UK drops out of top performers in Aid Transparency Index for first time

14 July 2022

What is the Aid Transparency Index and what can it tell us about the UK’s aid transparency?

Publish What You Fund has been assessing aid transparency for 10 years now. Ever since our first Index in 2012 we have been measuring the quality of data and documents that multilateral and bilateral organisations publish about their development work, and we have constantly refined and improved our approach to drive continuous improvement. 

The 2022 Aid Transparency Index reveals that more aid organisations than ever before are publishing good quality information and score “Very Good” or “Good” in the global ranking. In comparison, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has performed significantly worse in the 2022 Index compared to the Department for International Development’s performance in 2020 . FCDO dropped seven places to 16th in the ranking, meaning there was no UK agency in the Very Good category for the first time since the Index began. 

Alex Tilley, who researched and authored the report, said: “As a former leader in aid transparency we know the FCDO has the systems and expertise to produce high-quality, comprehensive and detailed data about its aid projects. We hope that senior leadership in the department will now prioritise transparency and that we will see the UK return to its position at the top of the Aid Transparency Index in the coming years.”

The Index is effective at driving behaviour change in organisations to publish more and better data. This means that there are increasing amounts of data available. However, the whole data set could be under threat as the Aid Transparency Index, the only tool driving tangible improvements in data quality, is set to close for want of funding. 

UK context

This year’s 2022 Index assessment is made against the backdrop of some major changes in aid funding, specifically the UK has recently restructured its aid agency. The FCDO was formed by a merger between the Department for International Development and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. A recent ICAI review noted that these departmental changes have impacted how the UK responds to and communicates about its aid and development work. The UK has also cut its aid budget; FCDO’s ODA in 2020 was £10.6bn according to the UK official statistics, representing 73% of the UK’s total ODA spend. This figure has decreased from 77% in 2019 as Other Government Departments take on more of the UK aid budget.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) now ranks 16th in the Index. It dropped 13.5 points, falling from “Very Good” to “Good” compared with the Department for International Development’s (DFID) score in 2020. FCDO underperforms across all five Index components.  

Gary Forster, CEO of Publish What You Fund, said: “Until recently the UK was considered a leader in aid transparency. However, recent events, including the removal of the transparency targets from the International Development Strategy, coupled with the high turnover of staff focussing on transparency, all suggest a de-prioritisation within the FCDO." 

The 2022 Aid Transparency Index UK highlights:
No UK agencies are in the “Very Good” category – the first time this has happened since the categories were introduced in 2013.

  • FCDO’s deterioration in transparency is largely due to its lack of organisational and country strategies, and inconsistent publication of results, evaluations and objectives.
  • This 10th anniversary report highlights the breadth and utility of the global aid data set but contains a stark warning about the deterioration in the quality of data between editions of the Aid Transparency Index, which is now at risk. 
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) achieved a score of “Good” in its first appearance in the Aid Transparency Index. 

FCDO has taken responsibility for DFID’s legacy aid data. For the 2022 Index, we compare FCDO with DFID’s previous Index performances since most of the activities and the data management and publication systems were previously managed by DFID. The inclusion within FCDO’s data set of previously poor-quality data from the FCO portfolio will have had a small effect on FCDO’s scores. However, this does not account for the total drop observed.

Specifically, FCDO lost points in the following areas:

  • The absence of an organisational strategy at the time of assessment (given the 2.5-year delay in the publication of the UK’s International Development Strategy) and resulting country strategies
  • Scarce disclosure of contracts and tenders (published for less than 35% of activities)
  • No publication of disaggregated budgets
  • Reduced disclosure across results, reviews and evaluations and objectives 

Following the review, Publish What You Fund has provided FCDO with a clear list of improvements that FCDO needs to make in order to achieve “Very Good” in the Index.

The future of the Index

The evidence shows that without the incentives the Index provides, or the feedback it offers, the quality of the global dataset deteriorates precipitously. We implore agencies and foundations to step up, invest in the Aid Transparency Index, and maintain this momentum so that all stakeholders have access to high-quality aid data now and into the future. Speaking on the future of the Aid Transparency Index Forster adds: “It’s a bitter-sweet moment; more agencies than ever are scoring good or very good, and there are more examples of data being used to inform better development policy. Yet the Index, which has driven all of these improvements over the last decade is facing closure. There isn’t a backup option.”

The Index website provides full details of the scores and a detailed analysis of the performance of each donor.

About the author

Publish What You Fund

CEO

Publish What You Fund

Research Officer