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Instruments and structures of development cooperationLatin America and CaribbeanAfricaconcluded

Trilateral Cooperation in German Development Cooperation

Trilateral cooperation is a modality in which three countries of different development status engage in the joint implementation of development measures. The underlying idea is that shared responsibility improves effectiveness. It also aims to improve cross-border cooperation. DEval examined whether these expectations are being fulfilled.

As a rule the parties in trilateral cooperation consist of an industrialised country as the donor, an emerging country in the role of the “Southern provider”, and a developing country as the beneficiary. By involving the Southern provider, a partner familiar with the realities of the beneficiary countries, it is hoped that better results will be achieved than from “classic” bilateral cooperation between a donor and a beneficiary. Furthermore, the additional actor alleviates pressure on the “Northern” donor's budget. Other aims of this form of trilateral cooperation are to promote international development partnerships and foster mutual learning.

Germany is one of the most active donors internationally with regard to the implementation of trilateral cooperation. The main geographical emphasis of German engagement is in the Latin America and Caribbean region, followed by Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Findings and Recommendations

Trilateral cooperation measures have great potential for achieving development results on the political-strategic level. On the level of the beneficiary countries, however, trilateral cooperation is only somewhat effective and sustainable in its current form.

This is primarily because it is mostly implemented as one-off measures which tend to be low-budget and short-term in structure. To improve effectiveness and sustainability, closer thematic tie-in of measures with German development cooperation’s bilateral programmes in the given beneficiary country should be sought. It should also be ensured that the partner will continue the activities even after the project has ended.

The framework conditions, structures and objectives of trilateral cooperation vary considerably in the three regions analysed.

In the Latin America and Caribbean region there are significantly more Southern providers than in other regions, and the local partners rate this cooperation modality positively for the most part. In Southeast Asia, the great interest of Southern providers is constrained by low levels of commitment from beneficiaries, but also by dependence on bilateral funding. In sub-Saharan Africa, German development cooperation has undertaken no further trilateral cooperation since 2015 because the interests of the various actors were too divergent.  

In order to better utilise the full potential of the modality, the strategic objectives of trilateral cooperation should be sharpened and the measures better aligned with these objectives.

In addition, Southern providers should be systematically strengthened in their role as active development cooperation actors. The planning and implementation of measures should take greater account of the specific framework conditions in the different regions and the interests and capacities of the respective actors.


The evaluation was completed in 2020. This is a summary of the results and recommendations; you can find the complete results and recommendations in the report.

Objectives of the Evaluation

The aim of the evaluation was to draw evidence-based conclusions about the effectiveness of trilateral cooperation and its potential and limitations as a cooperation modality. To this end the evaluation examined the outcomes resulting from the individual measures in each partner country. In addition, it analysed the extent to which the modality also generates impacts on the political-strategic level – such as fostering partnerships and cooperation, and strengthening development cooperation structures in emerging countries in particular.

Another question addressed by the evaluation was to what extent criteria and approaches regarded as specific to trilateral cooperation are being implemented. These include the aspiration towards horizontality in trilateral cooperation, meaning that all three partners participate in planning and implementing a measure on an equal footing. The evaluation also investigated and reviewed the disadvantages commonly ascribed to trilateral cooperation, one example being the high transaction costs for coordination and communication that can arise due to the larger number of partners.


The growing willingness of many emerging countries to assume more responsibility in their regions, or indeed globally, is enabling new forms of international cooperation. Such cooperation can make complementary use of the resources of emerging and industrialised countries, potentially valorising their inputs more effectively.

Trilateral cooperation is one possible modality for such international cooperation. Its use within German development cooperation since 2006 was the subject matter of the evaluation. As a rule, a trilateral cooperation is agreed between three countries in different economic development categories (a traditional OECD-DAC donor – in this case Germany, an emerging country and a beneficiary country) for the purpose of jointly realising development measures in the beneficiary country.

The modality of trilateral cooperation has been attracting growing international attention for a number of years and has been anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable development goal (SDG) 17 – “global partnership for sustainable development” – of the Agenda explicitly mentions trilateral cooperation as a means of promoting this partnership.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) published a position paper on trilateral cooperation in 2013, in which it set itself the goal of stepping up the use of this modality. In addition to improving the effectiveness of projects, the BMZ pursues this cooperation modality in the aim of building a common understanding of development policy with emerging countries and engaging in a dialogue on standards, criteria and values. A further aim is to support the emerging countries in taking on more responsibility internationally.

Although German development cooperation is one of the most important actors internationally in the field of trilateral cooperation, so far it accounts for a very low volume relative to the German development cooperation portfolio as a whole. The principal geographical focus of Germany's engagement in trilateral cooperation is currently the Latin America and Caribbean region, followed by Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. At the time of the evaluation (April 2018) there were 30 active measures in the BMZ portfolio; 80 measures had already been completed by that time and were also included in the analysis.


In order to carry out appropriate analysis of the subject of the evaluation and answer the overarching evaluation question about the extent to which the stakeholders’ objectives and expectations of trilateral cooperation are being achieved, a theory-based evaluation design was applied. The analytical framework, known as the theory of change, was reconstructed and checked in consultation with relevant stakeholders. During the reconstruction and the data collection and analysis phases, both the results of individual measures and the higher-level political-strategic outcomes were taken into account. The analysis also brought to light aspects which represent specificities of the modality of trilateral cooperation. These include joint and mutual learning as well as principles of cooperation such as horizontality. The findings from all dimensions were recombined in the synthesis.

The evaluation undertook a comprehensive collection of primary and secondary data. Case studies in the three regions Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia form its centrepiece. A total of 235 interviews were conducted in 16 case-study countries and in Germany. The 16 case-study countries consist of seven Southern providers, eight beneficiaries, and one dual actor. The latter is Peru, which acts as both a Southern provider and a beneficiary in the context of trilateral cooperation with German development cooperation. Interviews in Germany were conducted with respondents at the BMZ and the two implementing organisations Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB).

Furthermore, a literature analysis and a portfolio analysis were carried out based on project documents from the implementing organisations. For these purposes, the evaluation team analysed 86 documents relating to 30 trilateral cooperation measures in Latin America and the Caribbean, ten in Southeast Asia and three in sub-Saharan Africa.


  • Dr Marcus Kaplan Former Senior Evaluator DEval
  • Dennis Busemann Former Evaluator
  • Kristina Wirtgen Former Evaluator DEval


Portrait von Dr. Stefan Leiderer
© DEval

Dr Stefan Leiderer

Head of Department: Governance, Bi- and Multilateral Development Cooperation

Phone: +49 (0)228 336907-940

E-mail: stefan.leiderer@DEval.org

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