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.