How we work

ICAI works to improve UK aid through robust, independent, scrutiny. We do this through producing a series of reviews examining a range of different areas of UK aid spending and processes. These reviews look at spending from the Department for International Development, and also by other government departments, or cross-government aid funds spending UK aid.

The review process

On average, an ICAI review takes nine months to complete, however, depending on the complexity of the review subject the process can take longer. Our rapid reviews are done over a shorter time period.

ICAI starts the review process by writing an initial Terms of Reference document and publishing an Approach Paper, establishing the scope and methodology for the review. The review then moves into an evidence gathering phase which typically includes conducting interviews, a literature review and country visits before a draft report is written.

During the review process, both the Approach Paper and final report are sent for ‘fact check’ to ensure the evidence, facts and figures are accurate.

ICAI reviews are then published online.

Types of review

We carry out four different types of reviews:

  • Impact reviews involve a thorough assessment of what underlies the UK government’s results claims and the significance of its development impact. They include a strong focus on evidence of results and the quality of the systems used to capture that evidence.
  • Performance reviews take a robust look at the effectiveness and value for money of aid programmes, with a strong focus on accountability. They also explore the adequacy of the government’s systems, processes and capacity, exploring how these are linked to patterns of performance in different sectors and areas.
  • Learning reviews explore new and emerging areas of the aid programme to capture emerging learning and inform future decision-making. They pay particular attention to how well the government generates and shares knowledge on how to tackle new challenges. While part of the independent scrutiny process, these reviews involve close interaction with the relevant ODA spending department to promote the uptake of lessons.
  • Rapid reviews are short, real-time reviews of an emerging issue or area of UK aid spending that is of particular interest to the UK Parliament and public. While we examine the evidence to date and comment on issues of concern, our rapid reviews are not intended to reach final conclusions on performance or impact, and are therefore not scored.


ICAI uses a four-tier traffic light system to rate the findings from all reviews (except rapid reviews):

Government’s response

All ICAI reports produce a set of recommendations for the government to consider.

Aid-spending departments that are the subject of a recommendation are required to produce departmental responses to the ICAI review, indicating whether they accept, partially accept or reject each recommendation and setting out the management actions that they propose to take in response.

All government responses to ICAI reviews can be found online.

International Development Committee

After publication a hearing is held by the International Development Committee’s (IDC) ICAI sub-committee. The commissioner for the review, as well as the review team leader, appears before the IDC to answer questions about the review and its recommendations. Officials from the scrutinised department also attend to answer questions about the reviews findings, the government’s formal response, and its plans for moving forward.

IDC hearings on the work of ICAI are available to watch online.

Follow up

Each year, ICAI follows up on the response to the recommendations it made in previous reviews. The process is a key link in the accountability chain, providing Parliament and the public with an account of how well DFID and other government departments have responded to ICAI reviews. It also provides feedback to civil servants, and serves as a useful learning exercise for ICAI in our quest to achieve greater uptake of our findings and recommendations.

ICAI follow up reviews are available under published reviews.