01 March 2011

Six things we learned from DFID's Aid Review

The results of the UK Aid Review were presented to the Houses of Parliament by the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell this afternoon. What did we learn?

1. Andrew Mitchell was as good as his word. He said aid would be spread over fewer multilateral agencies and fewer countries, and it is. Not an easy thing to tell organisations and governments which you have funded for a long time that it is over. There were no real surprises in terms of organisations dropped (UNIDO, ILO, UNISDR and UN Habitat, although ComSec got the second worst score of all and somehow managed to avoid the chop--for now. FAO is on life support unless it is responsive to the kind of changes DFID wants). It was the same story in terms of countries dropped although some of the countries excluded have hefty poverty rates: Angola (54%), Cambodia (40%), Cameroon (33%), The Gambia (34%).

2. The results agenda was a key driver. It was really important to both the multilateral review and the bilateral review. In the multilateral process (for which I was one of two external reviewers) the assessors repeatedly stated that they were looking for evidence that the organisation was making a difference on the ground. For the bilateral review the country programmes had to pitch (quality assessed) "offers" in terms of development outcomes achieved--this may have increased the spend on health and education, although any such conclusion needs further analysis.

3. The fragile and conflict-affected states agenda may have lost out to the MDG agenda. For sure, the countries with the largest % increases (Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, DRC, Yemen) are fragile and conflict affected, but the percent of the bilateral spend going to MDG priorities such as health, education, water and sanitation and poverty and undernutrition increased significantly and totals 65%. Is a large increase in spending on girls' schooling in Pakistan a "securitisation of aid" or simply a large increase in spending on girls' education? Spending on Afghanistan, which had a 50% increase in funding in 10/11, stays flat until the end of the Review period and Iraq drops out altogether.

4. More attention was paid to women's empowerment than some had feared. Some were worried that the otherwise welcome increased focus on women and girls would come at the expense of agency. But in several places the review says it was guided by "offers" that strengthened the importance of women's decisionmaking power in enterprises, the media, civil society and parliaments and their control over their bodies (e.g. whether and when to have children).

5. There is a real danger of donor bandwaggoning. Will other donors follow the patterns that DFID have established here? Bandwaggoning would create new donor darlings and orphans. Other donors doing their own reviews need to bring their comparative advantage into the mix. Just because DFID is not doing much on, say, infrastructure does not mean that no-one else should.

6. This is more evolution than revolution. The above changes have been accelerated, but they are not terribly surprising and many were signalled pre-Coalition. It is a thorough review and a decisive one, but not a reckless one. The BBC had access to an early leaked version of the review and ran it over the weekend under the byline "Aid Shake Up". I would say that aid has not been shaken, rather it has been stirred (hopefully into greater action).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis on this so important subject. We would like to know more about your position in relation to the results based approach emphasized in the review.

As many people argue, achieving quantifiable results does not guarantee positive social change.

Furthermore, it can sometimes reinforce accountability to donors in detriment of accountability to the communities and recipients of aid.

Juan and Daniel

Lawrence said...

Hi. My view is that

a. we need to know which actions foster good change and which do not--practitiones and policymakers want to know this as much as citizens in recipient and donor countries do

b. this is best assessed via deliberate and structured evaluation and reflection

c. the issues should drive the assessment methods used

d. but some issues will require more difficult methods and generate higher burdens, burdens that might divert resources and exclude some actors

e. this may skew evaluations towards the amenable and away from the meanngful

f. this means we need to be more creative about defning, assessing and learning about impact

g. it also means that donors, governmemts, NGOs and evaluators have to have honest conversations about the issues

h. that is not easy when the donors have so much power over the other actors

i. this is a topic that people have strong and fixed ideas about. We all need to be more open about our biases and underlying assumptions

hope that helps