Today a journalist emailed me to ask me about DFID's recently published Multilateral Aid Review Update (MAR-U). Their question: what is the story?
The MAR Update is less intuitive to read than the original MAR back in 2011 (see my review of that). The MAR was clearly framed around value for money and was the first such review in quite a while, so it had novelty value. And it had teeth.
The MAR-U is an attempt to pick up on the dimensions of performance that DFID felt each multilateral needed to work on and assess their progress in improving that performance dimension. And a good attempt it is (see previous blog on the MAR-U process).
So what's the story?
1. Every multilateral made "some progress" in most areas. Some progress is not exactly a high bar ("reforms achieved to date weakly address reform priorities and do not fully meet expectations"), so an organisation would really have to be indifferent to the reputational risk of a low DFID MAR score to register a "little or no progress" update score.
2. I fear for the Commonwealth Secretariat. 4 of the 5 multilaterals rated as poor value for money in 2011 posted above average update scores. So those most at risk of losing funding and with the most room for improvement managed to step up to the challenge, with one exception--the Commonwealth Secretariat--a poor MAR score and one of the poorest Update scores.
3. Success seems to breed success. Of the 9 multilaterals rated as "very good value for money" in 2011, 7 of them had above average Update scores.
4. Changing attitudes, policies, systems and norms around gender are difficult in development, but also in development organisations. Progress on gender was one of the weakest areas of improvement. Of the 13 multilaterals picked up on this in the 2011 MAR, only 6 made reasonable progress, none made significant progress and 7 made only some progress.
5. Does the Update have teeth? Funding for the worst performing group--those with adequate or poor MAR scores in 2011 AND a those with a low bar "some progress" rating in 2013--will remain at or below 2010 levels, so that the real value of the UK contribution will continue to fall (CDB, OHCHR, IADB, UNFPA and Comm Sec). This is not terrible punishment (although the reputational risk is huge), but it will mean ever closer scrutiny and much more of the budget being tied to future performance on reform priorities. (The EC budget is also included in this group but its budget is determined through a separate process.)
6. Finally, well done FAO! Out of 37 organisations, FAO posted the 5th best progress score and was the star of the infamous "special measures" group of 5. This is testimony to the new leadership at FAO and I congratulate them.
So not as big a story as the 2011 MAR, but some compelling subplots.