The new head of the UK’s aid watchdog wants your advice on its workplan – can you help?

April 11, 2019

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post by Dr Tamsyn Barton, ICAI Chief Commissioner

Imagine this: you are in charge of scrutinising all UK aid spending by the government. Of giving public and Parliament assurance about how a perennially controversial £14.5bn budget is spent.

You want to ensure your findings are taken seriously by government departments and people with the power to make changes to the spending – so it’s best that they don’t think you’re solely out to ‘bash’ them, to chase headlines, or just to look tough.

But you also want to ensure that where aid could be better spent, that you uncover it, quickly, so changes can be made.

So where would you look? Where would you focus? And how would you go about this?

As the incoming chief commissioner for the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) – the UK’s aid watchdog – these are just some of the questions I’ve been asking myself as I look to the future.

And now I want to ask you them too. What do you think? I genuinely want to hear as many views as possible, from suggestions of review topics, to thoughts about how we could change the type of products we produce to better fulfil our mandate (which, by the way, is to provide independent evaluation and scrutiny of the impact and value for money of all UK government Official Development Assistance – ODA).

That’s why ICAI recently launched a public consultation asking two straightforward questions (personally I hate long surveys and never complete them!)

  1. What areas do you think ICAI should focus on over the next four years, and why (these could include areas of particular interest or concern, or suggested review topics)?
  2. What do you think of the current ICAI products? Do you have suggestions for different products?

You can write as much or as little as you want, and we’ll read every single response. So your suggestion really could result in a previously overlooked area of UK aid spending being scrutinised, and improved.

What kind of things am I looking for? Honestly, I’m open to all ideas. But to set out my thoughts a little more I’ll explain the type of changes I’m looking to make as ICAI enters its next phase.

Firstly I want to focus more on hearing from the people who are meant to be helped by UK aid. Their lives and their stories are ultimately what matters. How does UK aid spending affect them? Does the way in which it is spent impact them? What’s the best way to ensure UK aid programmes really work to ensure that no one is left behind? And how would you like to see ICAI ensuring the voices of these people come through in our reviews, while also ensuring our evidence remains robust and credible?

I also want to do more to increase public trust in the very system of aid scrutiny itself. That’s part of the reason we’re opening our consultation to anyone at all who has thoughts or opinions. It’s clear to me that it is important that thorough scrutiny is not just done well, but also that it is seen to be done.

ICAI was established in 2011, as the 0.7% commitment was coming into force, to ensure that taxpayers felt the increase in spending would not result in money wasted. Since then, ICAI’s reviews have regularly shown that, in general, money spent under the UK aid banner, is making a difference to people’s lives. We have also on occasion highlighted that mistakes are being made, on one occasion resulting in the summary closure of a programme.

But although this crucial work has been done to provide the public with assurance of aid spending, too often they are unaware of our work. And I’d like to change that, so that more of the general public know that ICAI (along with Parliament and the NAO) are investigating aid effectiveness on their behalf.

Finally I want to focus more on multilateral aid spending, which accounts for such a large portion of the budget, but yet so far has been a small part of ICAI’s work, and is often rather invisible to the public.

These new areas of focus – beneficiaries, increasing public trust, and multilaterals – need a new approach, and new topics, which is why I’m asking for your views.

And while I can’t promise it will be possible for us to implement every single idea, I can promise they will shape our approach. For example, I’ve already decided that from July ICAI will publish the literature reviews it produces for reviews. I’ve taken this decision following feedback from the people that use our reviews.

So what else would you like to see ICAI change or review? Visit our online consultation before April 23 and let us know.

April 11, 2019
Duncan Green