UK launches coordinating body for aid funded cross-government research

The U.K.'s National Health Service doctors and nurses practice their medical skills at the Army's Ebola training facility near York before joining medics in Sierra Leone. Photo by: Simon Davis / DFID / CC BY

LONDON — A coalition of U.K. government departments and research donors have announced the launch of a new coordinating body for aid-funded development research, to be chaired by the director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor Baron Peter Piot.

The announcement comes after concerns from some in the aid community about the coherence of the U.K.’s cross-government aid strategy.

U.K. aid funding for development-related research is on the rise, with more than 450 million British pounds ($605 million) of the 13 billion pound aid budget allocated for research annually — three times the amount spent in 2014.

While most development-focused research funding flows from the U.K. Department for International Development, it is increasingly managed across government by other departments, research councils, and joint funds — such as the new 1 billion pounds Ross Fund for fighting infectious diseases, which is co-managed by DFID and the Department of Health. The approach is part of the U.K.’s cross-government strategy, which will see one-third of aid spent through departments other than DFID by 2020 in order to better coordinate government operations, eliminate duplication, and prevent waste.

However, criticism of the cross-government strategy has been mounting, most recently after a bruising critique from the National Audit Office this summer, which included concerns about a lack of coherence in aid spending across departments. Stakeholders in government have called for better management of cross-government spending of official development assistance, which much adhere to specific regulations.

The new “Strategic Coherence for ODA-funded Research (SCOR) Board” is the latest effort to better coordinate ODA flows across government. It aims to provide “high-level coordination for the U.K.’s ODA-funded research” in order to maximize impacts. The board has been jointly created by four government bodies: DFID; the Department of Health; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and the soon-to-be-launched UK Research and Innovation

The SCOR Board will report to the government-funded UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), a group of 14 government departments and research donors working in international development to “share knowledge and identify opportunities for collaboration.” UKCDS announced on Tuesday that the board will be chaired by Piot, who will take up the post on November 1.

Asked if the establishment of the SCOR Board was a response to recent criticisms of the cross-government strategy, a spokesperson for UKCDS said: “Since 2015, the U.K. aid strategy and comprehensive spending review have increased funding on development research and spread it across more government departments and research councils. To make the most of this approach, the main players will come together through the SCOR Board.”

The board “will develop a common strategic goal to provide coherence and focus their work where necessary, for example to tackle global challenges, avoid duplication, and fill gaps,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Devex.

Following the report from the National Audit Office in July, the National Security Council suspended activity on its newest cross-government fund — the Empowerment Fund — and placed its other two funds — the Prosperity Fund and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund — under review. Together, the funds account for almost 3 billion pounds ($4 billion) of U.K. aid over four years.

Piot said of his appointment to the board: “I look forward to building on the prior work and experience of all funders and of UKCDS itself to ensure a collaborative and coherent approach to maximise our impact to solve the complex development challenges we face today.”

The scientist was a key member of the research team that discovered the Ebola Virus in Zaire in 1976. He was also the founding executive director of UNAIDS and under secretary-general of the United Nations from 1995 until 2008.

UKCDS Chair and Executive Chair of the National Environment Research Council Professor Duncan Wingham said in a statement that Piot’s “wealth of knowledge and experience in academia, science, international development and policy, and his pivotal role in delivering evidence-based collaborative solutions to global health issues, makes him well-placed to take on the role of the SCOR Chair.”

“Working in close coordination with leading funders across the U.K., the SCOR Board under Peter’s leadership will ensure that we continue to punch above our weight in global science and ensure this benefits the world through our contribution to international development,” he said.

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About the author

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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.