Technical Assistance: A catalyst to accelerate progress towards scaling up nutrition at both national and sub-national levels

Technical assistance panel at the SUN Global Gathering 2019

From left to right: Robert Bertram, Chief Scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security; Dr. Dieney Fadima Kaba, National Director of Family Health and Nutrition and SUN Focal Point, Guinea; Dr. Azucena Milana Dayanghirang, Executive Director of National Nutrition Council and SUN Focal Point, Philippines; Karima Al-Hada’a, Planning & Liaison Specialist, Scaling Up Nutrition Secretariat, Yemen; and Dr. Mamady Daffé, Chef de Division Alimentation-nutrition, Ministry of Health, Guinea.

Kathmandu, NEPAL — The aim of the workshop, part of the SUN Global Gathering, was to discuss how technical assistance (TA) has helped Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement countries to advance their nutrition agenda. The session reflected on the contributions made by TA, and specifically focused on how future TA should support SUN countries as they progress from national level policy and plan development to planning and implementation at the sub-national level. The workshop was considered timely in view of the upcoming expiration of the SUN Movement’s Strategy 2016-2020. The outcome of the workshop discussions is expected to serve as useful inputs for the new strategy, which is under development.

The session was moderated by Robert Bertram, Chief Scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. Presentations from three SUN countries set the scene namely: Guinea, Dr. Dieney Fadima Kaba, National Director of Family Health and Nutrition and SUN Focal Point, and Dr. Mamady Daffé, Chef de Division Alimentation-nutrition, Ministry of Health; The Philippines, Dr. Azucena Milana Dayanghirang, Executive Director of National Nutrition Council and SUN Focal Point; as well as Yemen, Karima Al-Hada’a, Planning & Liaison Specialist, Scaling Up Nutrition Secretariat.

Presenters outlined the TA received by their respective countries, how the deliverables had contributed to advancing the country’s nutrition agenda, and the strengths and weaknesses of the TA process itself. Overall the speakers agreed that TA had helped their country streamline the formulation of national plans and had made their multi-sectoral approach more participative and inclusive, with a richer exchange of information between stakeholders. However, the speakers also agreed that future TA should go beyond the formulation of national plans, to include support for:

  • costing nutrition plans
  • establishing mechanisms to track nutrition expenditure
  • coordinating their implementation

Further group discussion focused on future TA needs and took a deeper dive into the process of identifying those needs and articulating them in a terms of reference document, the factors that make TA successful, and how TA can be useful at the sub-national level. Some important takeaways for TA providers and SUN countries were:

  • TA can become a persistent need if it creates operational and technical dependency, and if the TA creates one problem even while solving another. The latter happens more often when TA prioritizes donor or partner interests over country needs.
  • The risk to sustainability from government staff turnover and political change can be mitigated by including in TA broad-based systems strengthening and institutional capacity building at national and sub-national levels.
  • Regular reviews of the progress of the TA are important for identifying mid-course corrections and adapting to changes in a country’s context.
  • TA is most effective when it coherently addresses multiple inter-related needs, rather than providing isolated deliverables. For example, when developing a national plan, systems should be strengthened to eventually deliver and monitor it.
  • TA should be seen as a win-win for countries and providers, as the latter learn to improve TA in other countries.
  • Local level planners and implementers are the ‘end users’ of TA deliverables such as national policies and plans. For national level TA to be more impactful and sustainable it must include capacity building for local actors to interpret, adapt and implement plans.

Further details on some these takeaways can be found in a blog post by our TAN programme partner, MQSUN+.