How effectively aid is given is as important as how much aid is given, where it is given, and what it is given for. How effective aid is not always easy to say, but there is plenty of material for those interested in learning more.
In this section, we will direct you to tools and reports that assess the effectiveness of Australia’s aid.
Aid transparency is an important part of the effectiveness agenda. Transparent and publicly available information on aid flows and projects is vital for public accountability in both donor and recipient countries.
The Development Policy Centre has carried out four audits on the transparency of the Australian aid program, in 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022. The audits examine what project information is available on the aid program’s website, and what level of detail is provided.
The most recent audit in 2022 showed some worrying results. The aid program listed about 61% of projects over $1 million on the country and regional pages. The availability of basic project information (description, dates, budget, and previous expenditure) for those listed aid projects fell from 69.1% in 2019 to 63.8% in 2022. The availability of detailed documentation about aid projects was even worse, with transparency falling in three of the four document types we assessed between 2019 and 2022. There were still some positive findings. The aid program has done well in making high-level aid budget data and historical aid data available on its website in a timely manner.
Other measures of aid transparency are available. For example, Publish What You Fund calculates a transparency index each year. In 2022, Australia scored at the lower end of the “fair” category for transparency, behind most other OECD DAC donors.
The Australian government has used different frameworks to measure the performance of Australian aid. Until recently, the government reported against a 2014 framework, principally through an annual Performance of Australian Aid report.
In May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government released a new performance framework for the Australian aid program, along with a strategy document, Partnerships for Recovery, on Australia’s development response to the pandemic.
The three-tier performance framework will report on the overall context, annual results and effectiveness of Australia’s COVID-19 development response efforts against the objectives set out in Partnerships for Recovery – health security, stability, and economic recovery. It also sets performance indicators for global programs and partnerships, such as those with multilateral organisations. The performance framework also commits to improve transparency, in line with the methodology used in the Development Policy Centre’s transparency audits, as detailed above.
At the aid investment level, DFAT monitors performance of all its aid investments valued over $3 million annually through self-assessed Investment Performance Ratings. These ratings measure performance on a 1-6 scale against “effectiveness”, “efficiency” and “gender”, where 4 is adequate.
In addition, Final Investment Performance Ratings are undertaken at project completion. Whereas assessments for ongoing investments are the responsibility of the relevant DFAT officer, these final assessments are assessed centrally by DFAT.
In 2021 and 2022, two in five completed aid investments were rated as unsatisfactory by DFAT, up from one and a half or even one in five just a few years earlier. Since 2020, the average completed investment has been rated as less than satisfactory for both effectiveness and efficiency. This raises issues about the performance of the Australian aid program that require further investigation. In May 2023, Devpol published a research report on investigating the growing disconnect between the final ratings for ongoing and completed investments.
Under the 2020 performance system, country and regional program performance is assessed through Progress Reports against the corresponding objectives and indicators set out in Response Plans. See the full set of country and regional Progress Reports from 2019-20 onward.
The Progress Reports replace the Annual Program Performance Reports (APPRs), which are available up until 2018-19.
Under the three-tiered performance framework, DFAT publishes whole-of-program results annually against a set of “Tier One” (Indo-Pacific Development Context), “Tier Two” (Australia’s contribution to development) and “Tier Three” (Operational and organisational effectiveness) indicators. These are reported in DFAT’s Annual Report. There is also a standalone report on Tier Two indicators for 2020-21.
Prior to 2021, DFAT published an annual Performance of Australian Aid report. The sixth and final report showed that in 2018-19, 93% of aid investments were assessed as satisfactory for effectiveness and 89% were assessed as satisfactory for efficiency.
In the past, a separate office within the Department called the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE) conducted thematic and program reviews with independent oversight, however this unit was closed in 2020. Past ODE reviews and evaluations are still available online.
In 2011, the government commissioned an independent review of the Australian aid program. The purpose of the review was to thoroughly examine the aid program, determine whether the program’s systems, policies and procedures at the time were as effective and efficient as they could be, and to give advice on how to make the program more strategic.
The review panel found that “by the standards of donors generally, Australia is an effective performer”, but that there were problems that needed repairing in the aid program, particularly in the context at the time of the review, when Australia was aiming to meet a 0.5% of GNI target for aid by 2015-16, which did not eventuate.
The review panel made 39 key recommendations for improving Australia’s aid program, ranging from the need for a comprehensive overall strategy and reduced fragmentation (i.e. reducing the number of countries Australian aid focuses on), to recommendations on improving whole-of-government approaches, relationships with partners, transparency and communications.
The 2011 review was not the first review of the aid program. Previous reviews included: the Jackson Report (1984), the Simons Review (1997), the 2005 Core Group Report (and companion volume) that led to the 2006 Aid White Paper. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has also conducted various audits of the aid program.
In 2013, 2015 and 2018, the Development Policy Centre conducted the three Australian Aid Stakeholder Surveys encompassing stakeholders in the Australian aid program, from the senior executives of Australia’s biggest NGOs and development contracting companies, to the officials of multilateral, partner government and Australian government agencies.
In 2018, the third aid stakeholder survey attracted 347 responses:
Occasionally, parliamentary committees conduct inquiries into particular areas of Australia’s aid and development policy and practice. These inquiries take submissions and testimony from members of the public, NGOs, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Inquiries on aid are typically conducted by either the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which has a subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Aid, or the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, which looks at both referred matters and proposed legislation. In recent years, inquiries have examined the role of the private sector in development, bilateral aid to Papua New Guinea, Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste, and overseas aid more generally.
Each OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member is peer-reviewed approximately every five years. According to the DAC, these reviews have two main aims: to help the donor country understand where it could improve its development strategy and structures so that it can increase the effectiveness of its investment; and to identify and share good practice in development policy and strategy. The process is led by two reviewers from other DAC member countries, and takes around six months, with wide consultation.
The most recent DAC peer review of Australian aid took place in 2018. Overall the review was very positive. It commended Australia’s active global engagement on development and its focus on fragile small island states and disaster risk reduction. Efforts on mainstreaming gender were also commended. However it strongly critiqued the successive cuts to the aid budget since 2013, and recommended increases to transparency following the DFAT integration.
Mid-term reviews of Australian aid are carried out in by the OECD DAC in between the main reviews every five years. The mid-term review was carried out in 2021.
Before 2018, an earlier OECD DAC review of Australian aid was carried out in 2013–prior to the AusAID integration into DFAT and while the aid budget was still in its scale-up phase. Overall, it was very positive, praising reform in the aid program, and transparency initiatives at the time. It argued that Australia was “in a very strong position to deliver a growing aid budget effectively and efficiently”.
Aid is only one contribution a country can make to global development. The Center for Global Development publishes an index of the contribution countries make to development in a variety of ways, not only through their aid policy, but also through such policies as trade, migration, and climate change. In 2021, Australia scored third on this index (out of 40 countries rated), but when this rank is adjusted based on wealth it drops to 11.
The Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institute publish regular joint reports on the Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA). The QuODA reports assess how donors support the development of institutions in recipient countries, reduce administrative burdens for recipients, maximise the efficiency of their aid, and are transparent. The 2021 QuODA data enables you to see how Australia ranks against other countries.