in countries not covered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs; and

  • the Minister for Climate and Environment, who is responsible for the element of the aid programme allocated to the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI).

Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains the dominant agency, managing 49.5% of official development assistance (ODA), the Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation (Norad) has been allocated increasing responsibility for the administration of the aid programme since 2013, particularly administration of the thematic areas. In addition, in 2017, Norad was delegated grant management and implementation responsibilities for health and education programming. This delegation of responsibility to Norad was an attempt to reduce overlap between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norad, and to streamline the aid administration processes. In 2013, the Ministry of Climate and Environment was also allocated responsibility for the NICFI initiative (Chapter 3).

These institutional arrangements lead to a degree of overlap and inefficiency. Reforms to the organisation of Norwegian development co-operation, including the division of roles between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norad, are being considered, with a new organisational arrangement expected to be implemented during 2019. In determining the respective roles, functions and responsibilities of Norad and the Ministry, Norway should consider building better linkages between strategic management, operational approaches and administrative systems, as ensuring appropriate governance frameworks and structures at senior levels will improve incentives and oversight. In so doing, it will be important to retain Norway’s flexible, responsive and consensus-driven approach, while ensuring quality assurance and compliance systems are fit for purpose. The implementation of institutional reform would benefit from learning from other OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members. It will also require a careful change-management approach, as well as effective communication with all staff and stakeholders.

Whole-of-government approaches aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an increasing focus on multilateral delivery present further challenges

As outlined in Chapter 1, Norway has made significant progress in aligning its policies with the SDGs, both domestically and internationally, including assigning each of the goals to a co-ordinating ministry. While this approach has facilitated cross-governmental approaches, and effectively linked Norway’s domestic and international engagement with the SDGs, it has also increased other ministries’ involvement in Norway’s aid programme. As a result, Norway has made efforts to strengthen dialogue across ministries (Chapter 1). Nevertheless, a May 2018 evaluation commissioned by Norad (2018) recommended that Norway formalise and strengthen its co-ordination mechanisms. The evaluation noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not been equipped with any formal power over other ministries’ policies or activities, and recommended greater stakeholder engagement and cross-ministerial dialogue.

While the proportion of Norway’s contribution to multilateral agencies through bilateral channels has steadily increased in recent years, core contributions to the multilateral system have decreased as an overall proportion of ODA (Chapter 3). As such, further reforms to Norway’s organisational structures are needed to support this approach, enhancing synergies between its multilateral and bilateral co-operation. While reporting on Norway’s contributions to the multilateral system is integrated into annual directives and work plans for embassies, including assessments of these contributions at country level, in practice this has proved challenging to monitor and Norway would benefit from further clarifying and strengthening embassies’ strategic role in this regard (Chapter 5).

This was further evidenced in Norway’s Uganda programme, where there are opportunities to strengthen the linkages between development, trade and foreign policy aims at both a bilateral and global level to ensure they are mutually reinforcing. While the Embassy has made considerable efforts in-country to develop a work plan that highlights linkages and, in particular, aligns private sector development with its engagement with the energy and petroleum industry and civil society strengthening, these efforts are not well-connected to Norway’s international policy engagements. The development of a country strategy would help to further strengthen whole-of-government working and co-ordination with Norway’s global engagements and investments in the multilateral system.


Peer review indicator: The member has clear and relevant processes and mechanisms in place

Norway has made significant progress in all aspects of its programming approaches and mechanisms, but these could be further improved by strengthening linkages to strategic management and oversight. There also exists a good understanding of programme risk management although corruption risk in particular needs to be further integrated in programme design. Norway’s approach to innovation is good practice, which should be shared across the DAC.

Strengthening linkages between programme management and strategic management

Norway has invested in strengthening its project-cycle management systems and processes, including by building on its guidance for improved programme planning, design and partnership assessment. Recent revisions to the Grant Management Manual1 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017) in particular are key in clarifying procedures. However, that project results are not aggregated at a thematic or portfolio level limits opportunities for results information to drive policy formulation and strategic decision-making (Chapter 6). A more consistent and systematic use of these processes and procedures to aggregate project and programme information would help improve programme efficiency and quality, thereby producing better development outcomes from partners. Moreover, further efforts to link project-cycle management processes to policy guidance and political directives, with strengthened oversight by senior management, would also ensure increased accountability and help Norway achieve more effective and coherent programming (Chapter 2).

Norway has made progress in its efforts to strengthen the transparency of its aid programme, including through publishing to the International Aid Transparency Index (IATI) since 2015. In 2018, Norway received a “fair” score of 43.3 (ranking 35th out of 45 reviewed agencies) – a marginal improvement over 2013 (IATI, 2018). Publishing to IATI needs improvement, and more can be done to ensure that policy and strategy documents, budget documents and impact appraisals are systematically published. IATI also notes that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should better promote the use of its published data both internally, to facilitate co-ordination and effectiveness, and externally, to explore online and in-person feedback loops – including at the country level (Chapter 6).

Managing risks

Norway demonstrates considerable risk tolerance and recognises the impact of fiduciary, programmatic and reputational risks on the continuity and effectiveness of development co-operation. Norway has elaborated a series of tools and approaches for understanding the risks of corruption in development co-operation, and supplements these efforts through a series of complementary policy mechanisms, such as a zero-tolerance approach to incidents of corruption (or potential incidents of corruption), a follow-the-money initiative, spot checks, independent third party monitoring, and active and independent mechanisms for whistle-blowing, and sanctions. The creation of the Foreign Service Control Unit in 2007, and parallel units in Norad in 2011, were decisive in triggering this more systematic risk management approach, which continues to develop and strengthen year on year. Risk management is also managed in a differential way, depending on the operating environment – the higher the risks, the more follow-up (i.e. sequencing the allocation of funds, frequency of meetings, types of evaluations and reviews) – in line with provision 5(ii) of the Recommendation of the OECD Council for Development Co-operation Actors on Managing the Risk of Corruption, 2016 (the Council Recommendation).

Many of these tools and approaches are yielding important results, particularly at the level of diagnostics, but there are areas for further elaboration, simplification or clarification. For example, ‘following the money’ is not highly effective in the absence of specific financial training, Similarly, Norway’s zero tolerance approach towards corruption is widely known by both staff and partners, and yet a more pragmatic and proportionate approach that ensures Embassy and programme staff have a clearer sense of the policy’s implications, in terms of practical and proportionate programme implementation may be warranted, and would better align with the spirit of the Council Recommendation, specifically provision 8(iii). Further efforts could be made to ensure that risk monitoring at the project and programme levels also systematically informs strategic decision-making. It will also be important for Norway to incorporate recommendations and good practice in managing sexual exploitation and abuse – emerging topics in ongoing DAC discussions.

Norway has continued to build and deepen its approach to managing corruption risks in development co-operation, with a recent OECD report finding that Norway has a robust legal framework, which has supported active anti-bribery enforcement. However, some recent significant amendments could weaken enforcement. In particular, “the new Penal Code narrows Norway’s jurisdiction over criminal offences committed abroad, inter alia potentially limiting nationality jurisdiction over foreign bribery to acts that are also punishable under the law of the country in which they are committed” (OECD, 2018).

Challenges remain especially in the Oil for Development programme, which would benefit from a more holistic understanding of and response to corruption risks in the oil sector. The 2013 peer review of Norway pointed to Norway’s relatively narrow approach to anti-corruption, primarily focused on project-specific risks, and the need for Norad to invest further in understanding the political economy of recipient countries (OECD, 2013). Norway has taken steps to undertake systematic political economy reviews in each of its twelve Oil for Development partner countries, to derive a better understanding of the contexts in which its operations are conducted, although staff advised that these assessments rarely inform programming. Operationalising political economy analyses in project and programme design and strategic decision-making is a challenge among development actors, which suggests that a more pragmatic approach towards understanding and responding to political and strategic risks may be warranted. This is relevant to Provisions 5 and 10 of the Council Recommendation.

Promoting innovation in development co-operation

Promoting innovation is a clear priority for Norway’s development co-operation and represents good practice. Norway has a strong portfolio of programmes supporting education and health in particular, underpinned by strategic partnerships with academia, the private sector and civil society. Norway’s Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development in Uganda is a good example of its innovative support for the education sector, strengthening local capacities by using country systems throughout the programming cycle and creating avenues for South-South co-operation. Bringing these initiatives to scale and sharing good practice should be priorities for Norway.

The new Knowledge Bank also signals a commendable effort by Norway to become more knowledge-oriented and coherent across implementing agencies. Norway has taken an innovative and ambitious approach to leveraging the expertise and experience of multiple government agencies. Further efforts could be made, however, to strengthen the use of learning and evidence to improve development co-operation outcomes (Chapter 6).

Norway’s recognition of the impact of digitisation – both in terms of creating an increasingly inter-connected world, and the potential opportunities for social development and economic growth created by access to information and services – is also notable. The white paper “Common Responsibility for Common Future” (Government of Norway, 2016-17) highlights the need to strengthen digital capacity-building as an integral aspect of Norway’s development efforts. A strategy for digitisation in development co-operation was launched in September 2018, and a further white paper on digitisation and technology is under preparation. This includes using digital technology and new means of communication, both for long-term development co-operation and in humanitarian crises. Norway has already achieved significant successes in this area, including through initiatives such as the District Health Information Software 2 initiative (Box 4.1).

Box 4.1. Norway’s District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2) initiative

DHIS2 is an open-source, web-based health-management information system, launched in 1994 with funding from Norad, the University of Oslo and the Research Council of Norway. Since scaling up in 2011, DHIS2 has become the world’s largest health-information management system used by 67 low- and middle-income countries, covering a global population of 2.28 million.

The platform was developed to facilitate a high degree of country ownership through an adaptable approach that can be configured to complement health ministries’ existing systems. Data ownership rests with each user institution. In addition, DHIS2 has played a crucial role in supporting capacity-building through the establishment of over 80 DHIS2 “academies” providing training and support to platform users.

The widespread use of DHIS2 has also enabled cross-sector applications. The platform is also being used to capture data and reporting across water and sanitation, agriculture, education and other sectors.

The success of the initiative has allowed it to expand and sustain growth over time, attracting further funding from UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control, Gavi – The Vaccine Alliance, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This should be seen as a good practice of long-term investment in innovation (Norad, 2017).

Capabilities throughout the system

Peer review indicator: The member has appropriate skills and knowledge to manage and deliver its development co-operation, and ensures these are located in the right places

Despite investments in strengthening human resource management to deliver training, mobility and skills development, Norway’s staffing levels have not kept pace with an increase in overall ODA. Norway would benefit from strategic workforce planning to ensure it can deliver on its changing aid model as it shifts from bilateral to multilateral co-operation.

Staffing levels have remained constant despite significant increases in Norway’s aid programme and a shift from bilateral to multilateral co-operation

Norway’s aid programme is largely delivered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with around 2 600 Norwegian and local staff in total), Norad (250) and Norec (42). The current government’s focus on efficiency gains in the civil service, and in the administration of ODA in general, has caused the number of officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fall from 1 485 in 2015 to 1 432 in 2018 – although the number of locally employed staff at embassies has risen from 870 in 2005 to 1 155 in 2018. Despite this slight increase in overall numbers, staffing has not kept pace with a significant increase in the aid budget over the past ten years. To some extent, this reflects the Government of Norway’s focus on civil-service efficiency; however, it has led to greater “outsourcing” of aid administration, particularly through increased allocations of ODA to the multilateral system.

Furthermore, this shift from bilateral co-operation to working through the multilateral system has not been accompanied by strategic workforce planning to ensure the necessary staffing levels, structures and skills are in place to deliver Norway’s evolving programme effectively and efficiently. Since 2013, Norad had been charged with managing a growing portfolio of thematic issues and grant-management processes, yet there have been subsequent limitations on their ability to recruit additional specialists to do the work. Addressing these challenges will become even more important as Norway’s aid volumes continue to increase, and new skills are required to deliver on the country’s strategic objectives.

Human resources systems have improved with an increasing focus on mobility, training and skills development

Norway has strengthened its human-resource management systems in recent years, and made some progress in breaking down the silos between staff working on foreign policy and those working on development. This success partly stems from greater staff mobility, and the anchoring of foreign policy and development policy in common strategic documents, such as the Jeløya-platform (Office of the Prime Minister, 2018). It is also supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs strategy – Strategy 21, covering 2017-21 – to increase the effectiveness of the Foreign Service and develop Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees’ knowledge and skills.

Ministry staff and local staff are also supported by a range of training options, including formal training from the Foreign Service Institute, on-the-job training and participation in Train 4 Dev, a joint donor-training programme. In addition, Strategy 21 defines six key measures to develop the effectiveness of the Foreign Service, including flexibility, co-ordination, the role of embassies, new technology, security, and employee knowledge and skills.

Evidence from Norway’s country programme in Uganda indicates that staff at Norway’s embassy have a clear understanding of Norway’s priorities and the context in which they operate. Embassy staff are accessible to partners and work well to co-ordinate Norway’s development co-operation activities in Uganda. Locally engaged staff in particular play a critical role in providing in-depth understanding of the national context and continuity in managing Norway’s key relationships.


Government sources

Government of Norway (2017), “Common Responsibility for Common Future: The Sustainable Development Goals and Norway's Development Policy – Report to the Storting (white paper)”, Meld. St. 24, English summary, Government of Norway, Oslo,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2017), “VO4 Guide to Assessment of Results and Risk Management, including Cross-cutting Issues”, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo.

Norad (2018), Evaluation of Norwegian Efforts to Ensure Policy Coherence for Development, Evaluation Department, Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation, Oslo,

Norad (2017), “Universitet har utviklet digitalt system for helseinformasjon” (University has developed digital health information system), (in Norwegian).

Office of the Prime Minister (2018), The Jeløya-platform,

Other sources

IATI (2018), Aid Transparency Index 2018,

OECD (2018), “Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention Phase 4 Report: Norway”, OECD Working Group on Bribery, Paris,

OECD (2016), OECD Recommendation of the Council for Development Co-operation Actors on Managing the Risk of Corruption, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Norway 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,


← 1. The “VO4 Guide to Assessment of Results and Risk Management, Including Cross-cutting Issues” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017) supports grant managers in assessing and managing results and related risks, in line with the Regulations on Financial Management in Central Government. The guide sets minimum requirements, and includes some examples and guidance on cross-cutting issues.

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