LONDON — The head of the United Kingdom’s controversial Conflict, Stability and Security Fund has said good progress is being made on making the fund’s activities more transparent, in response to repeated criticism, and that nearly half of its suppliers are now NGOs.
Joëlle Jenny is the director of the Joint Funds Unit, set up last year to manage CSSF and the Prosperity Fund, which both combine aid and non-aid funds and can be spent by government departments other than the Department for International Development. The joint funds were established following the U.K.’s 2015 cross-government aid strategy, which calls for up to 30 percent of official development assistance to be spent outside of DFID.
“ It is a fair criticism that as part of that prioritization, transparency was less prioritized at the beginning and it’s been rightly picked up by ICAI.”— Joëlle Jenny, director, CSSF Joint Funds Unit
The funds have been dogged by criticism, however, especially the £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) CSSF, which gets nearly half of its funding from the aid budget to work in conflict-affected states. The fund has been subject to a number of critical reviews by government watchdogs — including the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which issued a scathing review of CSSF last year, raising concerns about its aid effectiveness, monitoring and evaluation capabilities, and transparency, among other issues.
“We’ve taken the recommendations of ICAI to heart and have been working towards implementing them,” Jenny told Devex.
CSSF also revamped its procurement framework in December and now has nearly twice as many NGO partners as in previous years, showing that it is listening to stakeholders, she added: “CSSF is now three years old and it’s evolved over that period of time … It’s a journey ... in terms of learning, adapting, and making sure we are where we need to be.”
In a letter seen by Devex, Penny Mordaunt said she wants to move the debate away from where U.K. aid staff are based to the work they are doing, as concerns rise about the future of DFID.
Devex sat down with Jenny on the sidelines of the recent Bond conference in London to find out about how CSSF is addressing the critics.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The joint funds have been criticized for a lack of transparency. Do you think this is an issue, and what steps are being taken to address it?
When you set up a fund with the level of ambition and scale that the CSSF has … getting it up and running has meant that some choices had to be made around designing the projects, making sure we’ve got the results framework, getting the procurement up and running. It is a fair criticism that as part of that prioritization, transparency was less prioritized at the beginning and it’s been rightly picked up by ICAI.
So we’ve stepped up the focus on transparency in response. We have put a lot more information in the public domain. We’ve now published two annual reports [the next one is expected this summer], as well as [dozens of] program summaries.
In addition … we are significantly increasing the number of working groups we have with NGOs and others, so there is an open door for people to come and ask questions and where we can share learnings.
We are also significantly ramping up our investment in monitoring, evaluation, and learning … to make sure that, given the often higher risk nature of CSSF programming, we are really clear on what we are trying to achieve, we have the theories of change, the results framework, we recognize when it’s working well and when it’s not working well, and then we synthesize the knowledge and we share it within the government and the broader community.
What we’re trying to do is quite ambitious because we all recognize the difficulty of measuring results in fragile and conflict-affected states.
How do you balance this transparency drive with concerns over disclosing sensitive information, in light of the ICAI review finding that CSSF “over-used” sensitivity as a justification for not sharing information?
Clare Short, DFID's first secretary of state, tells Devex she thinks the British government is more likely to axe the 0.7 percent GDP aid target than merge DFID with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
The default option is we publish and we are transparent; the information needs to be out there. Where there is a risk that the information could put our NGO partners, for example, at risk, that is the kind of information we will withhold. But with the majority of programs, we have been able to publish program summaries. For the financial year 2018-2019, we’ve published summaries for 83 out of 90 programs … We’ve been redacting some information, rather than not publishing at all.
What challenges does mixing ODA and non-ODA pose?
People are asking for more flexibility, more innovation, and they recognize how increasingly complex the working environments have become. So the blending is a critical part of the answer to ... having a whole-of-government response ... bringing together different instruments and operating across a range of geographies where there are conflict and fragility issues.
Is aid funding in danger of becoming securitized through CSSF?
I understand that people don’t want to see aid money being diverted from helping the poorest. There’s no question about the importance of making sure that we keep this balance right and the primary focus very clear on addressing drivers of fragility and conflict.
Given how conflicts have been evolving — the complexity and the integration between national, regional, and global dimensions of conflict that we have seen, the growing role that technology plays … you cannot address the drivers of conflict and insecurity purely through a “traditional” development lens. You do need to also flex an instrument that will help address insecurity and the growing problem of crime in all its manifestations, and that provides peacekeeping where it’s possible, and so on.
So for me, the problem with the concept of securitization of aid is that it doesn’t do justice to the reality that if we are going to have an impact in addressing conflict and fragility we need to bring in all of those instruments, and they all have their place. It’s not an either/or, it’s about keeping the integrity of what aid money is for, making sure aid money always fully complies with [international aid] rules … but also making sure that it operates in complement with a range of other approaches, so that we can do the security-prosperity nexus that is required.