Improving how government aid spending is tracked (part 2)

The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology


We’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the service from its alpha in 2019

We worked with the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology to make tracking government aid spending simpler and more transparent

It’s important to track how money is spent on aid, or Official Development Assistance by the UK Government. This has been a challenging process for delivery partners and government, and we’ve been working to create a digital service that makes this easier, more transparent and improves data quality.

We’ve just finished on our third piece of work on the beta service for reporting Official Development Assistance (RODA) with The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), formerly BEIS. We’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the service from its alpha back in 2019, and while there have been lots of different people involved over that time, it’s been satisfying to see the continuity of approach to get the service to where it is today.

The problems we were solving this time

1. A new fund

Since we first built the service, the government decided to close the Newton and Global Challenges Research Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds and replaced them with an International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF).

We’ve added new funds in previous phases, but this one needed to accommodate reporting activities that may have both ODA and non-ODA funding.

That meant creating a new user journey that would allow for creating and reporting against activities that had both types of funding, linked.

2. Making it easier to meet transparency goals

The DSIT team has an obligation to report data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). We’ve provided XML downloads for this in the past, but there were still things that took some manual effort to provide.

3. Improving the annual fund performance metrics

The reporting in RODA has been about activity and financials so far. There’s also an annual job to collect fund performance data. The new fund demanded more metrics, so this manual task was set to get much bigger.

4. Making things easier for users

The service has now had several rounds of quarterly reporting in beta production. The core support team had gathered plenty of feedback from users about their experience, and so we had a list of improvements to tackle.

What we did 

After our inception with a multidisciplinary team, we shadowed users whose job it was to report on, and quality assure, both quarterly financials and annual fund performance, then set to work understanding what needed to change for the new fund.

Details were still emerging for ISPF but, through several design collaborations, we came up with a set of new journeys for creating and reporting activities through the interface and in a bulk upload. We cloned and expanded on the existing fund and then tested the journey, prototype and staging versions with users. We shipped a minimum viable product by the target date of the end of 2022, and then iterated it in response to user feedback through the first quarter of 2023.

We added a new ‘original commitment figure’ field that was previously being calculated manually for the IATI transparency report. We replaced a static Word document with a collaborative spreadsheet for the annual fund metrics, and recommended a broader piece of service design with alignment and collaboration across Partner Organisations, to make sure that good data is coming in from the source.

As can happen, the scope of the improvement work shifted as we learned more. We shipped a wide variety of improvements to the service in response to users’ needs, including:

  • tagging, so that fund managers can quickly pull out tranches of data in themes
  • a way of clearly showing historical revisions to budgets in the interface
  • more informative statuses for the reporting quality assurance
  • an improved view of historical reports
  • more consistency between bulk uploads, with more helpful support messaging in the interface

What’s next

As the work went on, it emerged that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has paused all but essential ODA spending. In practice, this means that while we’d expected to have live activities with both ODA and non-ODA funding to use the new fund features in April 2023, this is likely to be paused until later.

It also means that an application name change is on the horizon.

We’re delighted to have won another support and development contract with DSIT and in the next tranche of work later in the year, we hope to be able to refine the service based on user’s experiences, as well as tackle some new challenges, including the name change.