Open aid – what’s the state of play?

It’s been one and a half years since I started my role as U.S. Representative with Publish What You Fund.

Since the early days, my primary focus has been advocating for a robust implementation by the U.S. on the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the common standard for reporting foreign assistance.  An important part of the task is trying to persuade U.S. agencies to keep pushing on this critical transparency initiative so that we can all help ensure that our tax dollars are spent effectively on U.S. development assistance – an issue where the U.S. has and should continue to be a leader.  It is not an easy task, but we now know that it is achievable.

On Thursday, we will announce the results of our 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI). There is some very exciting news (for both the U.S. and other donors) along with other developments that show us what still needs to be done.  We invite you to come along for the unveiling, or watch live.

This is our fifth year in the assessment business, and every year the interest and participation in our Index has grown.  This year, while putting the Index together, we were pleasantly surprised by the flurry of activity from donors, including U.S. agencies, ahead of our ATI data collection deadline. We are delighted by this, not just because we (selfishly) think the ATI is having impact as an advocacy tool, but also because it seems to be a useful technical tool for donors themselves, who on the whole want to improve their openness and data quality.

ATI_LOGO-02_RGBWe also have partnered with some leading NGOs to maximize our efforts and strengthen our own call for aid transparency. Our U.S. Advisory Committee also has been a critical source of support, providing invaluable time, wisdom and reinforcement, and I thank them for that.

Together, we all have tried to widen and deepen the understanding of this technical standard called IATI, demonstrating the potential that this tool can have both here and across the globe.

Last but certainly not least, we too have upped our own game. We have designed three different tools to measure donors’ progress.  Please take a look on our Aid Transparency Tracker.

We have assessed the ambition of donors on their implementation schedule.  We have assessed the data they’re publishing and we have monitored the information they’re publishing, even outside of IATI.  All these tools aim to hold governments to account, but they also try to provide helpful information on best practice and otherwise share the experience and approaches of other donors.

Thursday’s release of the ATI will include both our donor rankings as well as our assessment of the state of aid transparency.  We are eager to hear what donors and the development community have to say of our findings and, of course, the rankings. But we’re also looking forward to hear what plans and priorities donors have to improve their progress on transparency.

We are keen to understand what is next. Are agencies planning to use their IATI data for their own management purposes? Are agencies planning to add geo-coding information so we can see where the projects take place? Is publishing results next in the pipeline so that information that matters the most to recipients is available and accessible in a comparable format?

The keynote speaker at Thursday’s launch event at the Brookings Institution will give a taste of the demand out there for good quality aid information. We’re on the cusp now of some seriously good data, which means that all the aspirations for transparency – better decision-making, better aid, better outcomes – are closer to reality. But we won’t get there unless donors keep their foot on the gas and drive home implementation.

Progress is being made. Policy guidance is backing President Obama’s vision.  There are success stories to be told on implementation.  And while it’s too early to declare victory on the transparency front, we have made some pretty good strides in one year.

We have some exciting and important news to share.  Please join us at our global launch of the 2013 ATI!

Sally Paxton

Sally is the U.S. Representative for Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at sally.paxton@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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