United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK), one of the largest providers of official development assistance (ODA) for data and statistics, champions internationally the need for more and better financing for development data. It provides funding and technical assistance to support statistical capacity in partner countries and engages in strategic partnerships for effective policy and co-ordination of support to data and statistics for development. The United Kingdom’s ODA to data and statistics aims to improve institutional and technical capacity by supporting comprehensive national strategies for the development of statistics with a geographic focus in its direct bilateral ODA on partner countries in East Africa and South Asia.

According to OECD data and research,1 the United Kingdom invested USD 55 million per year (at 2018 prices) in data and statistics in its partner countries between 2017 and 2019 (Figure 1). The United Kingdom’s support to data and statistical capacity in developing countries has been implemented mainly by the Department for International Development (DfID), now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) after a merger in 2020 with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is delivered mainly through FCDO country offices, through the FCDO’s central team and through other government agencies such as the Office for National Statistics. There are three main strands to the FCDO’s approach: 1) international engagement around more and better financing for development data; 2) in-country and centrally managed programmes to support statistical capacity in partner countries; and 3) strategic partnerships for effective policy and co-ordination.

The FCDO is keen on using data for effective decision making and to ensure transparency. In 2017, a Decision and Data Use Landscaping study was commissioned to analyse how FCDO teams manage, access, analyse and use internal and external data and to further inform its strategic approach to data. The FCDO also stands out for its cadre of over 60 statistics advisers, which are based both at its headquarters and in country offices. The statistics advisers are also members of the United Kingdom’s Government Statistical Service, a community for all civil servants working in the collection, production and communication of official statistics.

According to OECD data, nearly two-thirds of the United Kingdom’s support to data and statistics between 2016 and 2018 were delivered through multilateral channels such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Partnership in Statistics in the 21st Century (PARIS21), the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank and foundations such as the Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development Data. The UNFPA and the World Bank jointly account for one-third of the United Kingdom’s spend. The United Kingdom’s partner countries are concentrated in East Africa and South Asia and, in line with its focus on fragile and conflict-affected states, a high share of its bilateral support was typically disbursed to fragile and conflict-affected countries.

In keeping with changes in its overall development co-operation, the United Kingdom’s support to partner countries’ statistical systems has evolved over time: broad-based statistical capacity development was a priority when the United Kingdom provided general budget support, with country offices often supporting national statistical systems to help them monitor progress towards national objectives. With the move away from general budget support starting in 2010, the focus shifted. The United Kingdom continued to support national statistical systems, but the majority of support came from centrally managed programmes with some sectoral programmes supported by country offices. There was an increase in central programmes supporting trust funds and grants to support household surveys, economic statistics, and agricultural and food security statistics. This period also saw DfID recruit additional statistical experts whose focus tended to be on working to support data for the monitoring and evaluation of projects, though this included some elements of capacity building. In recent years, the focus has shifted again. In 2020, support to national systems from the country offices is almost always part of a broader sectoral programme, while centrally managed programmes support responsible, inclusive, open data, and innovative collection and use of data.

While DfID was to remain the United Kingdom’s primary channel for aid, the United Kingdom’s 2015 Aid Strategy called for more aid to be administered by government departments other than DfID. This strategic decision is reflected by DfID’s share in the United Kingdom’s ODA to data, statistics and statistical capacity development, which, according to OECD data, accounted for about 80% of its overall commitments in this area in 2015-19, down from 93% in 2010-14. While the increasing role of other departments and agencies in supporting data and statistics in partner countries provides opportunities to deliver strong technical support, decentralised delivery of support, by central teams and country offices within the FCDO as well as other agencies, also presents additional challenges in maintaining coherence across all teams.

Between 2017 and 2019, the last three years for which data are available, gender equality and improving the availability of inclusive data in order to understand societal inequalities, in particular for marginalised groups such as people with disabilities, were key policy objectives of the United Kingdom’s ODA to data and statistics (Figure 2). Just over a third (34%) of the United Kingdom’s ODA for data statistics in developing countries aimed to improve general statistical capacity. Population data and statistics (15%), economic statistics (13%), and health and education data (both 11%) were also statistical domains that the United Kingdom supported.

Increasingly, UK actors are exploring the use of new data sources for development co-operation. The FCDO’s Frontier Technologies Hub, which was set up in 2016 to explore the potential for new technologies in international development and help FCDO officials tap into these new technologies, is exploring the potential of Big Data for international development. The Office for National Statistics is a member of the Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics. The United Kingdom also supports governments to collect, use and share geospatial data on population settlement and infrastructure through its Geo-referenced Infrastructure and Demographic Data for Development (GRID3) programme.

As a result of the United Kingdom’s significant use of multilateral channels (see next section), 42% of the United Kingdom’s support to data and statistics between 2017 and 2019 were not allocable to any specific region. Of the remaining 58%, two-thirds (66%) were allocated to Africa and about one-fourth (26%) to Asia. Partner countries were primarily countries in East Africa and South Asia (Figure 3 and Figure 4); major recipients included Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi and Uganda, but also Brazil.

In 2017-19, 48% of the United Kingdom’s ODA to data and statistics was not allocable to any specific country and, therefore, not by country income group (Figure 5). Of the remainder, more than 55% targeted low-income countries. Fragility occupies a prominent place in the United Kingdom’s Aid Strategy, with a commitment to allocate at least 50% of its support to fragile and conflict-affected states. In line with this commitment, 96% of the United Kingdom’s country-allocable ODA to data and statistics in 2018 was disbursed to countries classified as fragile (Figure 5). That share dropped to 57% in 2019 due to a significant share of the United Kingdom’s ODA to data and statistics allocated to Brazil.

In 2019, the last year for which OECD data on aid flows were available, contributions to specific programmes accounted for 47% of the United Kingdom’s ODA to statistics while project-type interventions accounted for 40% (Figure 6). The remainder is mostly accounted for by funding of experts and other technical assistance. Since 2010, project-type interventions have become more important while the share allocated to core contributions and contributions to pooled programmes and funds has decreased moderately.

Over the last ten years, the United Kingdom has been a major source of funding for multilateral initiatives (Figure 7), with an average of 60-75% of the United Kingdom’s support to statistics channelled to partner countries via multilateral organisations. Examples include the World Bank’s Statistics for Results Facility, to which the United Kingdom contributed GPB 50 million between 2010 and 2012 (in 2018 prices), and its Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building, to which it contributed GBP 45.8 million between 2011 and 2020. Other major projects and initiatives include contributions to the FAO for the strengthening of statistics in the areas of food security, agriculture and rural development (USD 25 million between 2012 and 2016; 2018 prices) and support for population statistics via the United Nations Population Fund (e.g. population censuses in Malawi, Myanmar and the United Republic of Tanzania).

However, the use of multilateral channels has become relatively less important for the United Kingdom’s data- and statistics-related aid, their share falling from 75% of gross disbursements in 2010 to 58% in 2018. At the same time, the share of disbursements channelled through non-governmental organisations, public sector entities, and research and teaching institutions has increased slightly over time.


← 1. The analysis in this profile is based on official data reported by members to the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System. It is published under the responsibility of the OECD. OECD analysts mined the database using a text search with manual curation. Where relevant, members contributed additional data to fill gaps. Please see the methodological annex for further details on the data analysis.

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