UK Aid, accountability and optimal logo placement

DFID has just produced a new version of its UK Aid logo. While there is general grumbling about the jingoistic addition of the Union Jack and its similarity to the USAID logo – the current iteration is not vastly different than the original – introduced three years ago (one of the first things I blogged about) by the previous government.

These sort of emblems have always made me uneasy. When I worked as a civil servant in Malawi, my printer was branded with a “from the American people” sticker (as was my USB stick). The presence of the sticker made me feel like I should be worshipping some unseen god who delivered me office supplies which only ran on 120 volts.

Douglas Alexander, DFID’s last minister under the Labour government, once said¬†that he wished every DFID-funded classroom would have some notice telling children and their parents that the UK was responsible, and that this would help accountability. The rest of us¬†ridiculed¬†that idea, dismissing it as a Trojan horse for self-promotion.

However, perhaps Mr. Alexander was correct in his assumption that¬†emblazoning¬†everything with “UK Aid” could – in theory – increase accountability. If DFID funded something which utterly failed, then it would be incredibly obvious to everyone around. Just one photo of a derelict Union Jack-stamped school would make for pretty poor press. This might create incentives to make aid more effective.

Yet, if the folks at DFID realize this and are rational – instead of trying to be more effective, it’s much easier just to be more careful with sticker placement. Put stickers on high-profile, “successful” ventures (think bags of food rather than say, good governance) and avoid putting stickers on anything that looks like it might fail. So DFID won’t need to be more effective, just more discerning with their stickers.

3 thoughts on “UK Aid, accountability and optimal logo placement

  1. Thom

    June 27, 2012 at 7:23pm

    I’ve always thought that actually writing the word ‘Aid’ on the side of anything is slightly odd. From the end-user/recipient perspective, I imagine it’s fairly dispiriting to be constantly reminded that you are receiving ‘Aid’. Better simply to write, “Supplied by the UK’ or some such?
    ps. I very aware that not everyone is an English speaker, nor in fact does everyone recognise the UK perhaps it’s a moot point.

  2. Sam Gardner

    July 24, 2012 at 8:23pm

    It is funny how the UK-people find the branding of the UK important.

    A few elements not yet mentioned:
    Branding is taking ownership. For sustainable results the community, the local institutions, the government should take ownership. Branding diminishes sustainability.
    Branding by the UK can show where de UK taxpayers’ money goes to a some farmers in Nigeria, but can they add it all up? How can they see the big picture? is it useful? In any case, the branding assures the Burundese villagers the project was not funded with their own taxes. At least there is this reassurance.
    Branding towards the rural population in Niger is not very effective for getting the UK minister re-elected. What works is press campaigns and orchestrated visits (putting the flag up when they visit).
    Branding with logo’s of our aid is against most of the important principles the minister cherishes.

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