Is Australian Aid Fair Dinkum? A Forum On The Independent Review Of Aid Effectiveness

Venue: Old Parliament House, 18 King George Tce, Parkes 8222, Canberra
Date: Tuesday, 13 September 2011 6:00 PM


“In a world where we have achieved so much, from quantum leaps in medical research to the development of sophisticated technologies, it seems implausible that there are more hungry people in the world today than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined.

But the picture isn’t all bleak. A recent report released by the United Nations reveals that we have made some significant progress in our bid to alleviate poverty around the world, and the Independant Review of Aid Effectiveness commissioned by the Australian Government has made some assessments and recommendations that could help guide progress in the future.

However, when it comes to the complex issue of poverty alleviation, there are no simple answers.

What are some of the challenges faced when it comes to ensuring that we are taking the smartest and most efficient approach to tackling poverty? What are the timeframes within which we can realistically expect change to happen? And are we doing enough to address structural and behavioural issues that perpetuate gender inequality and other forms of exploitation that continue the vicious cycle of poverty.

How much of a difference are we actually making?”

Speakers include:

  • James Batley – Deputy Director-General, Asia Pacific and Program Enabling Group, AusAID
  • Stephen Howes – Director, Development Policy Centre, ANU and member of Independent Aid Effectiveness Review panel
  • Dr Julia Newton-Howes – Chief Executive, CARE AustraliaNikunj Soni – Board Chair, Pacific Institute of Public Policy, Vanuatu

Registration and other information here

The Evaluation of the Paris Declaration: Phase II Report

“After the landmark international Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, endorsed in 2005, what have been the improvements in the quality of global aid and its effects on development? And how can a political declaration, implemented across widely varying national contexts, be robustly evaluated?

An independent global evaluation – a fully joint study involving countries and donor agencies – has assessed these efforts to improve the effectiveness of international aid, especially since 2005. The evaluation is the largest aid evaluation ever conducted. It has been a major international effort in itself, comprising more than 50 studies in 22 partner countries and across 18 donor agencies, as well as several studies on special themes, over a period of four years. It has broken some new boundaries in the study of complex evaluation objects.

The study had the unusual object of a political declaration, implemented across very diverse national environments to varied timescales. Its methodology rejected a traditional linear approach to cause and effect, emphasising instead the importance of context. It opted to draw out the programme theory of the Declaration itself (and that of the Accra Agenda for Action) and their statement of intent. Recognising the limits of aid in development, it applied contribution analysis to assess whether and how the commitments, actors and incentives brought together by the Declaration and the Accra Agenda have delivered on their intentions. The methodology traces the logic of how the Declaration is supposed to work and illustrates the complex pathways from development objectives to results. Recognising that development is a journey, it focuses on assessing the direction of travel on each key point, and the pace and distance travelled so far.

The study concludes that the global campaign to make international aid programmes more effective is showing results, giving the best hope in half a century that aid can be better used to help developing countries raise their economic and living standards. Improvements are slow and uneven in most developing countries, however, and even more so among donor countries and aid agencies. The Evaluation report, all the component studies and the Technical Annex – which describes the methodology and process – can be found at and The second phase of the study was managed by UK-based development consultancy IOD PARC.”

For more information email //  IOD PARC, 16-26 Forth Street. Edinburgh EH1 3LH

RD comment: Of additional interest ” Given the importance of the Evaluation of the Paris Declaration, the Management Group commissioned an independent assessment – a meta evaluation – of the evaluation process and outcome to determine whether the evaluation meets generally accepted standards of quality and to identify strengths, weaknesses, and lessons. The Report, by Michael Quinn Patton and Jean Gornick, can be downloaded here” “Evaluation of the Phase 2 Evaluation of the Paris Declaration”


A results take-over of aid effectiveness? How to balance multiple or competing calls for more accountability

Date: 25 July 2011 12:00-13:30 (GMT+01 (BST))
Venue: British Academy, London

This debate will explore possible tensions – and opportunities – when donors seek to reassure domestic publics that aid is being spent well, while also endeavouring to support the needs and priorities of aid recipient countries and their citizens.

The language of results is not new – it is integral to the aid effectiveness agenda. But against the backdrop of growing financial constraints, it is receiving renewed emphasis in many donor countries. This debate will explore possible tensions, as well as opportunities, where donors seek to reassure domestic publics that aid is being spent well while they also endeavour to support the needs and priorities of aid recipient countries and their citizens. How can domestic accountability to both these constituencies be supported more effectively? Are there tensions between these different stakeholders and forms of accountability, and how can they be addressed?

Sarah Cliffe – Special Representative and Director, World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development
Sue Unsworth – The Policy Practice, and ODI Board Member
Alan Hudson – Senior Policy Manager, Governance (Transparency & Accountability), ONE
John Morlu – former Auditor General, Liberia
Chair:  Alison Evans – Director, ODI

An ODI and BBC World Service Trust public event in the Busan and beyond: aid effectiveness in a new era series.

Click for more details           Register to attend this event

Released: Australian Government’s response to the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness

The ‘Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness’ and the Government’s response were released on 6 July 2011 by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, in an official launch at Parliament House, followed by a Ministerial Statement to Parliament. For an overview, see this page on the AusAID website

Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness:

Commissioned in November 2010, this was the first independent review of the aid program in 15 years. It made 39 recommendations to improve the program

Australian Government response:

The Government  has agreed (or agreed in principle) to 38 of the recommendations. Including that the agency develop a three-tiered results framework for reporting on agency-wide performance.

See also

RD Comment: The following section on Independent Evaluation is of particular interest [underlining added]:

ii) Independent Evaluations

“AusAID’s Independent Completion Reports and Independent Progress Reports are another key part of its Performance Management and Evaluation Policy.

Under current guidelines, a report must be completed for an activity every four years, either during its implementation (a progress report) or at completion (a completion report). Reports are required for projects above $3 million and are meant to be made public. They are independent in that they are done by individuals not involved in the project. Typically, but not always, they are written by non–AusAID staff.

By international standards, this policy is thorough. For example, at the World Bank, independent completion reports are done only for a sample of projects

But a study of AusAID evaluation reports commissioned by the Review Panel found that implementation of AusAID’s evaluation policy is patchy:
• Of 547 projects that should have had a completion or progress report in 2006–10, only 170 were recorded as having been done.
• Of the 170, only 118 could be found.
• About 26 per cent of the completion and progress reports were assessed to be too low quality to publish.
Only about 20 have been published on the AusAID website.

Clearly, the policy is not being fully followed. Other problems were also evident. None of the 118 completion or progress reports reviewed provided an unsatisfactory rating. This raises questions of credibility. In comparison, 20 per cent of World Bank projects are rated unsatisfactory by its independent evaluation group.

There is also a structural issue with the policy: AusAID program managers must approve the publication of an independent report. This risks conflicts of interest and long delays in publication. The low rate of publication suggests these problems may be occurring.

Independent completion reports, when done and published, can be very useful. For example, the completion report on the first phase of the Indonesia Basic Education Project is in the public domain and helped to inform recent public debate about the second phase of the project (AusAID 2010b). In contrast, several useful completion reports have recently been done for the PNG program, but only one has been released.

Given the problems described above, it is not surprising that the Review Panel has seen little evidence that these reports inform and improve aid delivery.

Evidence of the effectiveness of evidence?

Heart + Mind? Or Just Heart? Experiments in Aid Effectiveness (And a Contest!) by Dean Karlan 05/27/2011 | 4:00 pm Found courtesy of @poverty_action

RD comment: There is a killer assumption behind many of the efforts being made to measure aid effectiveness – that evidence of the effectiveness of specific aid interventions will make a difference. That is,  it will be used to develop better policies and practices. But, as far as I know, much less effort is being invested into testing this assumption, to find out when and where evidence works this way, or not. This is worrying, because anyone looking into how policies are actually made knows that it is often not a pretty picture.

That is why, contrary to my normal policy, I am publicising a blog posting. This posting is by Dean Karlan on an actual experiment that looks at the effect of providing evidence of an aid intervention (a specific form of micro-finance assistance) on the willingness of individual donors to make donations to the aid agency that is delivering the intervention. This relatively simple experiment is now underway.

Equally interesting is the fact that the author has launched, albeit on a very modest scale, a prediction market on the likely results of this experiment. Visitors to the blog are asked to make their predictions on the results of the experiment. When the results of the experiment are available Dean will identify and reward the most successful “bidder” (with two free copies of his new book More Than Good Intentions). Apart from the fun element involved, the use of a prediction maket will enable  Dean to identify to what extent his experiment has generated new knowledge [i.e. experiment results differ a lot from the average prediction], versus confirmed existing common knowledge [i.e. results = the average prediction]. That sort of thing does not happen very often.

So, I encourage you to visit Dean’s blog and participate. You do this by making your predictions using the Comment facility at the end of the blog (where you can also read other’s predictions already made, plus their comments).

Promoting Voice and Choice: Exploring Innovations in Australian NGOAccountability for Development Effectiveness

– Exploring innovations in Australian NGO accountability for development effectiveness

by Chris Roche, ACFID research paper, 2010

From the Preface

“This research paper represents the latest chapter in a body of work, led by ACFID’s Development Practice Committee (DPC), focused on Australian NGO program quality and effectiveness. Over the past 10 years DPC has engaged the sector in a series of consultations and discrete research phases to define our effectiveness and identify the principles, program strategies, standards of engagement and organisational management practices which underpin it.

The objective of the current research was to capture and share cutting edge practice in demonstrating Australian NGO effectiveness through innovative forms of accountability and social learning, in which the views of those who are ultimately meant to benefit were central. ACFID member agencies participated through submitting examples of their attempts to improve downward accountability.

The findings presented in this report will contribute to ACFID member agencies’ journey of continual improvement of our collective effectiveness. It will do this through engaging with senior NGO managers and AusAID in the analysis of the findings, as well as contributing to the international work on CSO Development Effectiveness. The next research phase will be in partnership with an academic institution to undertake a more rigorous examination of a sample of the case studies and the organisational enablers and obstacles to improving our effectiveness.”

See also Chris Roche’s new guest posting on the (Australian based) Development Policy Centre’s Development Policy Blog, titled “Changing the rules of the game?” In this blog he follows up on issues raised in the above paper.

IMPACT AND AID EFFECTIVENESS: Mapping the Issues and their Consequences

[from the IDS Virtual Bulletin, March 2011]

In this virtual Bulletin we bring together ten articles dating from across three decades. They all address Impact. From the outset, we note that there are a number of common threads and ideas that stretch across all the articles:

  • The implicit emphasis of all the articles on complexity
  • The breadth and depth of impact analysis, from the national level to the individual
  • The importance of knowing the audience for any evaluation or impact assessment
  • The virtuous cycle that can be created by using insights into impact to adjust interventions
  • The dependency of that virtuous cycle on participation and engagement of programme staff and clients.

What we notice, however, is how the articles framing these issues vary according to discipline and research site. We also see how some ongoing preoccupations have been shaped by their proximity to other debates or policy concerns. Our hope is that hindsight will provide some perspective for practice and policy going forward.
View Full Introduction

A Revolution Whose Time Has Come? The Win-Win of Quantitative Participatory Approaches and Methods
IDS Bulletin Volume 41, Issue 6, November 2010
Robert Chambers

Impact of Microfinance on Rural Households in the Philippines
IDS Bulletin Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2008
Toshio Kondo, Aniceto Orbeta, Clarence Dingcong and Christine Infantado

You Can Get It If You Really Want’: Impact Evaluation Experience of the Office of Evaluation and Oversight of the Inter-American Development Bank
IDS Bulletin Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2008
Inder Jit Ruprah

The Role of Evaluation in Accountability in Donor-Funded Projects
IDS Bulletin Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2000
Adebiyi Edun

Micro-Credit Programme Evaluation: A Critical Review†
IDS Bulletin Volume 29, Issue 4, October 1998
Shahidur R. Khandker

Macroeconomic Evaluation of Programme Aid: A Conceptual Framework
IDS Bulletin Volume 27, Issue 4, October 1996
Howard White

Measurement of Poverty and Poverty of Measurement
IDS Bulletin Volume 25, Issue 2, April 1994
Martin Greeley

Developing Effective Study Programmes for Public Administrators
IDS Bulletin Volume 8, Issue 4, May 2009
Ron Goslin

Improving the Effectiveness of Evaluation in Rural Development Projects
IDS Bulletin Volume 8, Issue 1, July 1976
B. H. Kinsey

Managing Rural Development
IDS Bulletin, Volume 6, Issue 1, September 1974
Robert Chambers

Eight lessons from three years working on transparency

Blog posting by Owen Barder
February 22nd, 2011

“I’ve spent the last three years working on aid transparency. As I’m moving on to a very exciting new role (watch this space for more details) this seems a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned in the last three years.

This is a self-indulgently long essay about the importance of aid transparency, and the priorities for how it should be achieved. Busy readers can just read the 8-point summary below. For a very clear and concise introduction to the importance of aid transparency, this video by my (former) colleagues at aidinfo is very good.

I’m going to talk in a separate post about the exciting progress that has been made towards a new system of aid transparency, which I believe builds on many of these lessons, and on the next steps for the transparency movement more generally.

The 8-point summary

There is apparently a law that every document in development must have an “Executive Summary”. (Not just a “summary”, mind. It has to be for executives.) So here are what I think are the eight most important things I’ve learned in the last three years about transparency in general, and aid transparency in particular:

1. To make a difference, transparency has to be citizen-centred not donor-centred. A citizen-centred transparency mechanism would allow citizens of developing countries to combine and use information from many different donor agencies; and provide aid information compatible with the classifications of their own country budget.

2. Today’s ways of publishing information serve the needs of the powerful, not citizens. Existing mechanisms for publishing aid information were designed by the powerful for the powerful. Until the aidinfo team started 3 years ago, nobody had ever done a systematic study of the information needs of all stakeholders, including citizens, parliamentarians and civil society, let alone thought about how those needs could be met. That’s why current systems meet only the needs of donors, and powerful parts of governments.

3. People in developing countries want transparency of execution not just allocation. There are important differences between the information requirements of people in donor countries and people in developing countries. Current systems for aid transparency focus mainly on transparency of aid allocation, because that is what donor country stakeholders are largely interested in, and not enough on transparency of spending execution, which is of primary interest to people in developing countries.

4. Show, don’t tell. The citizens of donor nations are increasingly sceptical of annual reports and press releases. In aid as in other public services they want to be able to see for themselves the detail of how their money is being used and what difference it is making. They increasingly expect to be actively involved in decisions, and they are less willing to delegate the decisions entirely to experts. Donor agencies – whether government agencies, international organisations or NGOs – will have to adapt rapidly to become platforms for citizen engagement.

5. Transparency of aid execution will drive out waste, bureaucracy and corruption. There is, unfortunately, quite a bit of waste, bureaucracy and corruption in the aid system. There is good evidence that this kind of waste is rapidly reduced when the flow of money is made transparent. Corruption and waste prosper in dark places. Transparency of planned future aid spending will also help to increase spending efficiency and value for money.

6. Social accountability could be Development 3.0. The results agenda in aid agencies is currently too top down and pays too little attention to the power of bottom up information from the intended beneficiaries of aid. Increased accountability to citizens may be the key to unlocking better service delivery, improved governance and faster development.

7. The burden of proof should be on those who advocate secrecy. We have published a compelling business case for greater transparency, with all the uncertainties this kind of analysis entails. So where is the business case for secrecy, which would be far harder to quantify or defend? Why is the (inevitable) uncertainty in this kind of analysis allowed to count against the case for transparency, when the same uncertainty would deal a much greater blow against the case for secrecy?

8. Give citizens of developing countries the benefit of the doubt. Transparency is necessary but not sufficient for more effective aid. But the fact that transparency alone will not solve every problem should not be an excuse for aid agencies to shirk their responsibilities to be transparent. Nor should we be too attentive to vested interests in the aid industry telling us that transparency is not enough. Citizens of developing countries will be more innovative and effective than some people give them credit for when we give the information they need to hold the powerful to account.

That’s the summary. If any of that whets your appetite and you want the long version, read on.”

Current discussions on aid effectiveness: An ad hoc list

If you have any other related and recent posts, please let me know, via the Comment facility below, or by email

“Britons think development aid for poor countries is wasted”

Mark Tran,, Wednesday 8 September 2010 11.40 BST

“More than half of Britons think development aid is wasted and do not support the coalition government’s policy of ring-fencing assistance for poor countries, a survey shows.

Aid to Developing Countries: Where does the UK Public Stand?, published by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton, recommends development groups take a new approach to communicating with the public about how and when aid works to address perceptions that most aid is wasted.

The aid budget is protected from spending cuts because the government is committed to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid by 2013, but the survey found that 63% of people think aid to poor countries should be cut as the government seeks to reduce the budget deficit, while 52% think most UK aid to developing countries is ineffective…”

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