Independent Commission for Aid Impact publishes Rapid Review of DFID’s Smart Rules

16 Dec 2014

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has published today a Rapid Review of DFID’s Smart Rules.

DFID recently reformed its procedures for programme management. It has called these new procedures ‘Smart Rules: Better Programme Delivery’. We have undertaken a rapid review of the Smart Rules, to see how they respond to the issues that we have raised in our 38 reports to date. As this was a rapid review, our aim was to help DFID to refine and enhance the impact of the Smart Rules. We have not applied our usual scoring criteria.

There is evidence that some aspects of poor design and delivery observed in our ICAI reports have been tackled. For instance, where, previously, programmes had to meet 200 requirements, these have been trimmed down to 37 rules.

Graham Ward, ICAI’s Chief Commissioner, said “The publication of the ‘Smart Rules’ has demonstrated that there has been serious endeavour to address some of the procedural inefficiencies that we have seen over the course of our work. They are a good step towards improving accountability and simplifying procedures. That said, there is more the department can do to embed the changes in behaviours that will be needed to make sure that the Smart Rules work as intended.”

Lead Commissioner, Mark Foster, said “We have regularly noted in our reports that DFID needs to define better who is accountable for delivery of its activities and how DFID’s systems and processes can get in the way of effective delivery.   We believe that the new Smart Rules are a good start. We encourage DFID to develop them further, particularly focussing on the rebalancing of attention towards managing how it implements its programmes and projects rather than placing the greatest emphasis on design.”

ICAI has made five recommendations to support the improvement of DFID’s Smart Rules:

Recommendation 1: DFID needs to continue to refine the Smart Rules to facilitate ease of use by teams in the field, with a particular focus on clearer principles, focused technical guidance and examples of where discretion can be applied.

Recommendation 2: The Smart Rules need to be enhanced in key areas to meet critical challenges identified by ICAI:

  • Be more explicit about intended beneficiary involvement;
  • Clarify the relationship between value for money, sustainability and impact;
  • Ensure a consistent approach to risk, adaptation and learning;
  • Enable mobilisation and increased realism in planning; and
  • Make senior staff (such as heads of office) specifically accountable for continuous learning.

Recommendation 3: DFID needs to maintain the momentum of the change programme which has arisen from the End to End review and continue to engage all departments in a dynamic transformation focused on improving the impact of UK aid on the poor.

Recommendation 4: DFID leadership needs to define a compelling vision and mission for the organisation for the next decade, focused on reducing poverty for beneficiaries and use this to establish some explicit principles for the overall transformation ahead.

Recommendation 5: DFID needs to continue to leverage its leadership role in the global aid community to streamline overall system effectiveness and improve collaboration between partners.


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