Official bilateral and multilateral aid to developing countries is known as Official Development Assistance (ODA) and is defined and measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD reported that in 2016 worldwide development aid stood at a record high of $142.6bn, which was a nine percent increase on the previous year. Despite the overall increase in aid however, the amount of bilateral (country to country) aid to the least developed countries in 2016 actually decreased. 

UN peacekeeping soldiers collect supplies from Tebnine hospital to deliver to people in Lebanon. Credit: Jenny Matthews / Panos

In the UK the Government committed to meeting the United Nations target of spending 0.7 percent of the country’s GNI on aid and passed a bill in 2015 that enshrined the target in law. However how this 0.7% is spent is important, particularly as it is disbursed across a greater number of Government Departments.  The focus of spending should remain poverty alleviation.  According to the OECD, other countries that met the UN’s 0.7 percent target in 2016 also included Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

Aid and its effectiveness is a hotly contested issue, particularly around how countries best use ODA to tackle the unprecedented and interconnected challenges that the world currently faces - poverty, inequalities, environmental degradation and climate change, mass migration, pandemic diseases, instability and conflict - and in building resilience to crisis.

IDS aims to provide research for evidence-based policy making for international aid and development, and contribute to innovation, practice and transparency regarding aid, working with global research partners.


Brazil and International Development Cooperation

Brazil is a founding member of the BRICS group, Latin America's largest economy and the world's sixth-largest economy. The Rising Powers in International Development (RPID) programme is looking at Brazil's growing role in the field of international development cooperation. More details

China and International Development Cooperation

China is now the African continent's biggest trading partner, and also involved in a wide range of development cooperation projects including in agriculture, health and social policy. The Rising Powers in International Development Programme is looking at the growing role of China in the field of international development cooperation. More details

Critical Research Social Justice and International Aid

Seminar series for inter-disciplinary discussions on the relationship between research, aid and social justice More details

Digital Development: IDS and DFAT InnovationXchange collaboration

This six month collaboration between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's InnovationXchange (iXc) and the Digital and Technology cluster will strengthen DFAT’s capability to appropriately use technology to more effectively deliver aid outcomes, building on its existing expertise and experience. More details

Ebola Response Anthropology Platform

Anthropologists from around the world providing advice on how to engage with crucial socio-cultural and political dimensions of the Ebola outbreak and build locally-appropriate interventions. More details

Ebola: Lessons for development

IDS researchers argue that there is an urgent need to look beyond the immediate, on-the-ground concerns of disease control and containment to consider the bigger and broader questions about international development. More details


GSDRC provide high quality, timely knowledge products to support international development planning, policymaking and other activities area. This includes a document library, a research helpdesk and email bulletins More details

HEART (Health and Education Advice and Resource Team)

HEART is a consortium of leading organisations in international development, health, nutrition, education, social protection and WASH. More details

India and International Development Cooperation

Trade and investment linkages between India and the African continent have been growing rapidly, and recently, its role providing foreign assistance has become more prominent. The Rising Powers in International Development Programme is looking at the growing role of India in the field of international development cooperation. More details

Public Perceptions of International Development in the UK

With the world economy in a major downturn, the stakes for developing countries could not be higher. Public support for international development and aid will play a key role. But is there a domestic consensus on the UK's role in international development and what are its contours? More details

Russia and International Development Cooperation

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was redefined as an aid recipient, but in 2007, it officially signalled its intention to reverse this role. The Rising Powers in International Development Programme is looking at the growing role of Russia in the field of international development cooperation More details

Strengthening the Capacity of the International Poverty Reduction Center in China for South-South Cooperation

This project, funded by the Chinese Government's Ministry Of Commerce, is aimed at addressing how IDA is given to developing countries (particularly Africa) and if there are ways of improving China's development assistance to create opportunities for independent development. More details

The New Bottom Billion

New IDS research shows that the global poverty 'problem' is changing. There is a new 'bottom billion' of 960m poor people or 72 per cent of the world's poor who live not in poor countries but in middle-income countries (MICs). More details

View all Research Theme's publications

Use this search to display this theme's publications and filter by journal, author, country and much more.

IDS Policy Briefing

The New Dynamics of Aid: Power, Procedures and Relationships

IDS Policy Briefing 15 (2001)

Effective poverty reduction requires narrowing the gap between words and actions, making trust and accountability real within and between organisations, at all levels and between all actors. Aid agencies today are shifting emphasis from projects and service delivery to a language of rights and governance. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Questioning Partnership: The Reality of Aid and NGO Relations

IDS Bulletin 31.3 (2000)

This IDS Bulletin issue, prepared by IDS alumni, takes a critical look at the concept of 'partnership' in today's official aid system. It does so from the perspective of non-governmental organisations involved in third world development (NGOs) that are directly or indirectly related to aid thinking, policy, practice and financing. More details

IDS Discussion paper

Foreign Aid, Democratisation and Civil Society in Africa: A Study of South Africa, Ghana and Uganda

IDS Discussion Paper 368 (1999)

The 1990s have seen increased interest on the part of Western governments in funding civil society in Africa in an attempt to promote the continent's democratisation process. This discussion paper examines how a range of foreign donors has developed civil society initiatives in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. More details

IDS Discussion paper

Famine in the Sudan: Causes, Preparedness and Response. A Political, Social and Economic Analysis of the 1998 Bahr el Ghazal Famine

IDS Discussion Paper 369 (1999)

This paper analyses the causes of the Bahr el Ghazal famine in 1998 as a chain of political, environmental, economical and social factors, as well as a failure of public action and early warning systems. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Evaluating Programme Aid

IDS Bulletin 27.4 (1996)

Programme aid (import support, budgetary support and debt relief) has become an important form of aid in recent years. Unlike conventional project aid, there is no agreed evaluation methodology for these funds. More details

IDS Working Paper

Programme Aid as an Appropriate Policy Response to Drought

IDS Working Paper 34 (1996)

This paper puts forward the argument for programme aid as a policy response to drought. It suggests its importance lies in the initial impact of the aid transfer, and in the additional opportunities thereby made available to carry out strategic policy. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Poverty, Policy and Aid

IDS Bulletin 27.1 (1996)

The World Bank's new strategy for poverty reduction was launched in the World Development Report of 1990. This issue of the Bulletin re-examines the Bank's new poverty agenda focusing on three key issues: the meaning and measurement of poverty, the interaction of poverty and domestic policy, and aid and poverty reduction. More details

Does European Aid Work? An Ethiopian Case Study

IDS Working Paper 46 (1996)

The future of European aid is being hotly debated. This paper presents the results of a major evaluation of EU aid to Ethiopia over the period from 1976 to 1994. It concludes that the effectiveness of aid has varied. Some, perhaps most, 'worked', but some did not - for reasons partly internal to Ethiopia and partly internal to the EU. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Ownership in the Finnish Aid Programme: Report of Evaluation Study

The 'ownership agenda' is concerned with the question of who controls and influences aid projects. The objective is to improve the quality of aid by giving more influence to the intended 'end users': both people and institutions in recipient rather than donor nations, and the unorganised poor in recipient nations rather than organised (government) bureaucracies. More details

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BLOG: Defending UNCTAD’s dissenting voice

01 May 2012
By Carlos Fortin

Aid: Cheap tricks or Compelling evidence?

23 Apr 2012
By Mick Moore
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