ODI urges DfID improvements

25 Apr 19

A report commissioned by the Overseas Development Institute has called for the Department for International Development to better manage and prioritise its work.

Responsible for administering overseas aid, DfID evolved from the Ministry of Overseas Development created in the 1960s. In 2013, the UK committed to allocating 0.7% of its GDP to aid. By 2021, it’s estimated that the UK could be spending about £14.5bn, based on the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts.

The ODI report said there were many examples of effective DfID programmes, for example, relating to women’s economic empowerment in Mozambique, country strategy in Nepal, education reforms and an assortment of 'frontier technology' projects.

But it pointed out that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact has regularly called for improvements in DfID’s work and argued that “there remains work to be done to get the right authorising environment, skills and tools for DfID to be a world leader in this area”.

Authors Samuel Sharp, Craig Valters and Brendan Whitty drew on approaches from the development and tech sectors, including “adaptive management, agile ways of working and lean start-up”. They noted that many of the issues on which DfID works were complex, such as climate change, gender equality and health, and that simple solutions rarely exist.

To tackle these complicated challenges, they said, “DfID staff must interact with unpredictable systems of political, organisational and individual behaviours and incentives. This demands sophisticated management and DfID increasingly recognises that complex problems require flexible systems to support testing, learning and adaptation.”

The report added that some structural management questions remain, such as: “When, how and why should DfID deploy staff resources?; How can DfID design and approve programmes with ambitious goals but realistic management requirements?”

It called on DfID to plan and prioritise its work better, determining which are the most complex problems requiring the most engagement. The report suggested that DfID, where possible, should make use of existing development options or help set up local organisations through long-term investments, encouraging autonomy in its partner organisations – and that it should pronote flexible contracting and procurement.

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