How DFID Learns
Excellent learning is essential for UK aid to achieve maximum impact and value for money. This review seeks to identify the way DFID learns and what inhibits it from doing so consistently.
DFID has allocated at least £1.2 billion for research, evaluation and personnel development (2011-15). It generates considerable volumes of information, much of which is publicly available.
We take learning to mean the extent to which DFID uses information and experience to influence its decisions. Each ICAI review assesses how well learning takes place, our reports to date indicate a mixed performance. This review seeks to identify the way DFID learns and what inhibits it from doing so consistently. We drew on our reviews, assessed data from DFID’s own surveys and carried out interviews inside and outside the department.
DFID does not clearly identify how its investment in learning links to its performance and delivering better impact. DFID has the potential to be excellent at organisational learning if its best practices become common. DFID staff learn well as individuals. They are highly motivated and DFID provides opportunities and resources for them to learn. DFID is not yet, however, managing all the elements that contribute to how it learns as a single, integrated system.
DFID does not review the costs, benefits and impact of learning. Insufficient priority is placed on learning during implementation. The emphasis on results can lead to a bias to the positive. Learning from both success and failure should be systematically encouraged.
As a result of these findings, a rating of Amber-Red has been given.
Recommendation 1: DFID needs to focus on consistent and continuous organisational learning based on the experience of DFID, its partners and contractors and the measurement of its impact, in particular during the implementation phase of its activities.
Recommendation 2: All DFID managers should be held accountable for conducting continuous reviews from which lessons are drawn about what works and where impact is actually being achieved for intended beneficiaries.
Recommendation 3: All information commissioned and collected (such as annual reviews and evaluations) should be synthesised so that the relevant lessons are accessible and readily usable across the organisation. The focus must be on practical and easy-to-use information. Knowhow should be valued as much as knowledge.
Recommendation 4: Staff need to be given more time to acquire experience in the field and share lessons about what works and does not work on the ground.
Recommendation 5: DFID needs to continue to encourage a culture of free and full communication about what does and does not work. Staff should be encouraged always to base their decisions on evidence, without any bias to the positive.