The changing face of UK aid: How to deliver mutual prosperity

Jack Thompson

By Jack Thompson

Many expect the UK Government to announce a summer spending review soon, with Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending, or UK aid spending, likely to be a priority. This will require Government departments to review their ODA portfolios and consider areas of savings and reform, as well as future opportunities for development.

Of course, departments will need to consider the UK Aid Strategy when conducting this review. This strategy marked a shift in direction for UK aid. It aligned UK aid with UK interests overseas, including security and trade, focussed it on countries where it would have the greatest impact and demanded a cross-government approach.

The Prosperity Fund is one example of this strategy being put into practice. It’s taken an innovative approach to fund-level portfolio management and monitoring and evaluation. But, as a first-mover in this space, it’s faced challenges in delivering against its strategic objectives. For example, it’s had to work out how to design a portfolio that reduces poverty and promotes inclusion while delivering secondary benefits to UK and international business.

We work with government departments delivering aid in the UK and overseas, including providing monitoring and reporting services across the £1.2bn UK Prosperity Fund. Based on this experience, we’ve identified four key lessons others can learn when it comes to designing, defining, measuring and operationalising aid portfolios:

1. Design programmes that balance primary purpose and secondary benefit
It might sound simple but start with the primary development challenge you’re trying to solve rather than the solution or intervention. Make sure to outline the people and institutions that will benefit, both directly and indirectly, before considering where the UK can support. Be mindful that this may only be in specific niches where the UK has a competitive advantage.

Take the time to set out your assumptions. What are you expecting to happen in terms of causality, context and programme-related stakeholders? Defining these supports effective evaluation. Focus on the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ when defining the poverty reduction and inclusion outcomes (primary purpose), while emphasising just the ‘how’ and ‘when’ when assessing the benefits to international and UK business (secondary benefit).

2. Define secondary benefits and how to achieve them
Be clear on the types of benefits you hope to achieve. For example, the Prosperity Fund has specified six types of secondary benefits it’s targeting. Tell teams what you expect at portfolio and programme level. It’s likely the portfolio will be more selective in terms of the secondary benefits it’s targeting compared to the ones programmes anticipate.

Set out how you expect these benefits to work together and their interdependencies. Change isn’t linear. There are strong relationships between types of secondary benefit that you can leverage to deliver greater impact.


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3. Develop monitoring and evaluation procedures
Set out which monitoring and evaluating methods you’ll use and at what levels you’ll use them. Will you look at benefits at an intervention-specific, localised (sector or regional) or national level? Or will you use a combination?

Provide guidance on what good monitoring looks like by developing standards that help teams identify and prioritise relevant indicators. Will you use the same indicators for both primary and secondary benefits? Will you evaluate causality between primary and secondary benefits?

Be aware of the limitations of monitoring. It can only tell you the ‘what’. Further insights and learnings flow from evaluation – the ‘how’ and ‘why’. Indicators themselves often have limitations that constrain how you should interpret them.

Recognise that different departments have different approaches to monitoring and evaluation. Being aware of these differences and agreeing common ground is important to ensure a successful outcome.

4. Decide who’s responsible for delivering benefits
Be clear on roles and responsibilities. Who’s creating the opportunity? Who’s converting it? Who’s following-up? You’ll need to align your teams so strategies and capacity come together to deliver benefits.

Define what systems and processes teams should follow. Be clear on how to record and track results across multiple systems to reduce burden and avoid double-counting.
And agree on a common stakeholder engagement approach. It’s paramount external stakeholders have a consistent, positive experience engaging with you.

Delivering mutual prosperity with UK aid
Delivering mutual prosperity has the potential to increase the impact of UK aid and deliver better value for money. This Summer’s spending review presents a great opportunity to assess the progress made delivering mutual prosperity and to consider what has been learnt from this new approach to date. By designing programmes that balance primary purpose and secondary benefit, defining how secondary benefits can be achieved and how to monitor and evaluate them, and determining clear roles and responsibilities, government departments can deliver greater returns from UK aid.

About the authors

Jack Thompson
Jack Thompson PA government and public sector expert

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