From 2010 onwards, value for money (VfM) became an increasingly important watchword for British aid. In recent years, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) made progress in integrating adaptive management as a way of working more effectively on complex problems. A number of prominent reports have identified tensions between these two agendas, including a 2018 review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. The report found the emphasis in DFID on controlling costs and holding implementers accountable for efficient delivery may be suitable for more straightforward projects. But it can be problematic when used as a guide to VfM in complex situations, where teams need to test and learn to determine which combination of inputs and outputs produces the best results for the investment.
This paper finds that if VfM analysis and measurement is to continue to be a key part of how aid programmes are managed and assessed, it should be done well, and in a way that takes account of complexity. If it cannot be done well, it should be avoided or minimised.