ICAI publishes report on FCO and British Council Aid Responses to the Arab Spring

14 Jun 2013

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has published a report today on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) and the British Council’s use of aid in response to the Arab Spring. ICAI has given the work a rating of Green-Amber.

ICAI found that the FCO has put major effort into developing the capacity to deliver rapid and flexible support in response to the Arab Spring. Its largest programme in the Middle East and North Africa region, the Arab Partnership Participation Fund (APPF), has a sound strategy and good delivery capacity, although limited by weaknesses in project management. APPF shows some promising early signs of impact, supporting key transition processes such as elections, constitution-making and media reform, although the volatile environment and the small scale of the investments limit the prospects for sustainable impact. While the FCO has proved adept at learning from operational challenges, it needs to improve the way it measures results.

The British Council’s response to the Arab Spring has been considered, strategic and a good complement to the FCO’s. It has a strong delivery model based on good local partnerships and beneficiary engagement and has proved effective at its core goal of skills development and individual empowerment, with some wider impact through social mobilisation.

Graham Ward, ICAI Chief Commissioner, said: “The FCO and the British Council reacted rapidly and strategically to the Arab Spring balancing risk and reward. Other programmes in the FCO and beyond should consider the lessons that could be learned from the Arab Partnership’s clear strategic direction and effective delivery mechanisms.

Following the wave of democratisation movements that swept the Middle East and North Africa from late 2010, the UK Government established the Arab Partnership, with £110 million in programme funds over four years. Through an examination of the Arab Partnership and other FCO and British Council aid in the region, we have assessed how well the two organisations have responded to a major new challenge. ICAI reviewed the APPF portfolio and conducted in-depth investigations in Tunisia and Egypt.

The overall rating for the programmes we examined is Green-Amber. The Arab Partnership represents a significant step forward in the FCO’s ability to deliver Official Development Assistance (ODA) effectively and it is a welcome innovation. We found good collaboration between the FCO, DFID and other UK Government organisations within the Arab Partnership. The focus of joint effort is where it should be – at the strategic and technical level. There are improvements that should be made in project management and financial systems which would add further value to the programme.

ICAI recognises that the immediate response to the Arab Spring in late 2010 and 2011 required rapid and flexible support and commends the FCO and British Council response. We recommend that the FCO introduces explicit theories of change into its country strategies that identify the outcomes it wants to achieve and how they will be achieved and measured. We also identified a deficiency in sharing learning that should be addressed for the benefit of partners and country programmes.

We recommend that the British Council continues its strong evaluation of beneficiary feedback but improves its weaker systems for impact measurement.


Notes to editors:

For further information please contact Sam Harrison on 020 7270 6742 or email  S-Harrison@icai.independent.gov.uk. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) is the independent body responsible for scrutinising UK aid. We focus on maximising the effectiveness of the UK aid budget for intended beneficiaries and on delivering value for money for UK taxpayers. For further details on ICAI, the workplan and for links to each report please visit www.independent.gov.uk/icai.

ICAI’s Chief Commissioner is Graham Ward CBE. The three other Commissioners are: Mark Foster, John Githongo and Diana Good. Their biographies can be found on the ICAI website.

These reports were prepared by ICAI with the assistance of KPMG LLP, Agulhas Applied Knowledge, Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA) and the Swedish Institute for Public Administration (SIPU International).

ICAI reports are written to be accessible to a general readership and we use a simple ‘traffic light’ system to report our judgement on each programme or topic we review, as follows:


I.          Green: The programme performs well overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Some improvements are needed.

II.         Green-Amber: The programme performs relatively well overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Improvements should be made.

III.        Amber-Red: The programme performs relatively poorly overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Significant improvements should be made.

IV.        Red: The programme performs poorly overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Immediate and major changes need to be made.

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