Supporting civil service improvements in low- and middle-income countries: lessons from an evaluation of the ODI Fellowship Scheme

Supporting civil service improvements in low- and middle-income countries: lessons from an evaluation of the ODI Fellowship Scheme


Civil servants in low and middle-income countries often work in challenging environments where human and financial resources are constrained. In these circumstances governments often struggle to attract and retain enough high-quality civil servants with specialist skills, which limits their capacity to design and deliver vital policies and public services. The ODI Fellowship Scheme provides technical assistance to support the professional development of civil servants and targets specific gaps in technical skills. It does so by recruiting and placing skilled economists and statisticians to government departments in low- and middle-income countries for 2-year fellowships. Since the scheme was established in 1963, over 1,000 Fellows have been posted to government departments in more than 40 countries.

Purpose of the evaluation: 

Our external evaluation of the Scheme, the first in over a decade, covered all fellowships between 2015 and 2020 and evaluated how effectively the scheme contributes to sustainable capacity building. We revised the Scheme’s theory of change and assessed the strength of evidence for different components of it. We compared its delivery model with other similar capacity building schemes, assessed the Scheme’s approach to safeguarding, and benchmarked its approach to diversity and inclusion against best practice.


Our approach was theory-based, mixed-methods and participatory, and our methods included an extensive desk review, two online surveys, four country case studies and 120 interviews with managers of the scheme, current and former Fellows, their colleagues in recipient countries and a diverse range of external stakeholders.

What did we find? 

Overall, we found the Scheme continues to be highly relevant; Fellows address a wide variety of skills gaps and capacity constraints, and strengthen the capacity of their host organisations. The Scheme also has an unmatched ability to prepare Fellows for influential roles in development. We found that the Scheme’s delivery model on the whole works well but identified several key areas for improvement. These include:

  • Broadening its advertising and outreach to under-represented groups;
  • Identifying and directing more resources towards posts where Fellows can excel in their roles;
  • Taking a more active role in the line management and performance management of Fellows;
  • Providing both Fellows and their colleagues with access to resources, technical support, and learning from past fellowships.

Impact of the evaluation:

FCDO’s External Quality Assurance and Learning Service (EQuALs) rated the report as Excellent and gave it a total quality score of 94% noting it was “one of the best evaluation reports [they] have seen from the point of view of clear organisation, robust methods, thorough explanation, and sensible recommendations.” This high-quality report was very well received by FCDO and provided them with rigorous evidence and timely feedback on the performance of the Scheme ahead of key future funding decisions.

Further reading:

A detailed explanation of our methodology and analysis, together with the full findings of our report are found in our Final Evaluation Report. The main findings of the evaluation are summarised in the report’s Executive Summary. We also produced a short Learning Brief to share findings from the evaluation with those who participated in it, and to disseminate more widely the lessons we learned.


6 May 2021

3 minute read

Key Experts

Angus Elsby

Research Manager

Joe St Clair

Senior Evaluation Consultant