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Impact: The Golden Thread of International Development

Now more than ever, a focus on the impact that development and humanitarian aid is having across the world is of paramount importance. Hear from DfID, the Charity Commission and ground-level charities in September at the International Development Conference 2020. 

At a time when trust in the voluntary sector is in decline, particularly following the revelation of numerous incidents of misconduct within organisations working internationally, aid charities are under pressure to improve reputation through demonstrating the necessity and benefits of their work.

Alongside this, the financial management of the Department for International Development’s (DfID) private sector contractors has also come under scrutiny in recent years. Greater pressure is now being placed on these organisations to justify spending plans through interventions that are evidence-based, with a keen focus on Payment by Results.

Improving Accountability

While evidencing impact is a key requirement of DfID projects, the need for value for money (VfM) closely aligns with this.

The UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has a significant role to play in scrutinising aid spending, and has worked to enhance VfM in recent years. ICAI's evidence-based reports and recommendations are further examined by Parliament’s International Development Committee or the ICAI Sub-Committee, and the government is subsequently expected to respond with improved policies, processes and approaches concerning how it invests in various projects.

However, DfID is not the sole body with responsibility for this response. A quarter of the aid budget is now delivered through departments including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in line with the DfID Economic Development Strategy. As such, these additional bodies, and the private and voluntary organisations they work with, are also held to account through requirements to evidence clear impact.

The Bigger Picture

The need for robust monitoring, learning and evaluation (MLE) practices and policy cannot be underestimated, both for individual organisations and for the aid sector as a whole.

With warnings of a “success cartel” being made in reference to some governments and development agencies, it is vital they are able to defend their claims of significant impact and achievements through robust evidence.

Evidence of VfM in particular is vital to support the continued ringfencing of 0.7% UK GNI for overseas development aid (ODA). Maintaining this level of funding is especially crucial at a time when a no-deal Brexit could mean funds in this bracket fall by £300-£400 million annually.

For organisations hoping to win new projects or secure contract renewals in the coming months and years, the ability to effectively demonstrate value through impact, to both policymakers and taxpayers, is key.

Moving Forward

It is therefore vital that stakeholders across the aid sector work together to improve the quality of evidence gathered across projects, building in capacity for MLE from the point of proposal writing. If evidence is gathered from the inception phase, effectively reported to donors in a timely manner, and a willingness for adaptive management is shown from donors and implementers, the potential for greater impact of aid could grow exponentially.

This article was written by Lauren Powell