Open aid and the road to 2015

This article was first published on the Global Partnership’s Effective Development Co-operation Blog:

GPEDC_English_ColourThe world’s largest and most influential providers of aid reaffirmed their commitment to transparency this year. A high-level panel advising on the framework to follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) called for a “data revolution”, and G8 members specifically committed to implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the only internationally agreed standard for publishing aid information.

IATI was launched in September 2008, a stakeholder-led initiative with the aim of making information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand. Following the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, it was included as part of the common, open standard of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. As part of their commitment to the Global Partnership, donors agreed to fully implement the common standard, including IATI, by 2015.

The Global Partnership joint support team is working on finalising a transparency indicator to measure progress in implementing that commitment. The indicator will encourage Busan signatories to keep to their minimum promises, while at Publish What You Fund, we will push further – for wider, more comprehensive and better publication of current information to the IATI standard.

How are we measuring donors’ progress along this road to 2015?

Our Aid Transparency Index (ATI) is the industry standard for assessing transparency among the world’s major donors. We use it to hold agencies to account for the delivery of their transparency promises, while also encouraging progress to reach those goals.


This year’s results show a leading group of organisations publishing large amounts of useful information on their current aid activities.The top ranking agency is the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), while China takes last place.

Some donors have made real progress over the past year. What is troubling, however, is that the average score for all 67 organisations is low. More telling is that 25 of these organisations scored less than 20%. These statistics show that no matter how many international commitments are made, no matter how many speeches there are around openness, a startling amount of organisations are still not delivering on their transparency promises.

The ATI assesses not just what is published, but also the quality of that information, essentially measuring its usefulness for partner country users – our top priority. For example, publishing budgets in PDFs is more transparent than not publishing at all – but it’s not all that useful to partners working in country if this budget information in PDF-format is hard to access, compare and reuse. In contrast, information published in a standardised, comparable format across all project and activity levels makes it possible to compare different donors’ data. This is incredibly useful.

Another example: France is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) third largest donor, spending over one billion U.S. dollars there in 2011. But we could find no comprehensive listing of the country’s current aid activities in the DRC or any other recipient country. Similarly, Japan is the second largest donor in the DRC, spending over $1.2 billion in 2011. But their database does not include some basic information such as start or end dates or the current status of projects it is funding there.

That is over $2 billion in aid to the DRC – an aid dependent and fragile state – that cannot be effectively monitored. Of the information we could get, much was out of date, patchy and difficult to compare with that of other funders operating in DRC. It’s not all bad though – France and Japan have both committed to publishing their aid data to IATI by 2015, so there is time to correct the weaknesses in their data.

Five years ago, when Publish What You Fund began the campaign for aid transparency, the challenge was to get organisations publishing data, in order to demonstrate how people could use this information. Now, the challenge is to encourage donors to improve the quality and coverage of their information, so it can be more useful to the partner countries who rely on it for their own systems. With just over a year to go, there’s a lot of work to do.

I am confident donors will reach their 2015 deadline for publishing their aid information to the Busan standard – and we will certainly be there to remind them every step of the way.


David Hall-Matthews

David is the Managing Director at Publish What You Fund. You can reach him at
This entry was posted in Blog, MDGs, NGOs, open gov. Bookmark the permalink.


  • January 30, 2014 at 22:00
    Luc Lapointe says:

    Dear David,

    Always good to read that the DAC club members are interested to publish more data BUT how useful is it? for a community in a developing countries? or event to measure impacts or outcomes.

    There is this fascination with big donors and there data but for whatever reason … little or no efforts to showcase local efforts. The OECD is having a discussion to change the language from ODA to ODE (E for efforts) but the language is still around what is considered official?

    Does it make local efforts less or more officials? There has been a lot of talk since the Paris declaration where ownership was one of the “key” principles.

    ODA gets a lot of attention even though it’s has been exponentially eclipsed by private efforts….I hope that PWYF 2.0 will focus on making it useful and informative for those that need it the most.

    Luc Lapointe

  • January 30, 2014 at 23:38
    Luc Lapointe says:

    Dear David,

    I forgot to add this very important and relevant stories about what I was trying to convey — I think it spells is all —

    What you see is not what you get when it comes to ODA? or what I would like to refer to — As the gift that keeps on taking back :)

  • February 13, 2014 at 14:31
    David Hall-Matthews says:

    Dear Luc,

    Thank you very much for your valuable comments. I strongly agree that transparency is not only important for DAC donors. Our ultimate goal is for more transparency and accountability in all development finance.

    Of course we have to start somewhere – and it seems right to me that donors should publish first, before they ask anyone else to. It is consistent with the Paris principles that donors should do what Partner Countries ask them to, not the other way round!

    Transparency is important precisely because we don’t always know what ODA is really being spent on.

    However, IATI is not a “DAC club.” It is designed precisely to be flexible. So far, many different kinds of organisation, not just donors, have published to the IATI standard. These include NGOs, private companies, foundations, climate finance providers, humanitarian agencies and development finance institutions.

    I also agree that it’s important to combine IATI data with other information, including on local activities. They are certainly more important, and should also be transparent. There is no reason why they shouldn’t also publish to IATI, but it would probably be more useful for them to use IATI data to help them to make their plans.

    Finally, one of the reasons that IATI was created was that some important information was never being published. IATI conducted a survey in six countries to find out what people wanted. Results was one of the things most people asked to see. IATI therefore encourages donors to publish their results, even though none had ever done so to the DAC.

    There is still a long way to go, as my blog emphasises, but I can assure you that PWYF is already encouraging all providers of development finance to publish more on results and impact, for exactly the reasons you state.

    Making the data useful for people in partner countries is – and will always be – our top priority.

    Best wishes,


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