The Department for International Development (DfID) is not doing enough to ensure aid programmes deliver long lasting impact for the world’s poor, says the UK’s aid watchdog.
In a report published today, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) concludes that while DfID has improved its measurement of aid results and accountability, programmes have focused too much on achieving "short term, measurable results" that have limited transformational impact.
Since 2010 and the government’s pledge to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid from 2013, DfID has seen a significant rise in programme funding and as a result has introduced a rigorous approach to results management – the "Results Agenda" – with clearer lines of accountability.
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However, the watchdog says that some of DfID's "tools and processes for measuring results have had the unintended effect of focusing attention on quantity of results over their quality", and warns that the department must do more to “ensure that it focuses not just on the cost-efficient delivery of UK aid but also on achieving genuine and lasting impact for the world’s poor”.
"The results agenda has certainly pushed DfID and its partners to focus more consistently and rigorously on the delivery of results. We are concerned, however, that the emphasis is on short-term, measurable results, over the more complex challenge of achieving long-term, transformative impact,” ICAI chief Graham Ward said.
He added: "We are in favour of rigorous approaches to results management and clear lines of accountability but we believe that more can be done in DfID’s tools and processes to incentivise the right priorities and behaviours.”
The ICAI points out that central features of the results agenda – value for money (VFM), business cases and risk management – do not take into account country contexts or how to adjust aid programmes for “high-risk programmes”.
“At the departmental level, DfID should develop a Results Framework that better reflects the range of impacts it seeks to achieve, capturing not just the breadth of its engagement but also its transformative impact, including successes in institution building and policy influence. To do so, it will need to look beyond quantitative indicators towards other ways of capturing the impact of UK aid,” the report adds.
The ICAI also raised concerns that DfID does not have a strategic understanding of the benefits of working with other agencies and within the multilateral system.
In a second report published today, the watchdog commends the department for encouraging agencies to focus on the cost-effectiveness of programmes and aid projects, but it says there is no senior level strategy on how to engage effectively with those agencies.
Mark Foster, the report’s lead commissioner, said: “To get the most out its partnerships with multilateral organisations DfID should focus on strategic challenges and long-term impacts that would yield improved leadership, simpler delivery processes and better ways of partnering between DfID and agencies.”
A DfID spokesperson denied the department focused too much on short-term results.
He said: “It is simply wrong to say we have a short-term agenda. Our programmes build upon each other so a funding cycle should not be confused with our level of engagement and long term commitment in the countries where we work.”