The politics of the results agenda in DFID: 1997-2017

Research reports and studies
September 2017
Craig Valters and Brendan Whitty

The United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) was created 20 years ago. In this time, its budget has grown dramatically and its management has shifted. One of the most dominant shifts is towards the ‘results agenda’ – a political agenda for foreign aid, associated with fixed target-setting, which has changed the way DFID operates around the world.

In this report we analyse how and why the results agenda emerged. Our primary focus is on the politics of the story, how it has intersected with DFID's management, and the response to these changes. We ask whether DFID's results management is fit for purpose; that is, does it reflect the UK's development ambitions? To answer these questions, we interviewed more than 60 people, including former Secretaries of State, senior civil servants and international development experts.

Key findings

  1. Secretaries of State often greatly influence how DFID is managed based on their personal and political party ideology, rather than primarily the complex realities of aid implementation.
  2. DFID staff interpret these new agendas differently, based on their professional interest and expertise.
  3. DFID has consistently been drawn back to central government accountability standards which sit uneasily with development work.
  4. The commitment to 0.7% has both protected and exposed DFID.

The way forward

  1. Create a results agenda that is fit for purpose.
  2. Be more honest with the British public about aid.
  3. Support reform in how DFID is managed.