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Combining value for money with increased aid to fragile states: welcome partnership or clash of agendas?


This article examines the origins and main strands of recent debates within the international development community regarding the tensions between increasing aid allocation to so-called ‘fragile states’ and growing domestic and international pressure for donors to demonstrate measurable results and returns on their investments. With particular reference to the UK context, the paper examines how the confluence of these two agendas is being viewed, at least publicly, and some of the main arguments that have been put forward about why they may be difficult to pursue simultaneously. It asks whether or not it is feasible that donors will explicitly seek to address and resolve the apparent trade-offs between these two agendas, and concludes that in both international and domestic political arenas, ‘good enough’ aid effectiveness, or a more nuanced, ‘developmentised’ understanding of value for money, are unlikely to become palatable or politically viable any time soon.

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  1. We recognise that the term ‘fragile states’ is in question and has been widely criticised as normative [20], with some experts moving towards the alternative of ‘countries in situations of conflict and fragility’. Nevertheless, we use ‘fragile states’ here because it remains more widely used in development circles at the time of writing. The OECD’s own definition characterises fragile states as: 'unable to meet [their] population’s expectations or manage changes in expectations and capacity through the political process' [17].

  2. The full DFID press release can be viewed at: Accessed on 29/11/11

  3. The ICAI will use a traffic light system to score the value for money of DFID programmes.

  4. At the beginning of a blog post looking to explain ‘what a theory of change looks like’, Oxfam’s Duncan Green wrote: ‘…in the last few months, “theories of change” has gone viral as a new development fuzzword. In meetings and documents, people earnestly enquire “what’s your theory of change?” and you’re in trouble if you don’t have an answer. (Quite a good answer is “could you just explain what you mean by theory of change?” - people often have no idea)’ [10]. For one of the most interesting overviews of development ‘buzzwords and fuzzwords’, see Cornwall [5].

  5. The ‘aid effectiveness’ agenda is primarily advocated by OECD donors, but there is also need to recognize the emergence of new donors in the global aid market. For a discussion of aid effectiveness principles and non-DAC donors, see Scott et al. [29].

  6. The Paris Declaration is organized around five key themes: ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for development result, and mutual accountability [23].

  7. The online transcript can be accessed at

  8. Andrew Mitchell speaking on the BBC Breakfast Show, 20 October 2011.

  9. Here we borrow the phrase ‘good enough’ from Merilee Grindle [12] who advocated an approach to governance reforms that advocated a slimming down of the donor agenda and a focus on what is feasible.


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The authors would like to thank OLAF for its generous support in being able to present this paper at the III ANCORAGE-NET Biannual Meeting on ‘Protecting Aid Funds in Unstable Governance Environments: Towards an Integrated Strategy’, Lisbon, Portugal, 18-19 May 2010. We are also grateful to Professor Richard Batley and Dr Michael Hubbard for comments on an earlier draft, as well as very helpful comments from two anonymous referees. Of course, any weaknesses in the paper remain with the authors.

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Correspondence to Zoë Scott.

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Scott, Z., Mcloughlin, C. & Marquette, H. Combining value for money with increased aid to fragile states: welcome partnership or clash of agendas?. Crime Law Soc Change 58, 509–519 (2012).

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  • Front Line Staff
  • Fragile State
  • Paris Declaration
  • Public Service Expenditure
  • Public Account Committee