UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) – online consultation

ICAI website text:

“The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) is the independent body responsible for the scrutiny of UK aid, focusing on delivery of value for money for the UK taxpayer, maximising the impact for recipients and ensuring effectiveness of the UK aid budget. ICAI reports to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee.

ICAI is currently running a consultation calling for members of the public to have their say on which areas of UK overseas aid they would like to see looked at. Responses to the consultation will assist ICAI to develop its work plan for the next three years. To respond to the consultation please visit” [where you will find an online survey  with suppporting background information on DFID]

“The deadline for the consultation is the 7th April 2011.

For enquiries about the ICAI consultation please contact Clare Robathan, Communications and Research Officer on 020 7023 6734, or

RD comment:  Re the online survey used for the consultation, this is by no means the best designed online survey I have ever seen, but please make use of it. The survey is also available as a downloadable pdf.

The ICAI website has some basic problems. While there is a Contact Us page there is no comment facility at on any of the pages, as far as I can see. Nor is there a no disclosure/transparency policy. You can ask for the results of the survey via the enquiries email address, but they could be immediately available right now, because the website is using Referring to the three newly appointed commissioners, the website says “The three Commissioners, Mark Foster, John Githongo and Diana Good are acknowledged leaders in their fields. Together they contribute a wealth of international experience in the private sector, in combating corruption and in development.” Yet, as far as I can see, none of the commisioners has any significant evaluation experience. Yet they are responsible for contracting an organisation (or group of organisations) to do evaluation work on behalf of the ICAI. In doing so they will need to secure value for money, which requires assessing both value as well as money spent.  I think we should watch the performance of this commission quite carefully.

PS 15th February 2011: Visitors may be interested to read the ICAI Terms of Reference 2010 for the evaluation functions being contracted out by the ICAI, and the supporting documentation, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact-Presentation-for-pre-bid-meeting, made by DFID on 22 November 2010

Value for Money: How are other donors approaching ‘value for money’ in their aid programming?

….A question posed to the Research Helpdesk of the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre

“Key findings: DFID appears to have gone the furthest among aid agencies in developing the concept of ‘value for money’ (VFM). It is the only agency that explicitly uses the terminology frequently in its policies and procedures and has a Value for Money department. DFID’s approach to VFM involves assessing whether level of results achieved represent good value for money against the costs incurred. Processes include the use of logframes, economic appraisals and portfolio reviews. Newer initiatives include the adoption of a business case model for project approval and the development of unit cost metrics in key sectors. Other donors, while not explicitly adopting ‘value for money’ terminology, aim to achieve VFM through rigorous economic analysis and results-based management.

The ‘value for money’ agenda has also been linked to efforts to improve accountability and transparency. This requires strengthening audit bodies, parliaments, media, civil societies and independent watchdogs such that they can hold government to account for spending. It also involves greater transparency, in particular publishing information on projects and allocation of funds.”

Full response:

House of Commons International Development Committee interviews DFID

…specifically, Nemat (Minouche) Shafik, Permanent Secretary, Department for International Development, and her colleagues, on Tuesday 16 November at 10.30am, on the subject of DFID in 2009-10 and the Resource Accounts 2009-10. The proceedings can be viewed here on Parliament TV

Some of the questions asked:

  • You have a sharply rising budget yet your core administration budget is being cut…
  • We have expressed concerns about how well can you deliver a rising budget in that situation..
  • How are these cuts being applied?…
  • How do you differentiate between running costs and core administration costs?
  • Will you have to spend more money through multilaterals?
  • Will you be taking advantage of DFID staff commitments to their work by placing additional demands on them?
  • What are the most important risks with this reduction? And how are you seeking to mitigate them?
  • People are going to ask, how come they could make such big changes, surely there must have been some  bad management in the past…
  • There is a concern that costs cutting is the driving force, before you have even decided what you are trying to do,… when more of your budget is in fragile states. Our concern is does it compromise your program? Our concern is that you cant say yet because you don’t know what your program is yet.
  • How are you considering bring more work in-house, from external consultants who are doing it now?
  • Do you expect some multilaterals to be rated “poor” in your assessment exercise, and that we would then stop funding such multilaterals?
  • and much more…

Some of the replies given:

  • DFID is cutting its core administration costs by a third…
  • Total operating costs will be going down from 6% to 2% …
  • The average amongst the DAC donors is 4.3% for admin costs
  • Admin costs have been going down about 5% a year for the last 4-5 years
  • Budget has doubled since 2003 but staff numbers have dropped by 20%
  • Peak staff numbers were 3000+ , but now below 2000 for some years now
  • In the past 1 in 3 were doing corporate work, now it is more like 1 in 5/6 doing corporate work
  • We have closed 35 of the smaller offices over the last 5 years
  • Focusing now on a smaller number of high priority countries
  • We will be asking CSOs we fund to be more transparent about their costs
  • Our spending on consultants will be much lower this year, from £19 million last year.
  • We have looked at 43 multilaterals, at their performance, scoring them on a 4 point scale, with the aim of funding those at the top of the scale [there are 11 different criteria being used]
  • We have not yet taken a view about what to do with poorly performing multilaterals. There may need to be case by case decisions
  • The spend on research will go up from 2.6% to 3% in the next budget period
  • and much more…

See also the HoC Public Accounts Committee meeting on Wednesday 10 November, discussing DFID’s Bilateral support to primary education (covered by a NAO report)

Witnesses: Minouche Shafik, Permanent Secretary, Jo Bourne, Acting Head of Profession, and Liz Ditchburn, Director, Value for Money, Department for International Development.  Questions they asked:

  • How do you know that it is DFID’s spending that is making the difference? (when its contribution to the overall education budget is so small in countries like India)
  • Have you done any work at all to assess the impact? Our money, invested through you?
  • You cant say “DFID got 5 million into school”
  • Where is the evidence that you have made a difference? How do you know that DFID expenditure increased enrollment in Kenya?
  • A billion pounds has gone into education,…you have to know where it is making a difference.
  • and much more,…some tough questions, many on attribution…

Re the questions about costs and efficiency, readers may be interested in my blog posting titled:  “The Worst Question to Ask About Charity”

AusAID-DFID-3ie call for Systematic Reviews

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) have just launched a joint call for proposals for systematic reviews to strengthen the international community’s capacity for evidence-based policy making. AusAID, DFID and 3ie have identified around 59 priority systematic review questions across several themes: education; health; social protection and social inclusion; governance, fragile states, conflict and disasters; environment; infrastructure and technology; agriculture and rural development; economic development; and aid delivery and effectiveness.

Systematic reviews examine the existing evidence on a particular intervention or program in low and middle income countries, drawing also on evidence from developed countries when pertinent. The studies should be carried out according to recognized international standards and guidelines. All studies will be subject to an external review process and for this purpose teams will be encouraged to register for peer review with a relevant systematic review coordinating body.

Applications have to be submitted using 3ie’s online application system. Deadline for submission of applications is 9am GMT on Monday, November 29, 2010.

For information on how to apply, guidance documents and the call for proposals, go to

DfID Seeks Suggestions for Implementing Aid Transparency Initiative

on Devex, By Eliza Villarino on 06 September 2010

“The U.K. Department for International Development launches an online discussion to seek input on how it should implement the UKaid Transparency Guarantee.

The U.K. Department for International Development has opened an online discussion to help it decide how to implement its aid transparency initiative.

The UKaid Transparency Guarantee forms part of the coalition government’s commitment to boost the transparency of DfID aid. As reported by Devex, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell announced the guarantee, along with the intention to create an independent aid watchdog, in June.

DfID is urging civil society groups, think tanks and other organizations working on transparency to send an e-mail to if they wish to contribute to the discussion.”

PS – 19th October 2010: A summary of the online discussion is now available here as a pdf: 2010 Summary of Huddle Discussions on UKATG

DFID Draft Structural Reform Plan July 2010

Available  on the DFID website and as a pdf.

“Structural Reform Plans are the key tool of the Coalition Government for making departments accountable for the implementation of the reforms set out in the Coalition Agreement. They replace the old, top-down systems of targets and central micromanagement.

The reforms set out in each department’s SRP are designed to turn government on its head, taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities. Once these reforms are in place, people themselves will have the power to improve our country and our public services, through the mechanisms of local democratic accountability, competition, choice, and social action.

The reform plans set out in this document are consistent with and form part of the Department’s contribution to the Spending Review. All departmental spending is subject to the Spending Review.

We have adopted a cautious view of the timescales for delivering all legislative measures due to the unpredictability of pressures on Parliamentary time.”
Continue reading “DFID Draft Structural Reform Plan July 2010”

“Full transparency and new independent watchdog will give UK taxpayers value for money in aid”

Copied from the DFID website, 3rd June 2010:

[Please post your Comments below and/or on the Guardian Katine website ]

“British taxpayers will see exactly how and where overseas aid money is being spent and a new independent watchdog will help ensure this aid is good value for money, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has announced.

In his first major speech as Development Secretary, Mr Mitchell said he had taken the key steps towards creating an independent aid watchdog to ensure value for money. He also announced a new UKaid Transparency Guarantee to ensure that full information on all DFID’s spending is published on the departmental website.

The information will also be made available to the people who benefit from aid funding: communities and families living in the world’s poorest countries.

These moves come as part of a wider drive to refocus DFID’s work so British taxpayers’ money is spent transparently and on key priority issues such as maternal mortality and disease prevention.”

In Mr Mitchell’s speech, delivered at the Royal Society with Oxfam and Policy Exchange, he argued that overseas aid is both morally right and in Britain’s national interest but that taxpayers need to see more evidence their money is being spent well. Continue reading ““Full transparency and new independent watchdog will give UK taxpayers value for money in aid””

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