For many decades development aid of western donors has been pretty well shielded from probing questions by the public opinion and politicians. Development aid was, and to some extend still is, essentially seen as “helping poor people”, a charitable activity that is inherently good and respectable and doesn’t need any further examination. A number of factors – the appearance of new actors on the aid scene, budget constraints, aid fatigue, the shift to the right of the political spectrum – have changed this. More than ever before the aid industry is now confronted by the incisive and pressing question: what is the use of all these billions of aid money?
Faced with this question, two reactions are a priori possible: the ‘William-Easterly-Dambisa-Moyo reaction’: “let’s face it, it’s awfully difficult to find undisputable evidence of positive outcomes” or “let’s make sure we can produce results”. Not surprisingly, the aid industry has chosen the latter alternative. And so we see all western donors gradually taking the road of “performance indicators”, “aid that makes a difference”, “measurable results” and “value for money”. On this road DFID has resolutely taken the lead. In its “Common Agenda for Development Results” of January 2011 DFID says it wants to thoroughly reorient its development policies and put results and value for money at the heart of everything it does. Though DFID acknowledges that measuring results is not simple, this consideration is vigorously wiped off the table with “We will not let complexity stop us from determining whether we are achieving value for money.” Since then “value for money” is definitely at the core of DFID’s aid policies. As quite often, where DFID leads, others follow. And DFID is unmistakably making full use of its intellectual firepower, unequalled in the world of international aid, to push other donors, bilaterals and multilaterals, in the same direction.