Publish What You Fund was set up in 2008 to campaign for aid transparency. We have come a long way. Donors have committed to transparency, and many are delivering. Nearly 500 organisations now publish what they fund using the open data standard of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). As a result, we estimate that a quarter of aid meets ‘very good’ standards of transparency, up from almost none five years ago.
The impact of our work has been less than we hoped, however, because of limited use of the data. Much of our early work assumed that techies would build tools to visualise aid data, and developing country citizens would find ways to use these tools. The experience of the past five years suggests that isn’t enough. Some governments want to use the data to help them with budgeting, but find the aid and budget data are incomplete and in different formats. Some journalists want to use the data to shine a light on corruption, but find without timely and detailed information on contracts and results, there’s not much of a story to tell.
The landscape is also quite different. The aid-focused Millennium Development Goals have been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals which are supposed to be universal. Most of funding to achieve the goals will come from taxes and other domestic revenue sources, rather than aid. There is more private investment going to ‘frontier markets’ like Kenya and Nigeria, and Chinese parastatals are taking over from the World Bank in funding and building infrastructure like ports and power stations.
This changing landscape means that Publish What You Fund needs to engage with a broader set of countries and institutions than before. We want to keep up the pressure on donors in Europe and North America. We want to see greater transparency in humanitarian aid and development finance. We want to make sure that new funders like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Green Climate Fund build transparency into their systems from the start.
Above all, we need to do more to understand the needs of data users, and the barriers that prevent them from using open data to its full potential.
That is why our Board has endorsed a new strategy for the period 2016-19 that commits us to three ambitious goals: raising the visibility and quality of data on aid and development finance, and removing barriers to the use of that data.
By visibility, we mean that at least 80% of aid and development finance, including humanitarian aid, should be published in the IATI standard.
By quality, we mean that the providers of aid and development finance should publish timely and detailed information on what they and their implementing partners are doing, including locations, contracts and results.
By use, we mean identifying and removing barriers to using data for decision-making, accountability and learning. We can’t tell governments, journalists or activists how to use data, but we can help make it accessible, usable and useful to them.
Achieving all this in three years is a tall order, and we can’t do it alone. We want to build on the strong partnerships we have with organisations like Development Initiatives and InterAction. We remain a steadfast supporter of the International Aid Transparency Initiative. We are fortunate to have a very experienced Board in the UK, and the support of Friends of Publish What You Fund in the United States.
Along with the new strategy, we are recruiting for two new roles: a Director of Advocacy and a Partnerships and Development Officer. The Director of Advocacy will lead our outreach to the organisations providing aid and development finance, old and new, as well as help develop our new workstream on data use. The Partnerships and Development Officer will help manage our relations with funders and other partners.
You can learn more about both positions here. If you care about transparency, want to make a difference and think you have what it takes, we’d love to hear from you.