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.

Score: Amber/Red
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 4 April 2014
  3. Type: Other
  4. Subject: Government processes and systems
  5. Assessment: Amber/Red
  6. Lead commissioner: Diana Good

Read the review


DFID generates considerable volumes of information, much of which, such as funded research, is publicly available. DFID does not clearly or consistently link this investment to how it can deliver better impact. We made five recommendations and gave an amber-red score.


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.


  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.


Read the news story


Review publication

Published 4 April 2014

Government response

Published 30 April 2014

ICAI follow-up

Published 18 June 2015