The scale-up of DFID’s support to fragile states

The government has committed to spend 30% of UK aid in fragile states by 2014-15. This report examines the scale-up process.

Score: Amber/Red
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 12 February 2015
  3. Type: Other
  4. Subject: Fragile states
  5. Assessment: Amber/Red
  6. Location: Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Yemen
  7. Lead commissioner: Mark Foster

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This review found that the Department for International Development (DFID) did not have the capacity to manage the 30% scale-up of UK aid funding to fragile states and awards an amber-red score. We made five recommendations.


At the time that the scale up decision was made, DFID was unprepared to manage the scale of additional funds allocated to fragile states. The processes that were used to develop plans and allocate funds were not fit for purpose and led to over-ambitious goal-setting and accelerated programming ahead of management and delivery capacity.

Our primary concern was that the portfolio of programmes and interventions in each DFID priority state, fuelled by the very substantial increase in funding, is not yet on a clear trajectory to make a real difference to fragile and conflict states, even if individual programmes are delivering basic services on the ground.

DFID has responded to the needs and under-resourcing of fragile states with a scale-up of funding. The rationale was clear (even if the strategy was insufficiently developed). Scaled-up funding, more coherent programming and increased focus on results have brought influence and leverage at country level.

In the four years since the scale-up decision, DFID has made improvements to systems and processes to deliver scaled-up funds in a fragile state environment, many of which were not suitable when scale-up started.

Positive changes include diversification of delivery partners and better management of fiduciary risk. At country level, there is good, innovative learning practice supporting effective design of new programmes and redesign of older programmes.

DFID has an impressive central research agenda focussed on fragile states to build evidence in key areas such as state-building and political settlements.

As a result of our findings, we have given a rating of amber-red. This rating should not be interpreted as encouragement to DFID to shift from the focus on fragile states. We agree that it will be impossible to end extreme poverty without a concerted focus on fragile states.


  1. DFID needs to develop fresh coherent guidance on working in fragile states, drawing on adaptations developed at country level, new research and learning and the evolved systems being developed in DFID centrally.
  2. DFID should ensure that country level targets realistically reflect the challenges of scaling-up and longer term timescales needed for lasting impact in fragile states and calibrate funding accordingly. The targets should reflect the entire country portfolio, taking account of small as well as large programming through qualitative and quantitative targets.
  3. DFID needs to provide guidance on the inclusion of targeted infrastructure components in development programmes to enhance sustainable impact in fragile states programming.
  4. DFID needs to define its appetite for risk in fragile environments: there needs to be explicit alignment between the centre and the field about potential for failure and its consequences.
  5. DFID should leverage its learning about operating in fragile states and take a clearer global leadership role with the international community to advance thinking on effective approaches.


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Review publication

Published 12 February 2015

Government response

Published 5 March 2015

ICAI follow-up

Published 30 June 2016