ICAI public consultation – new review processes to strengthen scrutiny of UK aid

21 Oct 2019

Improvements to the way UK aid is scrutinised – including new review products and an enhanced follow-up process – are being put in place by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) as it publishes the results of its public consultation today.

The changes will make the work of the UK’s aid watchdog more accessible and better aligned with global development priorities – while enabling ICAI to continue ensuring aid is spent effectively and delivers value for taxpayers.

The public consultation was launched by Chief Commissioner Tamsyn Barton in March to inform the next four-year phase of ICAI’s work, which started in July. A summary of the results, and ICAI’s response, have been published online.

Respondents asked ICAI to consider broadening its approach – including more focus on subjects such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), multilateral contributions, and aid spent outside of the Department for International Development – while ensuring the voices of those who benefit from UK aid are heard. Although there was praise for the depth and robustness of ICAI’s reviews, respondents also asked the commission to look at how it could make its findings more accessible.

In response to the feedback, and following further discussions with the aid sector, ICAI plans to:

  • Introduce new country portfolio reviews, which will look at the impact of UK aid at country level; and more use of information notes, which are short, factual notes that provide information and analysis of an issue, but do not reach evaluative conclusions on specific programmes.
  • For the first time, score the follow-up review that it conducts every year, in order to more clearly communicate whether government has taken satisfactory action in response to its reviews. Work on the next follow-up review is due to start later this year, with publication expected in summer 2020.
  • As already announced in its latest workplan, align future reviews with the SDGs in order to help assess the government’s progress towards achieving them. In addition, issues such as multilateral contributions will be covered in ICAI’s upcoming review into DFID’s support to the African Development Bank, while the voices of recipients of UK aid will be built-in to the design of future reviews, including the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Ghana reviews. Other upcoming reviews, including on deforestation and modern slavery, will look at aid-spending departments outside of DFID.

ICAI has also committed to publishing the literature reviews that underpin each report, in order to further contribute to the public body of evidence around aid spending.

ICAI Chief Commissioner Tamsyn Barton said: “These changes will help increase the relevance, accessibility and the impact of ICAI’s work, which ultimately aims to ensure aid is spent effectively for those who need it most while delivering value for money for taxpayers.

“I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to share their thoughts and ideas with us. This is just the start, and we will continue to work closely with government, the aid sector and the wider public to look at how else we can take on board feedback as we develop our plans for the next four years.”

Work is underway on the new review products, with ICAI now having three core report types – full, thematic reviews (including country portfolio reviews and results reviews); rapid reviews; and information notes. The first country portfolio review, on Ghana, and the first information notes in this phase, on anti-corruption and mutual prosperity, are due to be published soon.

ICAI’s former impact reviews will now be known as ‘results’ reviews, a type of full review that will seek to test the results claims underlying UK aid programmes and assess whether transformative and sustainable change is being achieved. Results claims will be tested as part of the upcoming review of DFID’s support to nutrition, due out in 2020.

Rapid reviews will continue to be carried out where ICAI needs to examine an emerging issue quickly. More details of the review products are available on ICAI’s website.

Following careful consideration, the existing traffic light scoring system – in which reviews are scored green, green-amber, amber-red, or red – will remain in place for full reviews, though rapid reviews and information notes will not typically be scored. As the follow-up review covers multiple reviews from the previous year, a separate scoring system will be developed for this.

ICAI received 108 responses to the consultation from development organisations, stakeholders, think tanks, universities and members of the public. The aid watchdog, which is overseen by chief commissioner Dr Barton and commissioners Sir Hugh Bayley and Tarek Rouchdy, operates independently of government and reports to Parliament through the House of Commons International Development Committee.