Instruments and structures of development cooperationconcluded

Secondment of Development Workers

For more than 60 years, German organisations have been sending development workers to the Global South. The goal of this DEval evaluation was to understand the impact of these experts and to establish which factors determine the success or failure of the assignments.

The development service is a special form of social commitment. It involves development workers supporting organisations in the partner countries for a limited period of time, for which they receive a maintenance allowance rather than a regular salary. During the period investigated in the evaluation (2005 to 2013), an average of 1,240 development workers were deployed each year in the Global South. This corresponds to almost a quarter of all experts who were sent out as part of German governmental and non-governmental development cooperation.

However, the basic conditions today are no longer the same as they were when international cooperation commenced at the end of the 1960s, as several poor countries have now become middle-income countries which themselves play a role in shaping global agendas. Moreover, the type of development aid has changed considerably – the old principle of donors and beneficiaries has been replaced by the principle of "equal partnerships". Against this background, the question arises as to whether it still makes sense in today’s world to deploy development workers.

Main Findings and Recommendations

Especially in poor countries and poorer regions of emerging countries, the deployment of development workers continues to be an effective and appropriate instrument.

Partner organisations continue to rely on the assignment of external specialists to build capacities. They appreciate the particular qualifications and experience of development workers and their unbiased view, which enables them to initiate changes.

The demands of partner organisations and the programme logic of governmental development cooperation often differ greatly.

Whereas the former have a grass-roots orientation in their work, the latter primarily aims at cooperation with national governmental organisations. All the organisations involved should agree on clear target agreements, in the process reaching a mutual agreement on the role of development workers.

The intended fields of action of development workers are not always sufficiently examined; the deployment of the skilled workers therefore often fails to meet the specific needs of the partner organisations.

Frequently, this also has a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the assignments. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) should reach a joint agreement with the institutions assigning development workers, ensuring that the experts are deployed more appropriately.


The evaluation was completed in 2015. This is a summary of the main findings and recommendations; you can find the complete findings and recommendations in the report.

Objectives of the Evaluation

Although more than 28,000 German development workers were already assigned at the time of the evaluation, there was no comprehensive evaluation of the instrument for the secondment of development workers up to this DEval evaluation. The aim of the evaluation was therefore to record the impact of development workers in partner countries and to identify success and failure factors for the secondment in different contexts and assignment constellations, focusing on the period from 2002 to 2013.

The results of the evaluation should be fed into the new political conceptualization process for the secondment of development workers, which BMZ initiated in 2013 together with the institutions assigning development workers. Recommendations based on the results should thus contribute to the further development of the instrument for the secondment of development workers. 


For more than 60 years, German development services have been assigning development workers to partner organisations in countries of the Global South. Both governmental and non-governmental organisations support the development service. The common objective of the assignments is for development workers to contribute to strengthening local partner organisations and, after their return to Germany, to promote understanding of the partner countries and development cooperation. However, the concrete assignment constellations of development workers vary greatly.

The following organisations, which BMZ recognises as institutions assigning development workers, were examined as part of the evaluation: Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Entwicklungshilfe (AGEH), Dienste in Übersee (DÜ), which has since 2012 been part of the Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) Evangelical development service, Christliche Fachkräfte International (CFI), the German Development Service (DED), or GIZ from 2011 onwards following the merger of GTZ, DED and InWEnt, as well as EIRENE and the World Peace Service (WFD).


DEval chose a theory-based approach for this evaluation. Accordingly, the evaluators began by developing an overarching impact logic for development workers in order to formulate generally valid impact assumptions. This involved examining not only the impact to which development workers contribute, but also how they do so (social mechanisms).

The empirical data collection used the following methods:

  • A large-scale survey of development workers, comprising an initial part looking at their own assessment of effectiveness in partner countries and a second part regarding commitment and professional reintegration in Germany (600 participants from the assignment period of 2004 to 2012).
  • Five case studies in core countries regarding both German development cooperation as a whole and the assignment of development workers specifically (Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Bolivia). This involved performing more in-depth analyses of a total of 46 development worker secondments (including the involvement of target groups, partner organisations, external experts and, where appropriate, GIZ programme managers) in order to both record outcomes and understand how development workers had achieved them.
  • A survey of 37 partner organisations from five other selected countries (Peru, Philippines, Ghana, Zambia and Uganda).

These data collection methods were triangulated for the overall results. They were supplemented by a context analysis including a comparison with developments in other international secondment services and a portfolio analysis. In addition, the evaluators conducted interviews and background discussions with experts on various topics, thus making it possible to further classify the instrument.


Portrait von Helge Roxin
© DEval

Helge Roxin

Senior Evaluator - Team Leader

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-937


Portrait Jörg Faust
© DEval

Prof. Dr Jörg Faust


Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-902


To Top