The Columbus Methodology

The Columbus Programme introduced the WCO Capacity Building delivery principles of ownership and results-based management in 2007.The WCO Capacity Building principles are reflected in the 3 phases of WCO Capacity Building support:

  • the diagnostic phase;
  • the strategic planning and implementation phase; and
  • the monitoring and evaluation phase.

The three phases of the Columbus approach

Whether the context is the Mercator tailor-made track, the WCO Security programme, the SAFE Framework of Standards, Integrity development, or other WCO initiatives – the three phases of the Columbus methodology (the diagnostic, the planning and implementation, and the evaluation/monitoring phases) form the basis for WCO delivery of support in those areas.

Phase I – Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is carried out by WCO accredited experts. The experts interview Customs policy makers, Customs senior managers, and stakeholders including members of the private sector and other cross-border regulatory agencies. The resulting diagnostic report provides a gap analysis and a number of recommendations. New WCO Members can opt for a full diagnostic covering all or most of the main areas of the WCO Diagnostic Framework, namely:

  • Strategic management
  • Resources
  • Legal framework
  • Custom systems and procedures
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • External co-operation, communication and partnership
  • Governance

Phase II – Implementation

The second phase comprises all activities taken by the beneficiary Members to implement recommendations. WCO can support with:

  • establishment of a strategy and management structure;
  • improvement of base-line data and introducing or improving performance measurement and evaluation of progress (e.g. through Time Release Studies);
  • seeking of political support for development programmes  (e.g. through stakeholder engagement);
  • engaging donors in order to secure sustainable funding for development programmes and promote sustainable relationships; and
  • delivery of independent advice covering all Customs functions and business processes.

Phase III – Monitoring and Evaluation

The third phase provides a consistent approach to monitoring and evaluation ofprogress of development programmes, through

  • regular reports from Members;
  • interim review missions;
  • specific reviews with key Steering Committees; and
  • independent peer group reviews.

Many WCO Capacity Building tools were developed under the Columbus programme and are living tools, constantly being updated with new areas. Examples are the Diagnostic Framework, the Capacity Building Development Compendium, the SAFE Framework of Standards, CLikC!  - the WCO e-learning platform, and others.

In 2014, the Mercator Programme was launched. It is based on the Columbus methodology and is now the primary WCO tool for support to Members in need of support to implement the provisions of World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (the WTO TFA).