Is aid money used effectively to improve lives? Public opinion surveys in developed countries show that people are very sceptical about the benefits of aid.
We need convincing evidence that examines the effectiveness of development spending. Such evidence can best come from independent bodies like the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval) in Mexico, the Swedish Agency for Development Evaluation (SADEV) in Sweden, 3ie itself, and, most recently, the UK’s Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI).
The role of this recently set up commission is to provide greater independent scrutiny of UK aid spending to ensure value for money and sustainable impact. The commission has just released its workplan for delivering this mission.
The main activities will include: evaluations which assess the sustainable development impact of UK-supported activities; value for money reviews looking at both long-term impact of the intervention and cost effectiveness; and investigations to check on the appropriateness of the approach and procedures used in aid project. The challenge ahead for the commission is to deliver high quality studies, which credibly identify the impact of UK aid.
Development interventions identified by the Commission for review, such as the climate change programme in Bangladesh, the health programme in Zimbabwe, the comparative study of health and education programmes in India, primary education in Nigeria, water supply and sanitation in Sudan and maternal health in Africa, should be assessed using rigorous quantitative impact evaluation methods embedded in a theory-based approach.
There is a question as to whether the commission restricts itself to ex-post evaluations, done once the intervention is being implemented or completed. Or can it engage in ex-ante designs before the intervention has started? Designing the evaluation prior to the launch of a programme, and collecting baseline data, generally delivers more robust findings.
Another question to be tackled is how best to design impact evaluations for interventions with a small sample, such as the review of DFID’s anti-corruption strategy, management of conflict pools and the study of World Bank evaluation and performance management. The creation of the Independent Commission on Aid Impact presents a real opportunity to raise the bar on the quality of development evaluations. The UK government is to be applauded for opening its aid programme to independent scrutiny. It is now up to the Commission to deliver the evidence of if UK aid is working.
Related blog: ODI Director Alison Evan’s ‘Top tips for the UK’s Independent Commission on Aid Impact‘