ICAI finds the newly implemented PrOF has been an important tool in managing aid programmes, but full levels of compliance and awareness are yet to be achieved

27 Apr 2023

  • ICAI’s rapid review of the PrOF aims to support learning as FCDO works to refine its programme management approach and integrate systems and staff.
  • The review commends FCDO’s rapid development and deployment of the PrOF, especially given the significant internal and external challenges facing the department following its creation.
  • ICAI finds the PrOF to be a credible approach for the management of UK aid programmes, but that implementation of the PrOF is not yet complete. Many programmes are not fully compliant with the rules and not all staff are fully aware of it.
  • ICAI makes three recommendations to help FCDO improve: raising awareness and better embedding of the PrOF with all staff within its scope; enhancing programme management systems and compliance monitoring; and conducting periodic consultations to help incorporate new learning and international good practice.

A rapid review of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) Programme Operating Framework (PrOF) published today, Thursday 27 April, by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), assesses the PrOF’s effectiveness in supporting aid delivery across FCDO’s portfolio.

The PrOF was intended to be a key tool for embedding a common approach to programme management across the new department, after the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the former Department for International Development (DFID) were merged in September 2020. It provides the basis for how FCDO aid and non-aid programmes should be managed, to ensure high standards and meet central government expectations.

ICAI commends the FCDO’s rapid development and deployment of the PrOF, especially given the significant internal and external challenges facing the new department.

The aid watchdog reports that the PrOF is the correct approach for the management of UK aid programmes. ICAI finds the PrOF helped to create stability for FCDO programme staff and incorporated learning well, especially from previous good programme management practices developed in the former DFID.

However, its implementation is not yet complete. Many programmes are not fully compliant, new roles are not well understood and senior staff are not fully engaged despite being responsible for compliance. Within its sample of programmes, ICAI identified high-levels of non-compliance with mandatory rules such as those relating to risk management, transparency and alignment with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

FCDO has made good progress among programme staff working on traditional large-scale aid programmes, but ICAI reports that it is difficult to apply the PrOF to smaller programmes that support rapid and targeted interventions.

In addition, ICAI found that, although the principles and rules in the PrOF are credible and concise, the document is not clearly written, making it harder to find and absorb important information.

While ICAI reports that the PrOF is an appropriate tool for aid management, delays in implementing a new finance system in FCDO has delayed its integration and further development of programme management systems.

Implementation of the PrOF has also been impacted by wider challenges related to the merger, such as high staff turnover and significant and ongoing aid budget reductions. These factors have all led to inefficiencies in the PrOF’s implementation.

ICAI commissioner, Tarek Rouchdy, who led the review, said:

“FCDO’s launch of the PrOF within a short time following the FCO-DFID merger is commendable. It has embedded the principle of accountability – important for agile and impact-focused programming – into FCDO’s programme management approach and provided stability for programme management staff during a challenging period.

“However, embedding the PrOF is not yet complete. More work is needed to raise awareness, especially among senior staff; to ensure compliance; and make the PrOF more versatile and accessible, especially to those new to its programme management approach.”

ICAI makes three recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: FCDO should set clear targets and timeframes for PrOF awareness and implementation at all levels of FCDO staff within the scope of the PrOF, especially among Heads of Mission and Directors who have portfolio-level responsibility.
  • Recommendation 2: FCDO should prioritise developing its programme management software’s capability to provide timely management data on programme compliance, overall portfolio risk profile and performance to programme staff and Portfolio Senior Responsible Owners, which Centre for Delivery can monitor and Internal Audit can assess.
  • Recommendation 3: FCDO should establish a comprehensive three- to five-yearly internal and external consultation process to focus on the PrOF’s clarity, relevance and accessibility, and to incorporate new learning and international good practice for delivering agile, accountable and impact-focused programmes that support the UK’s strategic objectives.


Read the report

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