Exclusive: What are DFID's new country diagnostic pilots?

The House of Commons Chamber. Photo by: U.K. Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — The United Kingdom Department for International Development is internally piloting a new needs-based assessment strategy for a number of its country programs, with the aim of better understanding in-country poverty trends, politics, and economics for program design and delivery.

The pilots will go “one notch … further” toward understanding “the underpinnings of economic transformation alongside state capability, resilience, human capital, governance, and conflict, so that country offices can make choices about their economic development priorities and how they fit inside those things,” Melinda Bohannon, deputy director of growth and resilience at DFID, said in the House of Commons on June 12.

DFID was unable to provide additional comment due to the internal nature of the pilots, but Devex has learned that the pilot countries are Iraq, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, and that the DFID Zimbabwe teams have already begun consultations with NGOs.

The pilots will streamline attempts to identify the most significant problems that hinder development, as well as the main entry points and opportunities to create change. They will emphasize interdisciplinary analysis, including how politics, state, security, and demographics interact with economic growth and human development.

A DFID implementer familiar with the pilots said the intention is to combine DFID’s ongoing inclusive growth diagnostic, previously led by the growth team, with the Country Poverty Reduction Diagnostics, previously led by the chief economist’s office, into the new Country Development Diagnostics.

The pilots will also strive to address recommendations from the U.K.’s aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, on embedding diagnostics into DFID’s economic development strategy to improve understanding on inclusion and governance, according to the source, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak about the issue.

“DFID civil servants have been talking about this for some time in meetings we’ve been having with them,” Graham Gordon, head of policy at CAFOD, told Devex. “It has been presented as something that is important to engage in — but the timeframe has been very tight so there has been little scope for input apart from by DFID staff.”

Gordon added that while he expects the new diagnostic pilots to serve as an additional layer of rigor for DFID’s evidence-based programming approach, his team has so far seen little engagement with local communities and civil society.

“This internal process will no doubt enable different DFID teams to have a more joined up approach to how the U.K. works in different countries,” he said. However, there has so far been “little to no engagement with local civil society or people living in poverty,” which is a “cause for concern for a process that is likely to have a major impact on the justifications for U.K. aid spend[ing] and decisions,” he added.

Bohannon said that typical DFID country team engagement “would always be to work firmly in partnership” with government officials, the private sector, donors, and civil society.

“It is about using our diagnostic tools, dialogue, and relationships with governments and civil society to get a proper handle on what is likely to drive systemic change and where we can be most effective in making smart choices,” she said during the House of Commons session.

She added that DFID country teams are trying to develop “a community of practice and engagement that follows the same line of thinking about where the opportunities are likely to be, and calling out where there might be differences in interpretation or understanding about the short- versus long-term benefits.”

To draw in more perspectives from local communities and civil society, Gordon said DFID should slow down the consultations, “with space created to plan for better dialogue and participation from local people. This will ensure that their voices are given as important a role as the voices of other actors,” he suggested.

“Asking marginalized groups isn’t easy, and takes time and careful management of local power dynamics and expectations. However, it needs to be done for effective programming,” he added.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.