The EU together with its Member States is the world’s largest development donor, providing more than half of the total Official Development Assistance (€68 billion) in 2015. The EU alone spends on average €10 billion per year on development cooperation. Until recently, reporting on results achieved through EU ODA focused on individual programmes, projects, specific sectors and themes, and there has been little systematic reporting on aggregate results. That changed this summer, when the European Commission's Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) released the EU Results Report, which presents aggregate results of development programmes and projects in partner countries for the first time.
“It’s a major step forward,” said Franco Conzato, Acting Head of Unit for Quality and Results at DG DEVCO. “In the past, reports mainly focused on how much money we gave our partners, and what kind of activities we funded. There was an important part missing– what we achieve with our activities.”
Drawing on reporting from the EU’s implementing partners – partner countries, NGOs, Member State development agencies, international organisations and financial institutions – the report presents the results of projects and programmes that came to an end between mid-2013 and mid-2014 (the most recent period for which data is available), and had a value equal to or greater than € 750,000 (accounting for over 90% of the EU's total development expenditure).
During that period, EU development cooperation addressed specific policy priorities which included (among others): Democracy and Good Governance, with 19 elections in developing countries supported by the EU that were perceived as free and fair; Health, with 1,160,000 births attended by skilled health personnel, and Education, with 33,000 teachers trained; Employment, with 326,000 people benefitting from training intended to improve their employability; and Sustainable management of natural resources, with more than 13 million hectares of protected areas managed to ensure biodiversity. For the full report, click here.
The next steps on the path to full transparency and accountability were discussed during a session at the European Development Days, when stakeholders and partners were invited to give feedback on how the Commission’s results reporting can be improved in subsequent editions.
Some key points were:
- To outline lessons learned and how far results were aligned with project aims
- To include qualitative information on the social aspects of development, alongside quantitative results
- To formulate indicators for the harder-to quantify impacts of projects, such as capacity development
- To include indicators for the involvement of civil society
- To include results from ongoing operations rather than only those which are completed during a one-year period
- To report on the smaller projects which account for the final 5-10% of the budget
“It’s a commendable first step to get something out there,” said Howard White, one of the panellists and CEO of Campbell Collaboration, an international research group. Speaking about the importance of results reporting and the important work that still remains to be done, he explained that “[it] is a fundamental tool for accountability and lesson learning, for the Parliament and for decision makers within the Commission, on where to spend money, how to spend it, and for understanding how that money is helping to achieve the development goals of the Commission.”
Demand for Results enhanced transparency and accountability
The need for systematic reporting on results and improved accountability is increasingly urgent as EU development cooperation responds to challenges such as addressing the root causes of migration, meeting goals on climate change, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
“This report is the result of a number of demands we were registering over the past years, from our institutions, from Parliament, from public opinion in Europe,” said Franco Conzato. “They wanted to be more informed on what we do with development policy, and if we look at the situation now, we are facing bigger challenges. There is a strong demand for results, and we are trying to be as solid as possible with our response.”
As well as demonstrating the value of development projects to the taxpayers who fund it, results reports should feed into future project design, guiding improvements and spreading best practices. This means analysing what has not worked is just as important as highlighting what has gone well.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the challenges in results reporting of this nature,” said Howard White. “There are politics involved. An honest results report has to be warts and all, where you succeeded and where you failed.” He acknowledged that this is politically difficult for any institution to do, but emphasised that there are “systemic benefits to doing this. People who have been excluded from the discussion, as data wasn’t available, will start to come on board with more comprehensive results reporting.”
“It has to be user-driven, there has to be some point to doing it, a management value to it, and that’s the challenge going forward, to build the demand for this evidence,” said White.
An example of good practice comes from Uganda, where ministers come together for biannual cabinet retreats to go through the results of their programmes. “They’ve identified the indicators they’ll report against and have a traffic light system - red for not achieving, orange for in danger, [green for on target,] grey for no data,” said White. “It meant they went through the process of going through causal chains, logical frameworks, and when they find they don’t have data, it drives a well-owned data collection system within the government agencies.”
Giving results a human face
For panelist Roberto Pinauin, Programme Manager at IBON International, a Philippines-based group developing the capacity of people’s movements for human rights and democracy, results reporting would be strengthened by including more qualitative information.
“When aggregating development impacts, it’s a challenge to capture the qualitative information, especially on softer or more social aspects of development,” said Pinauin. He suggested that the full impact of different activities, inputs and interactions is not currently being captured, giving the example of a civil society representative working with a family experiencing domestic violence.
“They will not just talk about domestic violence, but the family, social status, income. There are so many issues in there that the worker will interact with the family on, but when it comes to quantitative reporting, it’s boiled down to: one family assisted with domestic violence,” said Pinauin. “So a lot of the richness of development work is lost in such a situation, when we try to put things in a tangible quantitative results base.”
He encouraged future results reports to consider coupling quantitative information with stories which “give a face, and tell the story of how such results are achieved.”
- EU Results Report and press release
- Blog post by Commissioner Mimica
- Recording and agenda of the EDDs session "From rhetoric to practice: How result reporting is improving EU development accountability"