Since 1999, poor countries that want to qualify for concessionary IMF loans and debt relief must elaborate and implement Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. Donors claim that the PRSP approach will increase aid effectiveness since PRSPs will enhance broad country ownership and lead to better ‘partnership’ with donors, implying more donor co-ordination under government leadership. By examining the experiences of Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua, this article finds that the results are disappointing. The article also shows that, by emphasising rational planning and ignoring politics, the PRSP approach has unintended and sometimes harmful consequences. This leads to recommendations for changes of the approach.