The Department for International Development lead the United Kingdom’s commitment to the elimination of world poverty and are a key player in the international development community seeking to reduce by half by 2015 the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Currently, over 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day. The Department’s Public Service Agreements state their key performance targets, which were set in association with annual funding levels planned to rise to £3.6 billion by 2003-4. The targets cover such issues as increases in primary school enrolment, reductions in child mortality and increases in the proportion of the Department’s programme going to poor countries.
In his report to Parliament today, Sir John Bourn, Head of the National Audit Office, said that performance management in the Department had a number of strengths. There was a strong focus on poverty reduction, explicitly addressed in Departmental performance targets. And planning and review arrangements provided a good, if largely qualitative, view of poverty reduction prospects in developing countries. The Department had met, or were on track to meet, most of their performance targets – although they were reporting slippage against, for example, the target to persuade the European Community to spend a larger proportion of its development budget in poor countries.
Sir John points out, however, that the Department face a number of challenges in using performance measures to help secure cost-effective development assistance. Measures of poverty reduction do not permit easy identification of the Department’s contribution to progress, given the large number of other donors involved, the activities of the assisted nations and the influence of more general factors, such as the state of the global economy. Moreover, the Department do not have quantified performance objectives for their work at country level, weakening the link between development activity and achievement of Departmental targets. And poverty statistics used for monitoring progress are often unreliable or out of date. The Department recognise these challenges, and are working on developments in their target regime and management arrangements to help combat them.
But to promote cost-effective poverty reduction the Department need to reflect performance measures more directly in their planning and monitoring, so giving a sharper focus to performance management. Sir John recommends that the Department: review the specification of performance targets so that they reflect better the balance of the Department’s activities and the timescales over which development activity can generate results; sharpen planning at country level by quantifying expected poverty reduction progress and identifying risks to progress; and develop a balanced set of corporate performance indicators, covering not only results but indicators of quality of processes, policies and resources.