Aid transparency at Open Development Camp

Last week, I attended the Open Development Camp, a two day conference to explore open data, innovative technology and new ways of working can help create a better world.

The conference had a great turnout, with an eclectic mix of organisations attending – all the way from, NGOs, government and aid agencies to open data activists and technology entrepreneurs creating the next generation of cool tools (3D printing from waste plastic in India, empowering waste pickers in the process– how amazing is that!).

Although not a thematic focus of the conference, there were was a lot discussion around aid transparency and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) as a common open standard for reporting aid flows.

We had the opportunity  to present the findings of our recently launched 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI). Interestingly, a data expedition on bilateral aid flows conducted in another session came to a similar conclusion as the Index findings: there simply is not enough high quality aid data out there, and what is available is often not in useful formats (see more interesting findings from the expedition here).

It was great to hear some firsthand experiences of IATI implementation from publishers and their plans for the future. Thomas Melin from UN Habitat spoke about their attempts to collect the world’s urban data in one place and how IATI was integral to the process of integrating project information with other data sets UN Habitat.)

Cord Aid shared their story on internal processes leading up to implementing IATI , re-affirming what we’ve always said, that IATI implementation can actually help publishers clean up their internal management systems. Based on the plans presented, there’s much to look forward to in Cord Aid’s first publication to the IATI Registry (expected by the end of the year).

We also had a sneak peek into a forthcoming portal that will map the Dutch development cooperation budget with project-level data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ IATI feed.  This has the potential to be a truly fantastic resource for improving accountability, and I sure hope that more donors will follow suit.

But making data available is just one step of the process. As evidenced by numerous conversations that took place at the event and have been taking place in the sector in recent times, the open data community is still grappling with some major questions:

  • who is using this data (or will in the future)
  • how can we make the data accessible to all
  • how can we use the data bring about real change

Felipe Estefan from the World Bank Institute made the keynote speech at the event, and spoke at length about the need to bridge the online world with the offline world (one inhabited by the majority of the intended beneficiaries of open data) and made a good point about the need for the open data community to understand the demand side better so that data supply and demand can inform each other better.

I couldn’t agree more.

There is a clear need for open data campaigns to demonstrate demand and produce evidence of effective data use.

As far as aid flows are concerned, we know the demand exists. We’ve heard this from recipient country governments over and over again, not the least at our own ATI launch, from the Honduran Minister for International Cooperation Hector Corrales.

But the truth is to see meaningful use of data, we need much more of it – you cannot use data that does not exist. So as we grapple with questions on the demand-side of open data, let’s not forget that the job on the supply-side is far from over – the 2013 ATI findings sure serve as a reminder!

Shreya Basu

Shreya is a Research & Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at shreya.basu@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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