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Development Education in Norway

This article was printed in The Development Education Journal  Vol. 8.3 June 2002, the Journal of the Development Education Association in the UK, published by Trentham Books.

By Arnfinn Nygaard | 08.26.2005

Arnfinn Nygaard discusses factors which have influenced the way Development Education has evolved in Norway, raising interesting questions about national coordination of DE and the relationship between DE and government.





The roots of DE in Norway
The rise of the DE NGOs
Support structures fro DE
The battle for a wider DE agenda
Current fragmentation of DE
Challenges ahead


It is frequently stated that the overwhelming popular support in Norway for development aid to poor countries (88% in 2001) is at least partly due to long-time official support for Development Education at home. That may be more or less so, but as Norwegian aid to poor countries celebrates its 50th anniversary this year it is perhaps time to take a critical look at the roots of Development Education in Norway as well, its development throught the years and its current state of affairs.

Global poverty and inequality remains high, despite 50 years of development assistance. Thus, Development Education (DE) in Norway today, as well as current international development co-operation, is concerned with a lot more than development assistance. However, the roots of DE in Norway are closely linked to the development aid project as well as Norwegian commitment to the cause of the United Nations.

The roots of DE in Norway

The UN Association of Norway was established in late 1946, with a mandate to inform the norwegian public about the ideas, organization and activitites of the United Nation. A few years later – in  early 1950 - the idea of providing assistance to ‘underdeveloped countries’ – following up ‘point four’ of US president Harry Truman’s inaugural speech in 1949 – was launched in Norway. These two events came to shape the first major Development Education effort in Norway – the national fund-raising campaign for Aid to India (India-hjelpen) in 1953.

The political context for the campaign in the early 1950ies was a combination of self-interest and international solidarity. The support for the aid project from the dominant Labour Party was certainly due to their tradition of international solidarity and Norway’s positive experience as a recipient of foreign aid through the Marshall Plan, but also to the Cold War and fear of the spread of communism. In addition the Labour party feared that the issue of NATO membership could split the party. Development Aid was a concession to the NATO-sceptics and leftists within the party and partly presented as ‘positive defence’, adding to the ordinary defence budget.

The idea of development assistance was whole-heartedly embraced by the influencial secretary of the Labour Party, Haakon Lie, who had successfully established the Workers Adult Education Association (AOF) 20 years earlier. A powerful combination of dedicated adult educator and political agitator – secretary Lie may be considered the first modern DE activist in Norway. He toured the country during the winter and spring of 1952, informing the public about poverty and ‘underdevelopment’ in the Third World and promoting the idea of development aid. He reported: ‘... not since the pre-war campaigns for Spain and Finland have I seen such an interest in issues outside our country‘.  Also the UN Association played an important role in mobilizing public and political support for the idea of development assistance. In a retrospective article chairman of the board of the UN Association, Bjarne Gran, wrote in 1971:

"The only “turning point” that can be seen in the 25 years of history of the Norwegian UN Association dates back to the years 1951-1954. This was the period in which the Association was fully engaged in adult education on the situation in developing countries. It happened in a way that have marked all later activities, and that also lead to negligence of other UN issues."

The close linkage between fund-raising, development aid and development education inherent in the 1953-campaign for India has – for good and bad – dominated much of Development Education in Norway ever since.

The rise of DE NGOs

The Norwegian UN Association have, since it was established, had a special position as a DE-actor in Norway. For a number of years it was the dominant actor. Schools (teachers and students) was – and still is – the main target group for its activities. In the mid-1970ies it formed – together with the Norwegian Committee for UNICEF and their sister organizations in other Nordic countries – the so-called “Alternatives Group”. Based on a critical view of the official educational material produced by the UN itself, educationalists from these organizations joined to develop alternative educational material for primary and secondary education in the Nordic countries. This initiative played an important role in developing a broad and critical prespective on DE in Norway.

In the follow-up of the Campaign for India in 1953, the Norwegian Development Aid (Norsk Utviklingshjelp) was established in 1962 and later NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) in 1968. NORAD was entrusted with the responsability for official information on issues related to its activitites as well as co-operation with and funding of the UN Association and other NGOs. Official funding for DE activities carried out by other NGOs had been made available anly on a minor scale, untill NORAD i 1975 signed a framework agreement on DE with the Workers Adult Education Association (AOF). AOF was then a nation-wide umbrella organisation with chapters and activities all over the country - still closely linked to the Labour Party. This was the start of the ‘framework agreement arrangement’, which has encouraged and supported a wide variety of Norwegian NGOs engaged in DE by providing 4-year funding agreements. Until the mid 1990s the majority of these NGOs considered themselves to be part of the tradition of adult education in Norway, distancing themselves from the marketing and fund-raising approach dominating the larger relief agencies.

Today, some 35 Norwegian NGOs hold such framework agreements with NORAD, including the ‘G5’ (the five larger Norwegian relief agencies) that have a separate status in their relations with NORAD. These NGOs represent the bulk of Norwegian civil society, including adult education associations of political parties, the Church of Norway (with a special branch established for the purpose of DE), the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, women’s organisations, youth, school and student organisations, the national network for community linking groups and a number of large and small aid, relief and solidarity organisations. The basic idea for NORAD was to reach the Norwegian public as widely as possible through their own organisations and to engage Norwegian civil society in international development issues.

In addition to the framework agreement arrangement intended for the larger national umbrella organisations and development NGOs, a separate funding arrangement was established to fund DE projects within minor and regional/local organisations and institutions on an annual basis. Some 60-100 NGOs have annually received smaller amounts of DE funding from this arrangement.

Support structures for DE

After the establishment of the ‘framework agreement arrangement’ in the mid-70s dedicated individuals at the office for information within NORAD played a crucial role in the development of DE in Norway, developing NORAD both as a DE actor and funding agency for the UN Association and other DE NGOs. NORADs office for information established itself as the leading professional body on DE, co-operating closely with the UN Association, other NGO actors as well as actors like the Inter Press Service (IPS). NGO representatives came to NORAD for advice and discussion on DE issues. They shared a common understanding that DE should encourage critical debate on issues linked international development co-operation on a broad basis.

However, this period of NORAD leadership and harmony in NORAD/NGO relations regarding DE came to an end around 1990. Officially there were several reasons for the shift in NORAD policy on DE: 1) The volume of funding for the DE activities of NGOs had grown larger than NORAD’s own budget for information, 2) some of the larger relief organisations (which had grown considerably during the years) had budgets for information, PR and fund-raising far bigger than NORAD’s, 3) NORAD and ODA suffered from ‘aid-fatigue’ and 4) the leaders of NORAD felt it was time to concentrate their limited resources for information on what NORAD was actually doing (bilateral development assistance) and not on an ever-increasing number of themes and issues NGOs felt relevant for the wider DE agenda. However, behind the scene there was another political reasoning pushing for these changes. Increasingly, and without much public debate, Norway at that time adjusted its policies to the SAP-approach (Structural Adjustment Programmes) of the World Bank and the IMF.  Within NORAD – and in particular within its office for information – there were people that wanted DE to stimulte critical debate on these issues, while others apparantly wanted to avoid such debate in public.

These changes did not happen without conflict – conflicts that came to affect DE and NORAD/NGO relations in Norway negatively for a number of years. The NORAD head of information, the dedicated and respected development educator Halle Jørn Hanssen, left his office in protest in late 1991. DE NGOs protested at what they saw as DE being substituted by ‘PR for NORAD and Norwegian aid’, fearing that future funding for DE would have strings attached, crippling critical debate on aid and north/south-issues and reducing their role to ‘PR agents for NORAD’.

It was in this atmosphere of conflict that NORAD and the NGOs holding framework agreements with NORAD – the so-called RORGs (acronym in Norwegian for ‘framework agreement organisation’) – managed to co-operate on the establishment of a new post of coordinator for the RORGs. Allthough ‘ownership’ of the RORG coordinator was unclear at the start, the post was renewed annually based on applications from the RORGs to NORAD. Through various stages of conflict between NORAD and the RORGs, this RORG network (insisting on ‘ownership’ of the co-ordinator) established itself during the 1990s as the main support structure for DE NGOs in Norway. The main areas of co-operation were: 1) lobbying through political processes for increased funding and the strengthening of DE in Norway, 2) pushing issues of common concern related to the NORAD administration of the framework agreements and 3) stimulating debate on DE issues and exchange of information between the RORGs.

An evaluation of the RORGs initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1998 found that ‘There has been a considerable level of conflict between NORAD, which is responsible for the administration of the framework agreements, and the NG0s involved’ (UD Evaluation report 9/98), due to a disagreement regarding the role and function of the RORG network, competition for funding from parliament and the content and scope of DE in Norway. However, for several reasons, the level of conflict eased by the end of the 1990s. Today there is close contact and cooperation between NORAD and the RORG network, despite the fact that the role of NORAD in DE, apart from its administration of DE funding, is only a shadow of what it used to be, according to the 1998 evaluators.

The battle for a wider DE agenda

As the roots of DE in Norway were closely linked to development aid, development aid was a central issue in DE for many years – especially DE carried out by the major relief agencies (within their own budgets for information and marketing). An MFA evaluation of the NORAD funding of DE NGOs in 1984 even found that the stated objective for funding DE (which was hard to find in official records) was ‘to increase public support for increased Norwegian ODA’. Allthough the ‘New International Economic Order’ of the 1970s and the ‘sustainable development’ of the late 1980s made its way into DE with parliamentary support, the common term for DE in Norway was still ‘u-landsinformasjon’ – meaning ‘information on developing countries’. This term was even used by many as synonymous with  “bistandsinformasjon” - meaning ‘information on development assistance’. These misleading terms led many people in NORAD, MFA and parliament to believe that DE was exactly that: the spread of information about the situation in developing countries and Norwegian development aid, by development NGOs and NORAD. Certainly, for most of the relief agencies and larger development NGOs, DE was closely linked to their own fund-raising activities and marketing of their own organisations and their work in developing countries.

When the RORG network in the early 1990s lobbied for increased official funding of DE, referring in particular to the increased number of NGOs wishing to engage in DE, it found that interest and commitment within NORAD, MFA and the parliament was lukewarm. This reluctance seemed to be linked to the general ‘aid-fatigue’ of that time. Furthermore, a major White Paper on Norwegian North/South policy published in 1992 made only a short reference to DE, stating that Norwegian development NGOs had played an important role in creating public support for Norwegian development assistance.

Thus the members of the RORG-network, which at that time did not include any larger relief agencies, decided to focus their lobbying on the long-term ambition of establishing a new rationale for DE to be firmly rooted in Norway’s south-policy. Basically the RORG network argued for DE to be given a more prominent role in south policy and to be based on ‘a comprehensive north/south perspective’, contributing to improved north/south dialogue with the ultimate aim of achieving global sustainable development, in accordance with the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission (Our Common Future, 1987). This was done through a number of statements and other inputs to the political process in the mid-1990ies.

The process resulted in increased funding within a new rationale for DE as part of Norway’s south policy. The new term used for these activities was ‘north/south-information’. This was a victory for the RORG network. However, the momentum was partly lost due to continued conflict with NORAD, who tried ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics in the RORG network for several years.

Current fragmentation of DE

The MFA evaluation of the funding of the RORGs in 1998 concluded that ‘The results in terms of development education provided are satisfying, both in terms of efficiency and in relation to the objectives of the funding’. However, the evaluation also found an ‘uncoordinated and fragmented administration of the different funding which is not conducive to increased effectiveness’.

Tthe NORAD information office was in the 1980s to a large extent the headquarters of DE in Norway, both professionally and financially. As previously described, this changed dramatically in the early 1990s. In 1994 the Foreign Ministry declared that NORAD no longer was to be responsible for official information on broader north/south issues. This responsability was to be transferred to the ministry itself, leaving NORAD with the task of informing the public on Norwegian bilatreral assistance. These changes led to changes in the administration of funds for DE as well. NORAD remained responsible for the administration of the framework arrangement agreements with the RORGs (despite the fact that NORAD was no longer expected to have knowledge of north/south issues), while the administration of funds for the Norwegian UN Association, minor and local/regional NGOs and some other arrangements were transferred to the MFA. When, in 1996, the ‘G5’ (the five larger relief organisations in Norway) were granted sizeable framework agreements on DE separately from the RORGs, administration was formally placed with NORAD while political control remained in MFA.

This has left DE in Norway in a state of fragmentation, administratively and professionally, and not least on the organisational level. Different administrative offices and procedures have hampered cooperation between the major actors, in particular between the RORG network, the ‘G5’, the Norwegian UN Association and the large group of minor and regional/local NGOs, but also with Forum for Development and Environment (ForUM), a larger national umbrella organisation established with government support to co-ordinate NGO input to multilateral development processes such as the major UN conferences. The MFA-evaluation in 1998 recommended that these issues should be addressed in a further study. So far this has not been done but renewed interest about these issues in the MFA may lead to positive changes.

Challenges ahead

For DE in Norway there are plenty of challenges ahead, related to co-ordination and administration as well as substance, methodology and evaluation and the need for renewed commitment on part of the DE community in Norway.

For NORAD and the RORG-network the immediate interest is linked to the on-going negotiation of framework agreements for the next four year period (2003-2006). New guidelines and new applicants may change the DE NGO terrain for the years ahead.

However, the two major UN conferences this year, in Monterrey, Mexico and Johannesburg, South Africa, may clarify if we may anticipate a political environment conducive to poverty eradication in the coming years. Hopefully, unless these conferences leave the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agreed by the international community as totally irrelevant and unrealistic, the main challenge for DE may be to discuss and develop the role of DE in the global efforts for a better world in light of the Millenium Development Goals.


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