Saturday, 28 June 2008

NAO or never

I've been given a copy of an unpublished National Audit Office report into NGOs' responses to the South Asia earthquake in 2005. It a damning analysis of aspects of the relief effort, for instance:
  • Single person summer tents were airlifted from the UK even though they were unsuitable for a Pakistani winter
  • Temporary shelters were distributed without technical advice being given on their construction - causing injury and death as a result
  • NGOs were largely unco-ordinated and failed to plug into the 'cluster' system
But most serious is the following assessment of the charities' evaluation of their impact:
While financial reporting systems enable accurate reporting of inputs and costs, it is more difficult to assess impact. Reports submitted to donors did not always show clearly what had been achieved specifically with the donors' funds as opposed to others sources of funding...The problem was exacerbated by apparent inaccuracies in reports to DFID and DEC. For example:
  • With £300,000 of funding, one NGO claimed to have produced 15,000 temporary shelters and a second NGO 3,300.
  • 3,750 blankets cost one NGO £78,000 while another purchased 19,800 with £54,000.
In addition, above it was stated that some NGOs had underestimated family size in planning. At least two increased the average used when reporting against objectives; thereby appearing to increase the numbers reached. For example; one NGO stated that it had met its objective for beneficiaries reached. However, as it had had to distribute more tents per family, while it distributed the planned number of tents, it achieved only 82 per cent coverage for provision of winterised shelter in the target area.

Without assurance that reported figures for purchases and beneficaries are accurate it is not possible to determine where there are errors in reporting and where there are actual variations in performance. Robust analysis of what agencies have achieved with funding is vital for DFID to be able to assess the performance of the agencies it is funding and could also provide an opportunity for agencies to identify areas for improvement in their systems. Agencies should ensure that they have good systems to record outputs and outcomes by donor, and DFID and DEC should review reports for inconsistencies and undertake analysis of the figures.

Only one thing to add: The reports should be published so that there can be public scrutiny of where the NGOs were effective - and where they weren't.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Not a load of CODswallop

Here are the presentations and papers from a recent Brookings conference on aid. Most of them relate to the macro v. micro initiative debate, recently stirred up by Prof. Banerjee from MIT.

However the most interesting thing is a set of slides from Nancy Birsall's Center for Global Development on an idea for development programmes delivered through 'Cash on Delivery' (COD).

The idea is that donors would only get paid for their outcomes (not inputs). For example, a donor working on education would receive $100 for every child who completed a year of primary school. This would obviously put much greater pressure on donors to perform.

Marking up

Development Initiatives have announced an ambitious and exciting project called 'aidinfo' which seeks to make aid information more transparent and accessible to the world:
People in rich countries will be able to find out more quickly exactly where and how their money has been spent – and the impact it has had. They will be able to find out what people think of the services. They will be able to hold their own governments to account for whether aid money has been well used. And if they see that aid is spent wisely, they may be willing to provide more in future.
Their memorandum to the Commons Committee on Co-ordination for Aid Effectiveness, suggests the standard may be based on the International Development Markup Language.

A word of advice to DI: concentrate more on the political hurdles than the technical ones. There is widespread and entrenched resistance to transparency.

It is important to me

In May the Charity Commission published a survey of 1,000 Brits, in which the following unequivocal views were expressed:
  • 96% of respondents agreed that "It is important to me that charities provide the public with information about how they spend their money"
  • 90% of respondents agreed that "It is important to me that charities explain in a published annual report what they actually achieved"
So why don't they do it?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

In a word

At an initial cost of at least €143,000, a group of civil society organisations (CSOs/NGOs) have belatedly begun to examine how their effectiveness can be improved. The process is called 'Framing and Promoting the Effectiveness of CSOs as Development Actors' and kicks off with a meeting on 29th June run by CONCORD.

An interesting tension that emerges from the concept note and FAQ paper is that between 'aid effectiveness' and 'development effectiveness'. Governments signed up to the former as part of the Paris Declaration, but CSOs have agreed that they would rather the latter:
The concept framing the process is “development effectiveness”, which goes beyond the concept of aid effectiveness enshrined in the Paris Declaration. While the latter is perceived by civil society as being a narrow and technical agenda designed to govern official aid, “development effectiveness” is much broader in scope and frames effectiveness in terms of the impact development has on poor and marginalised communities and territories. It therefore reflects more properly the diverse roles CSOs play in development. Aid effectiveness can be conceived as a part of development effectiveness.
Of course civil society organisations are not the same as governments and it is not unreasonable to imagine them adhering to a different set of accountability principles. But this paragraph reads suspiciously like CSOs are preparing for a cheeky manoeuvre.

They would be well advised not to try and slide from a tightly defined concept (aid effectiveness) to a more loosely defined one (development effectiveness) for the sake of convenience. Donors are watching!

Tailored suits, tax-free salaries, white Land Cruisers and Geneva

Newspaper commentators are not often worth reading but this sustained attack on internationalism by Simon Jenkins is. Here's the best bit:
We are all still hardwired to treat international as a good thing. In the process we have abandoned the constitutionalism and accountability that should govern any form of government if it is not to run amok. The one facet of neoconservative America that I share is frustration with the UN and related organisations' inability to walk the talk.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Charismatic compulsion

Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion, recently spoke at TED. He points out that Angola's annual oil revenues were $50bn, dwarfing the entire $34bn aid to the poorest billion people; and argues a set of international standards on good governance in extracting commodities.

Sure, fine, but as the previous post pointed out net private resource flows to the developing world from US citizens and companies exceeded $130bn last year. It is cross-border links which are really growing; and which aid organisations must exploit.