How UK aid learns

Departments with new aid budgets are increasingly developing their understanding of how to use aid effectively - but more should be done to integrate learning into international development spending across government to ensure value for money.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 12 September 2019
  3. Type: Rapid review
  4. Subject: Cross-government aid spend, Government processes and systems
  5. Assessment: Unrated
  6. Lead commissioner: Tamsyn Barton

Latest news

We published our rapid review looking at how UK aid learns in September 2019 and made four recommendations. We have followed up on the government’s progress towards implementing our recommendations three times. Find out more in the ‘Further scrutiny’ tab.


As ICAI has observed in many of its reviews, applying learning to programmes is fundamental to the quality, impact and value for money of UK aid. Since 2015, the UK government has involved more departments in the spending of UK aid. Around a quarter of the £14 billion annual aid budget is now spent outside the Department for International Development (DFID). This has given rise to a major organisational learning challenge, as 18 departments have worked to acquire the knowledge and skills to spend aid effectively.

This rapid review assesses the quality of the learning processes around non-DFID aid. Building on a 2014 ICAI review of How DFID learns, it looks across the other aid-spending departments. It draws on findings from past ICAI reviews of particular funds and programmes, together with light-touch reviews of learning processes within each department, using an assessment framework developed for the purpose. Our findings are intended to encourage departments to look in more depth at their own learning needs and capabilities. We also assessed how well aid-spending departments exchange learning with each other and with DFID.



Published 1 April 2019

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 12 September 2019

Government response

Published 24 October 2019

Parliamentary scrutiny

Complete 17 November 2020

ICAI follow-up

Published 23 June 2021

Further follow-up

Published 30 June 2022

Third follow-up

Published 18 July 2023