Integrity’s Senior MEL Expert, Kathryn Rzeszut, wraps up work on ICAI’s Syria Review

Kathryn Rzeszut, one of Integrity’s Senior MEL Experts, has recently wrapped up her work on the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) review of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) humanitarian aid in Syria. Since 2015, Integrity has been a part of a consortium that supplies a range of technical, management and systems expertise to ICAI to support its nearly 12 reviews of UK aid per year. Kathryn is one of many experts that Integrity has provided to ICAI over the past four years. She was the Team Leader for the Syria Review which concluded last year and returned to the role in January 2019 to lead the Review’s follow-up process.

The UK government’s assistance to Syrians impacted by the violent conflict in their country is substantial. Since 2012, the UK government has provided over £2.8 billion in humanitarian assistance. At a donor meeting in Brussels on 14 March 2019, the UK reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the neediest Syrians by pledging an additional £100 million, on top of the £300 million it already allocated to the Syrian response for Fiscal Year 2019. ICAI’s review of this aid plays an important role in ensuring accountability and transparency. It published its findings in a publicly available report on 24 May 2018 and provided testimony to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) at a hearing on 18 July 2018.

Kathryn joined the Syria Review team as Team Leader at the conclusion of the design phase in September 2017, helping to finalise the analytical framework and data collection tools. Under her guidance, the Review engaged Integrity’s research team in Syria to gather the perspectives of Syrian aid recipients and their communities—a unique component amongst ICAI reviews.

Working closely with the ICAI Chief Commissioner, Alison Evans, Kathryn shepherded the review team through 607 interviews in five countries. Kathryn led the analysis and drafting process, collaborating with the consortium’s lead quality assurer to deliver the review’s findings in a well-received report. She also supported the Chief Commissioner during the subsequent testimony on the Review’s findings at the IDC hearing.

Integrity’s Senior MEL Expert, Kathryn Rzeszut, wraps up work on ICAI’s Syria Review

At the beginning of this year, Kathryn returned to lead the final element of the Review, the follow-up process. Occurring a year after a report is published, the follow-up assesses the extent to which DFID has progressed on management actions it had agreed to take in response to the Review’s recommendations and problem statements. Working closely with the ICAI Secretariat, Kathryn conducted interviews with DFID staff and external stakeholders in the UK, Turkey and Lebanon. These interviews informed the findings in a briefing note submitted to the Review’s new Commissioner Richard Gledhill, and guided ICAI’s discussion at a progress meeting with the DFID Syria management team.

Kathryn shared several key take-aways from her experience working on the ICAI review. She cited the importance of ensuring the right balance of expertise on the team: “I’d been working on the Syrian response since September 2014, but on stabilisation programming, which operates quite differently,” she said. “My current knowledge of the context and experience with the response was complemented by the Review team’s two humanitarian advisors, Glyn Taylor, who had extensive experience working with humanitarian responses in complex crises particularly with DFID, and Peter Geisen, who had been involved in the Syrian response for quite some time and knew how the humanitarian delivery partners were working. Together, we were able to distil the main strategic and operational challenges DFID grapples with, enabling the Review’s Commissioner to engage in productive discussions about them in interviews with DFID staff.”

Kathryn highlighted the use of primary data collected with aid recipients and the nuance that brought to the Review’s findings. “This was the first time that an ICAI review methodology included data from communities and aid recipients, so it was something new for the Commission and we had to demonstrate its value,” she said. These perspectives from Syrians provided valuable triangulation and helped to demonstrate—even if on a small scale—some of the changes that UK aid had made in recipients’ lives and in their communities.

Engagement with the people in the communities where we work is a cornerstone of Integrity’s work. It was gratifying to be able to incorporate Syrian voices into the ICAI review.

– Kathryn Rzeszut

Kathryn pointed to one of the Review’s findings about DFID’s use of data to inform their humanitarian aid, an element which the ICAI Chief Commissioner, Alison Evans, also highlighted in a January 2018 interview with Devex. Kathryn said, “One of the most interesting elements of DFID’s response was their move towards aggregating all of the information about humanitarian needs they could find and using that to inform and evidence their decisions.”

In the early phase of the Syrian crisis, most of the humanitarian assistance had been concentrated in government-held areas, excluding large areas of the country that were controlled by various opposition groups. Kathryn explained, “Along with NGOs working in opposition areas, DFID and other donors were able to demonstrate that many of the people in severest need weren’t being reached. Their collaborative advocacy efforts resulted in a UN resolution to allow cross-border humanitarian support and really changed the response. DFID has continued to use data to identify the places where people are in the most severe need and to direct their support there. This approach has the potential to impact on how the UK responds to other complex and protracted humanitarian crises.”

“It was a privilege to lead the team on this Review,” Kathryn concluded. “I was constantly aware that the UK’s response to Syria is so significant—not just in terms of funding, but also staff time and effort. I felt a tremendous responsibility to provide an accurate assessment of the results of that commitment.”

Find out more about current and past Integrity projects here or read about Kathryn’s recent move to our US Office.

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