20 May 2012

DFID in India: Money Can't Buy Me Love (but TA can)

A new report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact ("the independent body responsible for scrutinising UK aid") evaluates DFID"s support for Health and Education in India.

The report gives DFID a Green-Amber rating overall (Green-Amber means the programme is performing well, but some improvements should be made).

The report makes 4 recommendations:

  1. Monitor benefits of UK aid more fully. This means focus more on the impacts of the quality of services (as well as access) and focus on the impacts of the knowledge and relationships it shares and develops.
  2. Clarify the DFID strategy in India beyond 2014-15. Uncertainty here will place gains at risk and may result in various initiatives being placed on hold by state governments.
  3. Increase further the contribution it makes to technical assistance (TA) in India, because this is where it adds most value
  4. DFID's new anti-corruption strategy should have stronger ties with local law enforcement and establish a whistle-blower hotline.

DFID in India works differently from DFID in Africa. It's budget, while large in absolute terms, is but a drop in the bucket in India, even in the 3 poorest states where it concentrates its work. In India, DFID seeks to add value through the know how that it can help to nurture and support (I've seen first hand how competent the Bihar Technical Assistance Support team is). I'm pretty sure this is how most African DFID offices will operate in 5-10 years time.

But Recommendation 1 is not going to be straightforward to implement. The impact of relationships and knowledge sharing is difficult to assess. Those of us in research constantly grapple with the challenges and perils of trying to assess the impact of relationships, research and research uptake (impact vs influence, attribution vs contribution, immediate vs lagged, intent vs action etc. see here for an example).

And Recommendations 1 and 3 seem rather at odds with each other. Recommendation 3 says do more TA work, while Recommendation 1 says find better ways of assessing the impact of TA work (the assumption being that we know what good TA looks like before we assess it).

Recommendation 2 on DFID's strategy in India post 2014-15 is a tricky one for the Government. Aid to India continues to be a political hot potato in the UK, and since it would be difficult to just terminate UK aid to a country with about 40% of the world's poor, UK aid in India will probably slowly decline. If that is the case, better to take the pain sooner rather than later when the decision will run up against the 2015 UK general election.

The final Recommendation on a "Global Whistle Blowing System" seems sensible, and it is surprising that DFID does not already have such a system given its increased spend, fewer staff and the more fragile contexts it now works in.

A final note, I found the ICAI report very useful, but I do wonder how it is any different to an International Development Select Committee report/analysis--perhaps it is just the frequency of the reports that makes ICAI different, or the fact that they are not undertaken by researchers working for MPs.

DFID in India is a fascinating test case of how the currency of aid is surely switching from money to know how.

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