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The authors declare no competing interests.
AU conducted the document review, interviews and observation. PH and IN provided the study design and all authors participated in the narrative analysis. AU and AM developed the first draft and led on its further development. PH and IN provided further inputs and revisions throughout the manuscript development process. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
In 2005, the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Mongolia initiated the process of developing its Health Sector Strategic Master Plan (HSSMP), using a wide-ranging consultative process, driven by the MoH, and requiring participation from all levels of health facilities, other ministries, donor agencies and NGOs. Among other objectives, the MoH sought to coordinate the disparate inputs from key donors through the HSSMP, aligning them with the Plan’s structure. This research explores the extent to which the HSSMP process served as a mechanism for effective aid coordination while promoting ownership and capacity building and the lessons learned for the wider international development community. The study is based on document review, key-informant interviews and authors’ experience and participation in the MoH planning processes. The HSSMP process improved alignment and harmonisation. It enabled a better local understanding of the benefits of aid coordination, and the recognition that aid coordination as not only a mere administrative task, but a strategic step towards comprehensive management of both domestic and external resources. The process was not challenge free; the fractious political environment, the frequent turnover of key MoH staff, the resistance of some donors towards MoH scrutiny over their programmes and the dismantling of the central coordination and return of seconded staff following completion of the HSSMP, has slowed the pace of reform. Despite the challenges, the approach resulted in positive outcomes in the areas of ownership and better aid coordination, with HSSMP development emphasising ownership and capacity building. This contrasted with the usual outcomes focus, and neglect of the capacity building learning processes and structural and policy changes needed to ensure sustainable change. The largest and most influential programmes in the health sector are now largely aligned with HSSMP strategies, enabling the MoH to utilize these opportunities to optimise the HSSMP outcomes. The lessons for Ministries of Health in similar Post-Soviet countries--or other emerging economies where government capacity and local policy processes are relatively strong--are clear: the development of solid governance and technical infrastructure in terms of planning and evaluation provide a solid structure for donor coordination and insure against local political change.