PUBLICATIONS: Rhetoric vs. Reality: The Best and Worst of Aid Agency Practices

By William Easterly and Claudia WilliamsonWorld Development, Vol. 39, No. 11, pp. 1930-1949 October 2011

Foreign aid critics, supporters, recipients, and donors have produced eloquent rhetoric on the need for better aid practices—has this translated into reality? This paper attempts to monitor the best and worst of aid practices among bilateral, multilateral, and UN agencies. We create aid practice measures based on aid transparency, specialization, selectivity, ineffective aid channels, and overhead costs. We rate donor agencies from best to worst on aid practices. We find that the UK does well among bilateral agencies, the US is below average, and Scandinavian donors do surprisingly poorly. The biggest difference is between the UN agencies, who mostly rank in the bottom half of donors, and everyone else. Average performance of all agencies on transparency, fragmentation, and selectivity is still very poor. The paper also assesses trends in best practices over time—we find modest improvement in transparency and more in moving away from ineffective channels. However, we find no evidence of improvements (and partial evidence of worsening) in specialization, fragmentation, and selectivity, despite escalating rhetoric to the contrary.

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UPDATE: The AidSpeak Dictionary

By William Easterly This is a sampling of actual posts on Twitter that I requested (@bill_easterly) last weekend for “decodings of aid/development jargon” .  Inspiration was from 40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clichés and Euphemisms Decoded. I don’t necessarily endorse any implied viewpoint, if any.

“beneficiaries” : the people who make it possible for us to be paid by other people @monanicoara

“bottom-up” : don’t ask someone what might work, just make something up instead @thejoeturner

“baseline” : a point which is so low that positive results are the only possible outcome @ANLevine

“accountability for results”: we keep all our promises by  issuing new promises @bill_easterly

“bottoms-up development”: downing single-malt whiskey in one shot at Davos @Arvind11d123

“civil society involvement”: consulting the middle class employee of aUS or European NGO @dangay

 “community capacity building” : teach them what they already know @fauvevivre

“demand-driven approach”: you create the demand and then you respond to it

“empowerment” : what is left when all the quantifiable variables give non significant results @MarianaSarastiM

“entrepreneurial” : vaguely innovative and cool, but definitely nothing to do with the hated “market” @jselanikio

“experienced aid practitioner” : has large number of air miles in account @thejoeturner

“expert” : I read a book about the place on the plane @savo_heleta

“field experience” :  I can’t bear DC anymore @MarianaSarastiM

“gender” : counting how many women attend your meeting @liamswiss

“Global North” : White academics; “Global South” : Indian academics  @Isla_Misty

“innovation” : we’re sexy, you want to be associated with us @DarajaTz

“leverage” : we’re not paying for all of this @katelmax

“low overhead” : volunteers run headquarters @thejoeturner

“low-hanging fruit”:  we were already going to achieve this anyway @Global_ErinH

“mainstreaming” : forgetting @swampcottage

“microfinance” : not as good as sub-prime lending @lippytak

“meetings” : our grant said we had to host an event @Global_ErinH

“per diem”: what we have to pay local officials to attend our meetings @Afrophile

“participatory stakeholders” : people who should solve their own problems @UCGHR

“participation” : the right to agree with preconceived projects or programs @edwardrcarr

“partnering with other institutions” : we’re raising barriers to entry @JustinWolfers

“political will” :  I have no comprehension of the incentives faced by the people who I wish would do stuff I want @m_clem

“practical solutions” : photogenic solutions @thejoeturner

“pro-poor” : the rich know best @james_tooley

“RCT” : research method yielding same results as qualitative work at 10 times the cost –@texasinafrica

“rent-seaking behavior” : everything not nailed to the floor will be stolen- @charcoalproject

“outreach” : intrude @langtry_girl

“ownership” : we held a workshop @dangay

“raise awareness” :  no measurable outcome @jonathan_welle

“scale-up” :  It’s time for follow on grant @HunterHustus

“sensitize” : tell people what to do @zw1tscher

“sustainable” : will last at least as long as the funding @thejoeturner

“tackling root causes of poverty” : repackaging what we’ve already done in a slightly more sexy font @thejoeturner

“UN Goals”: making up targets for problems we don’t understand paid for with money we don’t have @jacobhorner

Notes: I have done some very minor editing for spelling and clarity. 

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