Unique survey highlights need for aid reform

11 December 2013

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Stephen Howes is Director of Development Policy Centre at ANU.

Prior to joining the Crawford School in 2009, Stephen was Chief Economist at the Australian Agency for International Development.

In 2008, he worked on the Garnaut Review on Climate Change, where he managed the Review’s international work stream.

He teaches Aid and Development Policy (IDEC8007) and Government, Markets and Global Change (CRWF8000).

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Australia spends more than $5 billion a year on foreign aid, but reforms are needed to improve aid effectiveness, according to the first ever survey of Australian aid workers and experts.

The 2013 Australian Aid Stakeholder Survey – released today by the Development Policy Centre at Crawford School of Public Policy – takes the pulse of the sector from those who know the aid program best. The survey brings together responses from people familiar with and involved in the delivery of aid, including government and NGO officials, academics and consultants.

The 356 individuals surveyed think that the aid program is good and improving, but that there is an unfinished reform agenda. They are generally happy with the sectoral and geographic focus of the aid program, but they see room for improvement across the board when it comes to aid effectiveness.

Respondents were asked about 17 factors that are known to influence aid effectiveness and support for aid. Only six of the 17 received a ‘pass mark’ of at least three out of five.

The one factor that stood out from all the others was staff continuity. This was the only factor seen as a ‘great weakness’ in the management of the aid program by more than half of respondents. Of those who worked with a government aid manager, over half reported that the manager had been in place for less than a year.

“Rapid staff turnover undermines the consistency of effort and accumulation of expertise required to deliver effective aid,” said Professor Stephen Howes, Director of the Development Policy Centre and a panel member for the 2011 Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness.

Slow decision-making in the aid program also stood out – seen as a weakness by three-quarters of respondents.

Of interest, given the new Government’s intention to more closely align foreign aid and diplomacy, aid stakeholders surveyed indicated that they thought strategic and commercial objectives were already considered to be more important for Australian aid than development goals.

“This survey is a first for Australia, and perhaps for the world,” said Professor Howes.

“It provides both an audit of aid reform efforts under Labor, and guidance for the Coalition.

“The message of the survey is that Labor put in place a good reform agenda for aid, but fell through on its implementation.

“The Coalition has said it wants more effective aid, and benchmarks to monitor aid effectiveness. This survey will provide a lot of guidance for these efforts.

“The richness of the data now available for analysis shows the value of asking those who the Australian Government entrusts to deliver the aid program for their informed views. It is remarkable how much agreement there is across such a diverse group on aid strengths and weaknesses.”

The results of the survey will be presented at Crawford School at a special event on Thursday 12 December.

Event Details:

Date: Thursday 12 December, 2013
Time: 5.30-7pm
Venue: Weston Theatre, Level 1, JG Crawford Building 132, Lennox Crossing, ANU

For more information and to register for the event:

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