Select Committee on International Development Sixth Report


DFID and the Millennium Development Goals

8. DFID is responsible for leading the UK Government's contribution to promoting international development. DFID's overall objective—as set out in the 1997 and 2001 White Papers, and cemented in the International Development Act 2002—is the elimination of world poverty. The UK Government and DFID are fully supportive of international efforts to achieve the MDGs, and use the MDGs framework both to drive their activities and to assess their progress. The MDGs crystallise commitments made at a series of UN conferences, and encompass specific time-bound targets—for instance, to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than US$1 per day—and measurable indicators to assess progress.[5]

Figure 2: The Millennium Development Goals
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development


9. The MDGs are, primarily, sectoral outcome goals. That is, they refer to the health sector or the education sector rather than to countries or regions, and they refer to variables such as levels of child mortality, maternal health or primary education, rather than the amount of resources expended or activities performed in pursuit of a particular goal.[6] In a report prepared for us, the Overseas Development Institute suggested that the MDGs exercise direct and indirect influence over DFID's work in five ways:

·   establishing an overall global policy orientation for the Department, and enshrining this in legislation;

·   setting summary Departmental performance targets by which DFID is held accountable to Parliament and the Treasury;

·   creating an institutional structure and approach to programming (particularly at the country level) which reflects this strategic orientation and framework for performance management;

·   providing guidance to DFID staff in their attempts to promote development by influencing the goals, structures and practices of other international actors; and


·   providing a framework for monitoring DFID actions.[7]


10. DFID has played an important role in generating international support for the MDGs, and as such it makes sense for DFID's work to be framed by, as well as supportive of, the MDGs. However, care must be taken to ensure that the MDGs are not used excessively or inappropriately to drive DFID's activities and to set the framework for external accountability and monitoring.[8] As the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) put it in their recent report, the MDGs need to be used "intelligently and pragmatically" (see figure 3). It would be helpful if the Departmental Report included an explicit statement of DFID's objectives, as it has in previous years, rather than simply restating that DFID works in support of the MDGs.

Figure 3: Key issues around the "intelligent and pragmatic use" of the MDGs and associated targets and indicators[9]
Capacity: Can DFID's capacity keep pace with the management changes proposed to make DFID's organisational structure and processes more closely aligned to the MDGs?
Distortion: What are the dangers of following the MDGs? Will local development priorities be excluded?
Indicators or targets: Should the measurable indicators of the MDGs be seen as proxies of strategies that aim to achieve the spirit of the target or should they be seen as an end in themselves?
Attribution: When should attribution for DFID's actions be sought and how should it be looked for?
Reliability and comparability of data: Is it possible to make judgements about performance, DFID's contribution to aid processes and even global progress when data collection is so highly variable and progress a produce of multiple forces?

DFID's Public Service Agreement

11. DFID's organisational structure is a matrix constructed along two axes, one geographical (country programmes), and one sectoral or thematic. Objectives and goals have tended to be sectoral; resource allocations have tended to be geographical. It is left to DFID's internal institutions to integrate these two axes of organisational structure, and to ensure a good match between DFID's internal organisation and its various external relationships and responsibilities. Given its importance in shaping DFID's internal structure, its relationships with external stakeholders, and its effectiveness, it is surprising that the Departmental Report fails to outline DFID's organisational structure. We recommend that subsequent Departmental Reports do this, and as a minimal step, at least include an organisation chart.[10]

12. To achieve this internal integration and external articulation, DFID has a complex array of policies, processes and institutional structures (see figure 4). Different elements—Target Strategy Papers, Country Strategy Papers, Policy Resource Plans, Institutional Performance Reviews—are relevant to different parts of the organisation and/or different stages of the cycle of development policy and practice, but ought to fit together into a coherent whole.

13.The PSA is intended to play a key role in orientating DFID. The PSA is, primarily, DFID's statement to the UK Government about its key objectives and performance targets. DFID has had two PSAs prior to the announcement of a new PSA in July 2002, together with associated Service Delivery Agreements (SDAs) which set out what DFID will do to achieve the PSA targets, and Technical Notes which provide greater detail on individual targets and their measurement. These covered the periods 1999-2002 and 2001-2004, and set measurable targets for DFID to report against. The PSAs are included as an annex to the Departmental Report.

14.DFID's Permanent Secretary, Suma Chakrabarti, told us in evidence that: "The best description of departmental objectives are the two Public Service Agreements we have had. ... The development goals [MDGs] in some ways are the objectives underlying both those Public Service Agreements and will underlie the next one too. They are, really, the driving force behind [our] staff's work."[11] The 2001-2004 PSA links DFID's performance to progress against the MDGs by including key human development goals relating to health and education.[12] Progress against these PSA targets is then measured in the ten countries where DFID spends the majority of its resources on health and education, and hence believes it can make "a plausible link between the concentration of our financial (and human) resources in these countries and progress against the core human development outcomes".[13]

5   See Back

6   The National Audit Office sets out a model which flows from aims and objectives to resources, inputs, processes, and outputs to outcomes, and distinguishes between outputs and outcomes by example. For example, improvements to health or life expectancy are outcomes, an increase in the number of operations is an output. Outputs are subject to a range of external influences and are therefore less under the control of Departments. Measuring the performance of government departments, National Audit Office Report, Session 2000-2001, HC301, page 2.

See - Back

7   The Millennium Development Goals and the IDC [International Development Committee]: Driving and framing the Committee's work, Overseas Development Institute, July 2002, page 17. Back

8   On the use of the MDGs within DFID, see National Audit Office Report, Session 2001-2002, Department for International Development: Performance management-helping to reduce world poverty, HC739, appendix 2-A drop in the ocean? The international development targets as a basis for performance measurement by Howard White. See - for the National Audit Office Report and for the full version of the paper. Back

9   Adapted from box 2 of The Millennium Development Goals and the IDC: Driving and framing the Committee's work, ODI, July 2002, page 22. Back

10   DFID's organisation chart can be found at Back

11   Q2 Back

12   Ev 30, paragraph 27. Back

13   Ev 30, paragraph 28. Back

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Prepared 14 November 2002