The UK government asked Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid and development transparency, to assess ten aid-spending departments using our Aid Transparency Index methodology. We also reviewed the transparency of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and Prosperity Fund. Our findings, “How Transparent is UK Aid? A review of ODA spending departments” were published in January 2020.
The UK aid strategy
The UK government’s 2015 aid strategy included the re-commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on Official Development Assistance (ODA). It also set out a cross-government approach to aid spending, drawing on the expertise of government departments other than the Department for International Development (DFID). In 2018 DFID spent 75% of the aid budget and the remaining 25% was spent by 14 different government departments.
The UK aid strategy also underscored the importance of transparency for the effectiveness and accountability of ODA spend. The UK government committed DFID and all government departments spending ODA to rank ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ in Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index by 2020 as their measure of success.
Between April and October 2019 we undertook a programme of work to monitor and support the improvement of aid transparency across the UK government. We used our Aid Transparency Index methodology to score departments against transparency indicators and rank them according to their levels of transparency. The process involved engagement, data collection, feedback and an independent review. Our methodology promotes ongoing engagement with agencies to identify areas for improvement and maximise progress towards greater transparency.
We were asked to assess ten of the government departments that are spending significant amounts of ODA. We gave each department a score out of 100 to rank the accessibility of their aid data across 36 indicators in five areas: project attributes, results & performance, joined-up development data and financial data as well as data on their organisational planning and commitments. The assessed departments spent a total of £13 billion of ODA in 2018.
Three of the 10 departments scored ’Good’ or ‘Very Good’ in the review, meeting the target set out in the UK Aid Strategy.
Publication rates of ODA activities and organisational data has increased considerably since the beginning of the review, with more data now available than ever before. However, the review highlighted a lack of available information on the results and impact of aid spending. Performance data was the poorest scoring in our methodology with an average score of 1.2 across the four indicators used for this component.
The highest scores came from data on implementing partners used in aid projects, followed by high publication rates on aid types as well as financial figures showing project payments made (with averages 2.8, 2.7 & 2.5 respectively).
The review found encouraging signs of improvement on data publication and commitment to transparency as several of the government departments set-up internal working groups to ensure the longevity of their transparency initiatives. Other government departments still have some way to go, so results are mixed.
With less than a year left to meet the target of reaching ‘Good’ or above on our index we encourage those who are below to raise the bar and start with basic activity data such as objectives, procurement data and line items of budget whilst those with higher scores must work towards improving the quality of their results & performance data.
Two cross-government funds, the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund were also considered as part of the review. We assessed the progress they have made in publishing data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) registry and making information available through government websites. The report contains a number of recommendations for improvement for these funds and each of the ten departments. We also recommend that the government maintains a commitment to measurable transparency targets in its next aid strategy.