Over the past decade, donors have repeatedly committed to improving aid effectiveness and transparency in development cooperation. At the second High Level Forum (HLF) in Paris in 2005, donors committed to “take far-reaching and monitorable actions and to reform the way we manage and deliver aid”, including by improving predictability, ownership and integration and reducing duplication and fragmentation. This was followed by pledges at the third HLF in Accra in 2008 to “make aid more transparent” and “to publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries”. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) was also launched in Accra, providing a practical approach for publishing aid information in a comparable, open format. Furthermore, one of the most significant and concrete commitments to come out of the fourth HLF in Busan in 2011 was for donors to “implement a common, open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development cooperation operation” with endorsers undertaking to fully implement this common standard, including IATI, by December 2015. With just over a year until that deadline, we are at a crucial point in the push for donors to deliver on their existing commitments, particularly as new goals and commitments are agreed as part of the post-2015 Development Agenda.Close
Since the release of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI), there has been steady progress by development actors publishing information to the IATI Standard. At the time of writing, over 280 organisations are publishing information to the IATI Registry and all IATI information fields are being used. This multi-stakeholder initiative has demonstrated its value by bringing together a diversity of providers including governments, development funds, climate funds, private foundations, multilaterals and NGOs to publish their information in an open, accessible format that anyone can freely access, use and re-use. There is also a move towards turning raw data into easy-to-understand visualisations via open data portals, making the information more meaningful for users. New portals, driven by IATI data, have been launched by several organisations including Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and UN. Yet more remains to be done, particularly by some of the large and influential providers that are currently off track with delivering their commitments and improving the quality of the information being published. Of the 68 organisations included in the 2014 Index, 35 are publishing some current information to IATI – but as the findings demonstrate, the quality and usefulness of the information is mixed.
Several important international development events have also taken place since the publication of the 2013 ATI. In April 2014, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) held its first High Level Meeting in Mexico, with the main objective of reviewing progress since Busan. Donors reaffirmed their past commitments on aid transparency at this meeting. The first Global Monitoring Report was also released in Mexico, providing a review of progress on the commitments and actions agreed in Busan. The report notes that the development provider community “…needs to raise its collective level of ambition and redouble efforts if it is to publish by 2015 timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on development co-operation resources.” It calls for urgent action to enhance the publication of information, report more frequently using data that is less than six months old, and to overcome systems and process-related hurdles to providing information on all agreed common standard data fields.
The UN post-2015 Development Agenda has framed the majority of international development conversations over the past 12 months. In July, the UN Economic and Social Council convened a new session of the biennial Development Cooperation Forum. The main objectives of the meeting were to discuss ideas for how a renewed global partnership for development beyond 2015 would work in practice; identify ways for enhancing national and global accountability; and advance policy dialogue with south-south providers. The need for mutual accountability and useable information were highlighted at the meeting, emphasising their importance as building blocks for a robust monitoring and accountability framework in a post-2015 context.
Also in July, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its negotiations, proposing a total of 17 goals, each with a separate set of targets. These proposed goals will be a key input for defining a new set of global development priorities after 2015. In addition, the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF) published its report in August 2014. The report specifically lists transparency and accountability of financing as a principle of its strategic approach. It also references the “data revolution”, recognising the importance of standards and comprehensive, comparable data as the basis for improved global governance and sustainable development. This report will also feed into negotiations around the new goals, due to be agreed at the UN post-2015 Summit in September 2015.
A common theme runs through these processes: that there is a need to improve existing monitoring frameworks and the data underpinning them. As the development community prepares itself for the post-2015 world and new commitments and goals are agreed, it is important to assess progress to date, particularly on the extent to which existing commitments have or have not been delivered. The ATI results clearly demonstrate that there is still unfinished business as far as aid transparency is concerned.Close
Since the release of the High Level Panel report on the post-2015 Development Agenda, repeated calls have been made for a “data revolution”. How this is defined is not entirely clear, but there is growing consensus that as a basic principle it must be underpinned by open data, given its potential to strengthen accountability and encourage greater participation in political processes. An increasing number of governments are embracing open data as a means of sharing information, releasing local, regional and national datasets from across areas of government activity. Many governments including Canada, France, Japan, the UK and the U.S. have adopted open data charters or strategies. Merely releasing more datasets is not enough however. Without comparable, comprehensive and timely information, international and national development priorities cannot be accurately defined and monitored. Consequently, joining up different datasets, ensuring that they are standardised and data quality need to remain at the centre of future discussions on the data revolution. Crucially, lessons learnt from opening up information on development flows via a common, open standard need to be incorporated into any new open data initiatives, building on the work done to date.
Another arena where the opening up of government information is being discussed is the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Since the last OGP Summit in October 2013, its membership has expanded to include development providers such as Australia, France, Ireland and New Zealand. In the run up to the next summit scheduled for 2015, and as more countries join the partnership, it will be important to ensure that they incorporate aid transparency commitments in their national action plans and to make the link between these commitments and the priorities being defined for the post-2015 agenda.
As the focus shifts from publishing information to ensuring it can be used within the context of a renewed international development agenda, understanding different user needs is increasingly important. One of the longstanding demands made by partner countries has been for providers to align information on development flows with country budget classifications. Linking aid with budgets would allow government programmes to be planned and implemented in the context of a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the total resources available. The ongoing piloting of the IATI budget identifier aims to help meet this demand. The next 12 months will be important for completing in-country consultations and pilots for testing the recently agreed framework for mapping donor sector codes with country budget codes. The pilot studies on data use by partner countries, being conducted by organisations such as USAID, will also highlight existing data gaps and ways in which information can be made more useful. Together, these initiatives hold great promise for unlocking the potential of IATI.Close
The 2014 ATI provides an overview of how some of the biggest and most influential providers of development cooperation fare in terms of the transparency of their activities. The data collection process for the ATI has highlighted that many organisations are yet to take a systematic approach to publishing information on their development activities. Much of the data is still scattered across websites and it is difficult to join the dots between the descriptive, financial and performance information related to individual activities. Several organisations rely on labour-intensive, manual processes for publishing their information rather than automating them, meaning that data quality remains a significant challenge. This emphasises the need for process and systems improvements across the board, which in turn require political will and a real commitment to make aid transparent – and for many donors, there is an urgent need to act if they are to meet the 2015 deadline.Close
At the fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness donors made a concrete commitment to increase the transparency of development cooperation by publishing information on their activities to a common, open standard. They committed to do this by December 2015. Donors also committed to publish schedules detailing specific plans and timelines for implementing the standard by December 2012. With just over a year to go before the final deadline, the Index results demonstrate that many donors remain off track in meeting their commitments, particularly on the implementation of the IATI elements of the Standard.
At the time of writing, of the 68 organisations included in the Index, 53 have published implementation schedules. Publish What You Fund has assessed and scored each schedule on their levels of ambition, based on the organisation’s intention to publish to the IATI component of the common standard (focusing on the fundamental requirement of timely and comparable data), the publication approach (the stated frequency and licence of publication) and the proportion of information fields to be published by the end of 2015 (see more on this methodology).
The levels of ambition shown by different organisations varies significantly (see table 4 below). Of the 53 schedules available, 20 are assessed as ambitious and 13 as moderately ambitious, meaning the majority of organisations included in the ATI are yet to outline any concrete plan to start publishing their information in a more timely and comparable format. These organisations need to take urgent action in order to meet their commitments by the end of 2015. Even donors with more ambitious plans still have work to do, including Belgium and Norway, whose schedules mention initial publication to the IATI Standard in 2014, but are yet to make a start. Very few schedules refer to publishing added-value information fields: less than a third include plans to publish data on results and conditions.Close