The case for aid transparency has been almost universally accepted by the various donors and organisations that provide development assistance. It’s now a matter of getting transparency delivered properly and making sure we can reap the rewards of the data revolution.
Since the publication of the 2012 ATI in October last year, there has been steady progress with implementing aid transparency. Of the 67 organisations included in the 2013 ATI, 28 are publishing some current information in the common, open format agreed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) – the only open data standard for providing up-to-date aid information (see box 1 for more on IATI). Some have also launched open data portals as part of their efforts to encourage others to access and use their aid information. Donors have also started to set out their plans for implementing the common, open standard that was agreed at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in November 2011.
Over the past year some of the largest and most influential providers of development assistance have reaffirmed their commitment to aid transparency: the G8 members have agreed to implement the entirety of the Busan common standard, including IATI, and develop an Open Data Charter; and France recently announced its intention to commence publication to IATI in 2014.
The Busan agreement included an important mechanism for spurring organisations from promises to action: each organisation was expected to produce an implementation schedule by December 2012. The schedule is a technical document explaining how the organisation intends to implement each field of the common standard, by when, and what exemptions and challenges there might be. Over 40 organisations produced schedules, so Publish What You Fund built an online tool to analyse each one and test their level of ambition. Some organisations set themselves deadlines for a first publication to the standard while others raised the bar and outlined future improvements to data quality and coverage. A small group – Austria, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia – ruled out implementing the IATI component of the common standard, effectively rejecting the demand for timely and standardised information about their development cooperation. This analysis forms one of the “commitment to aid transparency” indicators included in the 2013 ATI.
 The report by the High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-2015 development agenda, submitted to the UN Secretary General in May 2013, called for “a data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens”. The communiqué from the March 2013 HLP meeting in Bali referred to the need for substantial investments in advance of 2015 in order for there to be a data revolution. See http://www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/HLP_P2015_Report.pdf (report) and http://www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/Final%20Communique%20Bali.pdf (communiqué).
This past year has seen more than just commitments to become transparent – there has also been a marked acceleration in implementation. The U.S., Germany, three European Commission departments, a raft of UN agencies and two regional development banks started publishing in the IATI standard format for the first time.
Implementation can pose significant challenges for some organisations. Their information management systems may require considerable updating before they can publish certain information, particularly forward budget data or information on results and programme impact. This means that the quality and coverage of that new IATI data may be mixed, or that implementation is conducted in stages.
To make this transparency effort worthwhile, the development community is beginning to move to the next step – beyond commitment and implementation – to promoting and supporting use of the data. This is consistent with our aid transparency principles (see box 3). Although IATI has been designed to serve the information needs of a wide set of stakeholders, there are some key groups of users that would particularly benefit from using this data – especially partner country governments and donors themselves. Governments receiving aid and technical cooperation will need to work with donors and software suppliers to identify the best ways to incorporate and present information. They also need to catalyse the take-up of the data by civil society organisations (CSOs), by lowering technical barriers and encouraging other groups to look at this data.
Aid information has become more available and open in recent years but it is not always as useful as it could be. If organisations produce data in standalone PDFs, they may be being more transparent but the information is not necessarily that useful as it cannot be easily accessed and compared. This is why the format, quality and comparability of information are as important as availability and coverage.
For information to be considered high quality, it needs to be comprehensive, timely, accessible and comparable:
- Comprehensive: The information needs to be detailed and complete so that it covers all current and planned activities. Comprehensive information on plans, flows and procedures is the basis for coordination of efforts for better division of labour between donors and recipients.
- Timely: The data needs to be current. Organisations should be publishing their information on a quarterly basis at a minimum, and preferably monthly. This means the information can be mapped from many different actors against any budget cycle.
- Accessible: The information needs to be publicly available in machine-readable formats that can be accessed via a central registry. The data should be released under an open licence (public domain or attribution-only) and users should be able to bulk export it. Organisations should actively promote access to and use of their information.
- Comparable: Data should be disaggregated and detailed to allow different users to access, use and compare it with other international data sets in many ways. At present, the only standard that allows this is IATI.
There are two multilateral initiatives that are promoting the publication of high quality information on development flows. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched at the UN Global Assembly in September 2011. It aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. So far, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, the UK and the U.S. have included commitments on aid transparency in their OGP National Action Plans. Notable commitments include the whole-of-government approaches of Sweden, the UK and the U.S.
The second initiative is the Open Aid Partnership (OAP), which aims to bring development partners together to increase the openness and effectiveness of development assistance through the use of innovative technologies, such as mapping, and to provide new tools for strategic planning and to enhance greater transparency and accountability. Specific mention is made in the OAP approach to collaborating closely with both IATI and OGP. OAP’s endorsers are a mixture of bilateral and multilateral donors, recipient countries and CSOs. These two initiatives are leading the way in terms of promoting and supporting the use of aid information. Both of them take a multi-stakeholder approach, in an effort to ensure that the information meets the needs of many different users.Close