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The world’s largest and most influential providers of aid reaffirmed their commitment to transparency this year. A UN panel advising on the framework to follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) called for a “data revolution”, and G8 members specifically committed to implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the only internationally agreed standard for publishing aid information.

square_square_all_whiteTransparency is a key pillar of sustainable development, an essential piece of the puzzle to enable effectiveness, accountability and social change. In recent years, information on aid spending has slowly become more available and open. But turning transparency promises into reality can be hard.

The Aid Transparency Index (ATI) is the industry standard for assessing transparency among the world’s major donors. The ATI holds agencies to account for the delivery of their aid transparency promises, while also encouraging progress to reach those goals. This year’s results show there is a leading group of organisations publishing large amounts of useful information on their current aid activities.

The top ranking agency is the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), while China takes the last place. The MCC publishes its aid information in the IATI format, right down to results level – in contrast, there is no way to confirm even the total amount of aid provided by China.

What is most troubling, however, is that the average score for all 67 organisations is low. More telling is that 25 of these organisations scored less than 20%. That statistic is clear: no matter how many international commitments are made, no matter how many speeches there are around openness, a startling amount of organisations are still not delivering on their transparency goals.

France is the third largest donor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), spending over one billion U.S. dollars in 2011. But we could find no comprehensive listing of the country’s current aid activities for DRC – or for any other recipient country.

Similarly, Japan is the second largest donor in DRC, spending over 1.2 U.S. billion in 2011. But their database does not include basic information on the projects it’s funding, such as start or end dates of projects or their current status.

That is over USD 2 billion in aid to DRC – an aid dependent and fragile state – that remains unmonitored. And even from the information we could get, much of it was out of date, patchy and difficult to compare with that of other funders operating in DRC.

It’s not all bad though – France and Japan have both committed to publishing their aid data to IATI by 2015, as part of the G8 commitments, so there is time to correct this poor practice.

Indeed, some donors have made real progress over the past year. It is great that they have released a lot more data – but that is not enough on its own.  The development community now needs to make sure the information is as useful as possible. That is why the ATI uses a new methodology this year that assesses not just what information is published, but also the quality of that information.

For example, publishing budgets in PDFs is more transparent than not publishing them at all, but it’s not all that useful if the information is hard to access, compare and reuse. Organisations receive lower scores in the ATI for publishing in less useful formats, or for not publishing the information consistently.

In contrast, information published in a standardised, comparable format across all project and activity levels makes it possible to compare different donors’ data. This is incredibly useful. The top 27 agencies all publish at least some current information in the most useful  format. Because their data is more useful, organisations publishing in this way score higher in the ATI.

Several governments and organisations, including Canada, GAVI, Germany, UNDP, UNICEF and the U.S. Treasury have made big improvements this year, by publishing more information in accessible and comparable formats. They have effectively leapfrogged others that have not made any significant changes to the amount of information they publish, or publish in less useful formats such as websites or PDFs.

The basic principle that aid information should be publicly available in easy to use formats is now accepted as an essential component of international development – from the debates around the post-2015 framework to the hundreds of commitments made by countries involved in the Open Government Partnership.

Five years ago, when Publish What You Fund began the campaign for aid transparency, the challenge was to get organisations publishing data, in order to demonstrate how people could use this information.

Five years on, the challenge is to increase confidence in this new IATI data by encouraging donors to improve the quality and coverage of their information.

Wide-ranging use of aid information is likely to bolster donors’ resolve in constantly improving the breadth and quality of their publication, as the UK’s Department for International Development has done using IATI data for their new open data portal, the Development Tracker. Understanding how and why people use aid information will continue to be a goal for all development actors, and will mean working closely with diverse partners to make a real difference.

I’m delighted that there is a lot more data out there – now we must make it a useful weapon in the fight to end poverty.

DHM crop- Dr David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director of Publish What You Fund.

As part of Global Transparency Week 2013, the Open Aid Partnership and Publish What You Fund held a ‘Lightning Talks’ event, where speakers around the globe gave a series of short presentations demonstrating the power of using open development data to inform decisions and improve results.

The speakers in La Paz, Lilongwe, Nairobi, Kathmandu, Washington DC, and other locations connected through Hangout On Air and their lightning talks (short, 5-minute presentations) were followed online by anyone. Successful examples of aid transparency were showcased, with a focus on the geography of aid as well as country-owned data reported by partner governments.

These were all the speakers and topics, and where in the video you can see them speaking:

World Bank Group: Welcome & Introduction (0-2 min)
Marie Sheppard, Practice Manager, Innovation Labs
Rachel Winter Jones, Senior Communications Officer & Moderator

Open Aid Partnership: Putting Development on the Map (2-8 min)
Johannes Kiess, Operations Officer & Pernilla Näsfors, Development Data Specialist

Publish What You Fund: The 2013 Aid Transparency Index and Geographic Data (8-11 min)
Mark Brough, Aid Information Advisor

Bolivia: Bolivia Open Aid Map (13-16 min)
Viviana Caro Hinojosa, Minister of Development Planning, Plurinational State of Bolivia
Video: http://bit.ly/18f3tfM

Kenya: Kenya Open Aid Map (16-22 min)
Peter M. Kamau, Assistant Director, National Treasury, Government of Kenya

Q&A (22-26 min)

Honduras: Increasing Demand of Aid Information (27-31 min)
Hector Corrales, Director of International Cooperation, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation

Nepal: Nepal Aid Management Platform & Open Nepal Initiative (36-43 min)
YouTube video: http://youtu.be/2Ej-P9xROck
Madhu Kumar Marasini, Joint Secretary, IECCD, Ministry of Finance
Hum Prasad Bhandari, Information, Communication & Documentation Officer, NGO Federation of Nepal
Krishna Sapkota, Executive Director, Freedom Forum
Narayan Adhikari, Nepal Country Representative, Accountability Lab
Bibhusan Bista, CEO, Young Innovations (40-43 min)

Colombia: The reality of development cooperation at national and local level: The Colombian Experience (43-51 min)
Juanita Olarte Suescun, General Direction Adviser, Colombian Presidential Agency of International Cooperation

Malawi: Malawi Aid Management Platform and Open Development Policy Workshop (51-56 min)
Elizabeth Dodds, Aid Effectiveness Specialist, World Bank Group

AidData: Contracting and Results Geocoding Pilot in Nepal (0:57-1:03)
Owen Scott, Associate, Development Gateway

USAID: USAID GeoCenter and AidData Center for Development Policy (1:03-1:08)
Shadrock Roberts, Principal GIS Analyst

Q&A (1:08-1:16)

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): Open Data Catalogue and MCC in XML (1:16-1:19)
Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Managing Director, Development Policy

Department for International Development (DFID), UK: Development Tracker (1:19-1:23)
John Adams, Head of Business Innovation

InterAction: NGO Aid Map (1:23-1:27)
Julie Montgomery, Director for Innovation and Learning

Q&A (1:28-1:30)

Gapminder Foundation: New effort to visualize subnational data (1:30-1:38)
Fernanda Drumond, Development Data Assistant

UNDP: Opening up the United Nations (1:39-1:44)
Mark Cardwell, Chief, Online Communications

Q&A (1:44-1:57)

CCAPS & Innovations for Peace and Development, University of Texas: Sustaining and Evaluating Aid Transparency (1:58-2:04)
Kate Weaver, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin

On 1 November, we presented the findings of our 2013 ATI at the Open Government Partnership summit in London.

Watch it now:

Opening up aid flows: progress with implementing a common information standard

Ellen Miller, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation – facilitator

David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director, Publish What You Fund

John Adams, Head of IT and Innovation, Department for International Development

Oluseun Onigbinde, Co-Founder and Lead Director, BudgIT

Jan Mattsson, Executive Director, UNOPS, Secretariat of the International Aid Transparency Initiative

 

A man guards sacks of food at a food distribution centre as special envoys and diplomats arrive for a meeting to discuss the progress of a peace treaty in Darfur, at Shangli Tobay village in North Darfur (REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah).
A big hurrah to the MCC and congratulations to Treasury and USAID!  
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, is to be celebrated, not just for leading the American pack, but for coming in first in the overall global rankings.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Treasury Department are to be congratulated for showing significant improvements since 2012.
The Department of State, Department of Defense and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) clearly have a lot of catching up to do.At the policy level, the commitment and leadership of the Obama administration—through several White House directives  instructing all agencies to embrace open government and open data that is machine readable and readily usable—has been superb.
It has demonstrated it understands the value of making U.S. assistance data publicly available through the innovative Foreign Assistance Dashboard and subsequent agreement to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).Why, and for whom, is making assistance data publicly available so important?  Publicly available data:
  • Helps donors make more informed decisions, manage their programs better and coordinate their aid efforts with other donors’ assistance.
  • Enables recipient governments to know where assistance is going in their country so they can better allocate their own budget resources.
  • Allows citizens to be better informed on government decisions and therefore better able to hold government accountable.
  • Feeds the private sector with a new resource on which to create new business services. Publication to IATI is picking up steam.

Donors accounting for 86 percent of official development finance (ODF) are committed to publishing to IATI by the end of 2015 and those accounting for 69 percent are now reporting some information to the IATI registry.  Only a relatively small number of U.S. civil society organizations, such as Plan USA, have committed to publishing their data to IATI.  A few leading foundations such as Gates and Hewlett have joined IATI as well.

As aid transparency is a departure from business as usual (the typical opaqueness of government), the initial decision to make U.S. assistance data publicly available was not an easy one, and the Obama administration deserves due credit.  With more than 25 U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, implementation, despite considerable effort, has been more difficult.  This is where attention now needs to double down.

In the first three years of the dashboard, a mere five agencies—USAID, MCC, State, Treasury and Defense—have posted only partial data.  They were joined just this week by the African Development Foundation.  Where is the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture and data-driven PEPFAR?  Where is activity level data, so that users can determine where and how the aggregate level assistance is being used?  Where are the links to planning and evaluation documents?

The U.S. has pledged full implementation of its commitment to IATI by 2015.  At the current pace it likely will miss that goal.  The MCC and Treasury, admittedly with more simplified data sets, have demonstrated that compliance with IATI is possible.  USAID has also provided evidence of the results of good effort.

There are three problems.  One, most agencies have not made their data public, either to the dashboard or to IATI.  Two, the U.S. has not committed to providing data for some of the most relevant IATI fields, such as activity budgets and results and links to project and performance documents, although agencies have the data and can publish it.  MCC has done so already.  Three, the current process for posting U.S. data to the IATI registry is for the data to first go to the dashboard.

However, data that agencies are providing are not being posted to the IATI registry in either a timely fashion or in complete, data rich form—the dashboard is not using the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s XML format but, rather, spreadsheets that lose some of the detail of the data.

The U.S. can fulfill its obligations through three steps:

  • Establish precise plans and timetables for each agency to publish its assistance data to the dashboard and IATI.
  • Provide data for the full range of IATI fields, including data at the activity level and on results, as the MCC has done.
  • Allow full data sets to be posted to IATI.  There are two alternatives for accomplishing this goal. One, the dashboard can adopt the IATI standard.  Alternatively, eliminate the requirement that agencies send their data through the dashboard.  Accept the fact that the dashboard is valuable for what it was originally designed for—collecting and presenting U.S. assistance data—and remove it as a hindrance to agencies publishing their data directly to IATI.

Finally, nongovernment aid providers and implementers need to step up and join the transparent data era.  In this day, opaqueness should be a thing of the past for all of us.

George Ingram

Global Transparency Week - logo - high res

Global Transparency Week is now over, but here is what all the fuss was about.

Global Transparency Week is a series of events focusing on transparency, accountability and good governance.

It starts on October 24 in Washington D.C., with the launch of the Aid Transparency Index (ATI), and finish with the Open Government Partnership conference in London on October 31, 2013.

The international events are hosted by organisations and campaigners interested in raising the profile of transparency in the diverse sectors we cover, and the commitments of countries towards increased openness in those sectors.

Global Transparency Week will bring together transparency campaigners for one week, in five different countries, to add to the strength of our collective voice.

Get involved!

See the Global Transparency Week timetable for more details on events.

WATCH more about the Make Aid Transparent campaign.

Aid makes a real difference. It can save lives, put kids into school, and reduce poverty and suffering. But at the moment no one knows exactly how much money is being spent, where or on what. In most cases, not even governments receiving aid have a full picture of where all the money goes. This undermines aid’s potential and its effectiveness. With more information, citizens in both donor and recipient countries could know whether aid money was having the best possible impact.

As citizens we have a right to know how aid money is being spent. At a time when public budgets are under pressure and the effectiveness of international aid is being scrutinised, increased transparency is an easy win that could deliver a huge boost to poverty reduction, without needing more money.

Click here to sign the petition, and find out more about the campaign.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) has been set up by a group of leading international development organisations, with the aim of making information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand.

Launched in September 2008 at the Accra High Level Forum on Aid
Effectiveness, this pioneering initiative brings together donors, developing
countries and civil society organisations to help donors and their partners
meet their Accra Agenda for Action commitments on aid transparency.

After widespread consultation, IATI has decided to do this by:

  • developing common standards to determine what information participating donors will publish, as well as the format in which the information will be presented
  • setting up an on-line registry that will record the location of information about the aid that participating donors have decided to provide

What does the initiative do?

The IATI standard provides universal project classifications and definitions,
so that citizens, governments, parliamentarians and people working in the
development community can find out:

  • how much money is being provided each year
  • when it was, or is, due to be paid out
  • how funds are expected to be used

Donors choose their own systems for collecting and publishing information. But a new central registry will make it possible for people to find information quickly and easily because it will tell users exactly where the information they need has been published.

Organisations only need to publish their aid information in one place and one format, but many different users will be able to access the information they need and use it for their own diverse purposes.

This widens access to aid information and result in more openness and accountability. It will be easier to monitor aid effectiveness and will thus help to accelerate poverty reduction.

Download our 1-page fact sheet

Cliquez ici pour voir en français

nsiCanada’s North-South Institute (NSI) recently organized an event for Global Transparency Week. It featured a panel discussion on open data, transparency and its role in international development.

The event was one of 18 high-profile events taking place across the globe focused on open data, transparency, accountability and good governance, organised by Publish What You Fund.

Read the summary report which presents highlights from the discussion and analysis. See also NSI’s recent op-ed on the subject.

To learn more about how NSI leverages open data for development impact please visit the Canadian International Development Platform.