What does Value for Money at a country level look like?

Our independent evaluator, Itad, is evaluating whether the Fleming Fund investments at the country level offer Value for Money (VFM), as one of six evaluation questions. To inform their approach, Itad reviewed some common practices used to assess and achieve VFM in grant management and fellowship programmes.

The findings of the review have helped Itad to optimise its approach to assessing the VFM of the Fleming Fund investments at the country level, and will also be useful to people interested in grant management and fellowships.

VFM has been described in many ways, including “the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes”(i). It is generally agreed that VFM is an approach that guarantees an explicit commitment to ensuring the best results possible are obtained from the money spent.

Whether a fellowship or a grant, VFM can be assessed at every phase of a programme life cycle, from pre-award/design and mobilisation/administration to post-award/implementation and close-out stage. During the implementation stage, for example, VFM processes should include involvement of the beneficiaries in decision making about interventions, consistent and timely reporting of financial activities and programme performance, and procurement and financial policies that guide decision making. For donors that have specific VFM requirements, implementing partners may be required to share a VFM strategy and VFM indicators (ii, iii).

Examples of VFM in fellowship programmes

Itad’s review of VFM in fellowship programmes sourced documents from WHO, USAID and FCDO fellowship sites and from databases for peer-reviewed publications and independently published documents. Overall, the review found 11 fellowship programmes that reported some VFM practice along the programme life cycle (see Box 1).

Box 1: Examples of Fellowship Programmes that report VFM practice in the programme lifecycle (websites and publications)

The reviewers found limited evidence from these fellowship programmes on how VFM is being achieved and demonstrated but did identify some common ways that VFM is being embedded in processes like procurement, application, proposal assessment, programme review and evaluation. The lack of specific studies about VFM of fellowship programmes means that these cannot be described as ‘best practices’ i.e. the most effective. Instead, they are a set of ‘common practices’ of how some fellowship initiatives are integrating and embedding VFM into the programme cycle, particularly the pre-award/design and post-award/implementation stages.

Cost-sharing with partners, for example, was perceived as an opportunity to get buy-in from partners and ensure sustainability (iv). In the case of ODI fellowships, 72% of the total fellowship funding came from the then Department for International Development , with the remainder coming from the partner country. USAID used an innovative solicitation method to identify and ultimately select organisations to enter into cooperative agreements to implement the fellowship programme. Finally, the practice of routinely monitoring inputs, outputs and outcomes with recommendations generated to improve implementation, (as seen in the Danida Fellowship programme, for example) provides fellowship programmes with an opportunity for learning.

Examples of VFM in grant management

The review of VFM in grant management aimed to obtain an overview of VfM in grant funds and identify evidence-based elements of good practice to achieving VFM in the delivery of international development grant programmes. The reviewers looked for evaluations of programmes or public funds from WHO, USAID, FCDO and ActionAid and added to these papers cited in the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) 2018 performance review (v) that assessed DFID’s approach to VFM.

From the literature available, Itad identified around 25 elements from 13 organisation’s approaches to achieving VFM and the reviewers observed that these echo the general principles of good practice in grant management. As with the review of VFM and fellowship programmes, the practices identified in this review would be better referred to as ‘common practices’ rather than ‘best practices’. The three most used practices were identifying strategic priorities and providing a clear term of reference (at pre-award stage) and, at the close-out stage, including an effective evaluation to appraise progress against the stated goals and cost-effectiveness.

Other elements commonly used included evidence-based interventions and cost-effectiveness analysis at pre-award stage, agreed results and budget at award stage and providing grantees with support with monitoring finances and results at the post-award stage . These common practices have been incorporated into the Fleming Fund Evaluation value for money assessment framework.

i. HM Treasury, (2004), Regularity, Propriety and Value for Money

ii. ActionAid (2013), Action for Children’s Rights in Education

iii. Skill acquisition programme in Nepal

iv. World Meteorological Organization, (WMO) Fellowship and USAID Research and Innovation Fellowship Program.

v. Independent Commission for Aid Impact, (2018), DFID’s approach to value for money in programme and portfolio management: A performance review

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