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Rita Perakis

On November 29th, aid donor and recipients will convene in Busan, South Korea at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. In this week’s Wonkcast, I speak with Homi Kharas, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Rita Perakis, program coordinator at the Center for Global Development, about the new 2011 Brookings-CGD Quality of Official Development Assistance assessment (QuODA) and how it can help to hold donors accountable to their own aid effectiveness pledges.

Homi explains that he and Nancy Birdsall began work on QuODA after aid effectiveness forums in Paris and Accra drew international attention to the importance of aid quality. Previously the debate had focused almost entirely on quantity and how well recipients used aid, rather than the problems and opportunities in how the aid was delivered.

“In QuODA what we've done is pick up those elements of quality which are really in the hands of donors and donor agencies, and try to measure them in a quantitative way to say how well donors are doing in meeting these commitments,” he says.

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I ask Homi and Rita to explain QuODA’s four dimensions: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing burden, and transparency and learning. They explain the core idea and a few of the underlying indicators for each dimension. We then discuss how some of the biggest donors—the United States, the EU, and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) perform.

Overall, Homi says, progress since the first QuODA in 2010 has been modest and mixed, with the largest improvements seen in transparency and learning—the dimension that corresponds to donors releasing information about their activities and demonstrating a commitment to evaluation and learning.

“At Accra, there was a major push to impose international standards of aid reporting,” said Kharas. Such data, he says, is crucial if the international community is to undertake “hard-nosed, quantitative evaluations to look at the impact of donor projects and then build on what works and try to avoid what doesn’t.”

Among aid donors, the United States ranks relatively poorly in all areas except transparency and learning, a major thrust of recent work at USAID. The Millennium Challenge Corp., a U.S. aid agency set up in 2004 to incorporate principles of aid effectiveness, fares better overall in the QuODA rankings than does the US as a whole. IDA is consistently one of the strongest performers.

"By benchmarking countries and agencies against their peers, I hope that QuODA can show what is possible and feasible, not just what is theoretically desirable,” Homi says.

At the end of the Wonkcast, Rita tells how QuODA will be shared in Busan, via electronic slides in the “knowledge and innovation space” and in a presentation on December 1. Homi and Rita both expect that the rankings in QuODA will contribute to improvements in aid quality.

“Busan is going to be an important milestone in advancing the aid effectiveness agenda,” says Homi. “It is true that aid is only one instrument in development, but it is large and very visible and can be potent. If we can improve the quality of aid, we can make a significant difference in the lives of poor people.”