How do I answer basic aid flow questions? Which donor is providing aid to a country and what is the future projection of that aid? More importantly, how does one put that aid data into the country context?

Like me, many data users start with the OECD-DAC CRS data, which gives verified figures on commitments and disbursements until 2015. This  data is useful, but it is not without its setbacks. Firstly, it is backdated, typically over two years old. Secondly, it is limited to Official Development Assistance (ODA). While this often captures the bulk of aid data, it is not a complete picture.

A little known treasure trove of information is the “organisation file” in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Registry.

Here, a user can not only find past, present and future donor budgets but also a variety of linked documents that help put the data in context. One good example of a well structured and populated organisation file is the United States. Here’s the data that is typically found in the US file, and updated annually:

  • Total budget
  • Total budget by sector
  • Recipient country budgets
  • Recipient country budgets by sector
  • Historical data on all of the above
  • A library of documents, including individual country strategies

This data served as the bedrock for my analysis of how and  where the US has and is disbursing its funds: by sector, by partner country and by sectors within those countries. While it is not the only data I have used, it has proven invaluable in my early work to assess the impact of possible cuts and changes to the US foreign assistance budget. Below are some quick examples:


In addition to the data, the documents linked within the organisation file serve as a kind of “aid library”. It contains country strategies, memorandums of understandings and factsheets. As with the Ghana example, above, I was able to use IATI to access USAID’s current country development strategy for Ghana, the Department of State’s factsheet — which contains a short summary of US assistance and relations — and PEPFAR’s Partnership Framework with Ghana. All of this was very useful context and helps me to better understand the numbers.

There are, however,  a few challenges.

Firstly, unless you know your way around the IATI Registry, you’d never know this data exists. At present, there is no user-friendly way of accessing it, despite the fact that it is available and potentially very useful. This needs to change.

Secondly, more donors should be publishing their budgets to IATI to help make the available data as comprehensive as possible. According to our 2016 Index, under half of the 46 major donors assessed published disaggregated budgets. That also means that data users — you, me, partner countries and civil society — need to be requesting this data and publishers should be open to responding.

Lastly, few donors publish their budgets in the same detail that the US does. For some, this is because they are simply unable to. Others, however, demonstrate their ability to do so by publishing it in other formats, or on their own platforms. To those donors, I ask that they share their data in a standardised way so that we can all benefit from it.