Abstract The 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Busan, South Korea in November 2011 again promised an opportunity for a "new consensus on development cooperation" to emerge. This paper reviews the recent evolution of the concept of coordination for development assistance in health as the basis from which to understand current discourses. The paper reviews peer-reviewed scientific literature and relevant 'grey' literature, revisiting landmark publications and influential authors, examining the transitions in the conceptualisation of coordination, and the related changes in development assistance. Four distinct transitions in the understanding, orientation and application of coordination have been identified: coordination within the sector, involving geographical zoning, sub-sector specialisation, donor consortia, project co-financing, sector aid, harmonisation of procedures, ear-marked budgetary support, donor agency reform and inter-agency intelligence gathering; sector-wide coordination, expressed particularly through the Sector-Wide Approach; coordination across sectors at national level, expressed in the evolution of Poverty Strategy Reduction Papers and the national monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals; and, most recently, global-level coordination, embodied in the Paris Principles, and the emergence of agencies such as the International Health Partnerships Plus. The transitions are largely but not strictly chronological, and each draws on earlier elements, in ways that are redefined in the new context. With the increasing complexity of both the territory of global health and its governance, and increasing stakeholders and networks, current imaginings of coordination are again being challenged. The High Level Forum in Busan may have been successful in recognising a much more complex landscape for development than previously conceived, but the challenges to coordination remain.