Rapid Review of DFID’s Smart Rules

We have undertaken a rapid review of DFID’s procedures for programme management, the Smart Rules, to see how they respond to the issues that we have raised in our 38 reports to date.

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16 Dec 2014
Lead commissioner
Mark Foster
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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, nor rated the work to date.

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.


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.