UK aid watchdog seeks public input on its work

A crowd in Oxford street in London. Photo by: Henry / CC BY-NC-ND 

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s aid watchdog is holding a public consultation on the topics it should scrutinize and what kinds of review products it should develop over the next four years.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s online consultation runs until April 23 and offers a “chance to really shape a new commission to work in a different way,” according to Tamsyn Barton, who recently took over as ICAI’s chief commissioner.

This is not the first time ICAI has sought opinions on its future work, but it is the broadest consultation to date, which is especially important given the current climate of uncertainty around the aid budget, the ICAI chief added.

“I’m very conscious that the vast majority of the public have no idea that there is any scrutiny body looking at aid. Now that aid has become rather high profile, I think it’s probably more important than it used to be that people are aware that we exist and indeed are amenable to their thoughts on what we should be looking at,” Barton told Devex.

Founded in 2011, ICAI publishes around nine in-depth reviews each year examining specific areas of U.K. aid spending and processes. Recent topics have included the work of the U.K.’s development finance institution, CDC, in low-income and fragile states; and climate financing.

While the topics ICAI looks into are the most obvious thing people can give feedback on, Barton also hopes the consultation will canvass opinion on the kinds of products it produces. For example, it recently introduced shorter “rapid reviews” to its portfolio.

“Obviously ICAI is known for its in-depth, thorough reviews … but I think there’s scope to think about a bigger variety of products and people might come up with ideas for different sorts of things,” Barton said.

The contentious issue of whether to stick with ICAI’s “traffic light” rating system does not feature on the public consultation. The watchdog currently rates the government’s performance using a color-coded system, but critics say this doesn’t offer enough nuance, with most reviews ending up amber-green.

Barton said she felt the topic was “too nerdy” for the general public. However, she has raised the issue in consultation meetings with other stakeholder groups, including think tanks, the U.K. NGO network Bond, and the contractors’ umbrella group British Expertise. Feedback gleaned so far seemed to show support for a color-coded system, she said.

“In all the consultations so far it’s been incredibly clear that people externally value the traffic lights very strongly because they want some guidance as to how critical the review is. But what they are interested in is building on them so there is more variety than ‘amber-green’ or ‘amber-red,’” she said.

The public can contribute to the consultation until April 23.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.