Do Performance Measures of Donors' Aid Allocation Underperform?


  • I am pleased to acknowledge the support of the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number PTA-026-27-2842). I am grateful to Oliver Morrissey, Christopher Kilby, Arjan Verschoor and Edward Anderson for helpful comments on an early draft of this manuscript. Thanks are also due to David Roodman and Claudia Williamson for comments and their gracious input in, for example, confirming the formulas and sample used in their measures.


Indices of donor performance abound. Their recent popularity has occurred within the context of pessimism over aid's impact and optimism over the effect of changes in donor behaviour. Rankings of donor allocative performance aim to change donor behaviour, either through direct pressure on governments or indirectly through public engagement. The indices themselves rely on descriptive measures, and typically claim methodological superiority over positive alternatives due to their simplicity. However, there are two problems. First, measures do not seem robust to simple variations in methodology. Second, correlation amongst competing indices is low, leading to a host of contradictory judgements. This offers neither clear technical guidance nor consistent political pressure. The advantages and disadvantages of the approach are discussed, building upon the more general critique of aggregate indices. I suggest a graphical solution that embraces the advantages of the descriptive approach (including ease of public communication) while avoiding some of its major weaknesses (which typically stem from aggregation).