This is the first blog in a series which will examine DFID’s Annual Reviews, exploring what they say, what they mean, and how they could be improved.
The aid world is full of contradictions. Think about the last time you worked overnight to produce a report that nobody will ever read. Think about facipulation. Think about the Sachs vs Easterly soap opera. But for sheer, brazen ridiculousness, few things beat DFID’s Annual Review scoring.
DFID should be applauded for scoring Annual Reviews, and publishing all Annual Reviews online. It’s transparent, honest, and allows others to hold both DFID and implementing agencies to account. Quite refreshingly unexpected for an aid bureaucracy otherwise devoted to self-preservation. So at some point in DFID’s internal decision-making, the aid bureaucracy pushed back. You can imagine the conversation within DFID:
Person A: We want to objectively review all our programmes, score them, and publish the scores online!
Person B: But…then people will find out that our programmes aren’t working!
Person A: Good point, I didn’t think of that. *Long pause* I know. How about we only award positive scores?
And that’s what DFID did. Programmes are ranked on a five point scale from ‘A++’, through ‘A+’, ‘A’, ‘B’ and to ‘C’. Programmes which are meeting expectations – just about doing enough to get by – will score an ‘A’ grade. Call me slow, but I thought an ‘A’ was a mark of success, not a recognition of mediocrity.
Programme which underperform will be scored as ‘B’, and must be put on an improvement plan if they score two ‘B’s in a row. Again, possibly I under-performed at school, but I was always quite happy to get consecutive B’s for my homework. A programme which is truly diabolical, and in severe danger of being shut down, would receive a ‘C’. Programmes cannot receive a ‘D’, ‘E’, ‘F’, ‘G’, or ‘U’, unlike the normal English exam system.
DFID thus suffers a kind of technocratic schizophrenia. It possesses the most transparent and open assessment mechanism in the world – and a scoring system designed to prevent any appearance of failure.