While rebuilding a strong and effective aid program will take time, there are already in existence opportunities to increase funding for highly effective multilateral programs
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CANBERRA - Poverty reduction and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals offer a good guiding framework for development aid.
Within this, however, Australia needs to carefully prioritise its aid spending both within countries and in its global programs.
This will be assisted if policymakers in Australia and the Pacific Islands are able to obtain better data on poverty.
This will serve a number of requirements: it will help put poor people on the policy agenda, help to target and design programs, and enable evaluation of performance.
The Pacific Community data hub linked to here is a good platform for making further progress.
But more attention is needed on policy coherence, putting incentives in the right place, reducing transaction costs and reinforcing local accountability.
Outcome-based aid, canvassed here in a paper by the Center for Global Development, is something to explore.
Rigorous evaluations are needed to better understand what works, why it works and, I emphasise again, to reinforce accountability.
Randomised controlled trials, an experimental form of impact evaluation, seem to be the gold standard, but there’s still lots of scope for more transparent and better evaluation.
In Australia, the abolition of the Office of Development Effectiveness in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was a retrograde step.
The department’s mission was to build stronger evidence for more effective aid and its work was much praised before it was abolished.
The requirement for independent evaluation remains and models need to be explored.
In short, evaluation needs a champion.
Transparency and accountability are other areas requiring attention.
The new Albanese government could consider legislating a mechanism for better public reporting on aid spending and results.
All that said, while rebuilding a strong and effective aid program will take time, there are many opportunities to quickly increase funding for highly effective multilateral programs already in existence.
These include the International Development Association, the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator and the Global Fund.
I can safely reiterate here what Julia Newton-Howes and I wrote back in 2015 (Where Australia’s case for aid went wrong – and what we can do to rebuild):
The case for international development needs to focus on how aid can support a broad range of Australia’s and the region’s shared interests, built on a foundation of poverty reduction.
The case needs to be made primarily to the political class.
If they are convinced, politicians are less likely to bag the aid program on spurious grounds (waste and mismanagement, borrowing money to send it overseas etc.).
And with less political bagging, the public will be happier with aid.
Building the case will involve:
Reframing narratives on Australia’s future and our place in the world, and the role and benefits of aid and development policies;
Developing a new approach to aid and development policy that can deliver those benefits, and that we can work towards; and
Appealing to core supporters, in both the political and public spheres, who want to end poverty, as well as aspirational Australians who want a better Australia and a better world, and building networks of supporters who can drive change.
The aid program is down, but not out. As in other areas of public policy, we need a new vision, and we must rebuild and renew.