We just finished a round of presentations at the UK political party conferences on how to make aid work better. My narrative was that the UK public does not think aid works because of the failure of the aid community to be clear and upfront about when aid works and when it does not. If we only provide feel good vignettes in boxes, this breeds cynicism. So, is sharing failures a risky thing to do? It depends. If we describe what we have learned from the failures and explain why the risks were taken in the first place, I believe not. We can also build more UK commitment for aid by using it more smartly (less gap filling and more strategic support for reform within recipient countries) and more authentically (allowing so-called intended beneficiaries to define success or failure of the policies and interventions and to have a public platform to report on their definitions of donor and government performance).
I was at the development fringe meetings of the Labour and Conservative parties, giving similar presentations at each. From the two IDS events, I found the discussion on aid reflecting the current realities of the two parties. In the Labour event, discussants were struggling with the practicalities of using aid in a sensible way. In the Conservative event, there was much discussion over the possibilities of using it differently. There was also much testing of the Conservative commitment to aid, with their senior representatives saying the rights things (see article by Annie Kelly in the Guardian). While the outcome of the election will not be determined by party positions on international aid, the election could yet shape the lives of millions of people outside the UK-for better or worse. I will be tracking the commitments of the different parties towards aid and reporting on it from time to time as we approach the election next May.