Why open data matters for sustainable development post-2015

Earlier this month, we launched our new campaign Road to 2015: Open Data for Sustainable Development at the United Nations Headquarters.

As with all the work we do, transparency and accountability are at the heart of this new campaign. They also feature heavily in the principles of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation.

pwyfquoteBut while we’ve spoken a fair bit about our expectations for the Global Partnership, this was the first campaign we have launched at the UN. We did so because it was there that, earlier this year, a panel of world leaders proposed a highly anticipated framework for stamping out extreme poverty by 2030 – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The recommendations are a dramatic shift from the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs), which expire at the end of 2015. They call for a ‘data and information revolution’ and put transparency and accountability at the heart of this new framework.

A lot has changed since the MDGs were agreed. We have faced a global financial crisis and increasing political instability. This has made transparency, public accountability and citizen engagement in the post-2015 agenda even more critical. Poor economic growth is a reason to prioritise transparent and accountable financing for sustainable development.

The world of development finance is also changing. Top-down development, with donors telling recipients what to do, is twentieth-century thinking. We are at a critical point in the push for open data.

Partner countries are better equipped now, more than ever, to take full ownership of their development agenda. They have asked for more information about development co-operation spending so they can better manage their own resources, and ensure the delivery of results.

Our Road to 2015 campaign will ensure that the focus on transparency remains throughout the new agenda-setting process. We believe this process should start with better information about aid for two reasons.

Firstly, the new goals will be global targets. Responsibility for delivery lies with every nation (as well as with the collective global community), not just with governments of developing countries. It is essential that aid providers — both bilateral and multilateral — practice what they preach in terms of good governance, transparency, accountability and citizen participation.

Secondly, there is already a precedent for transparent publication of aid data, in the form of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). This is the only existing system for making current information about aid easily accessible to everyone, in a comparable format that is free to access, use and re-use.

At the Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011 the international development community, including the world’s largest donors, promised to fully implement by December 2015 a common standard for publishing aid information, which includes IATI and OECD-DAC reporting systems. While some are now publishing this data, efforts remain uneven.

IATI is the only standard that satisfies our four pillars of transparent aid, ensuring data is published in a manner that is timely, comprehensive, accessible and comparable. These aspects are all crucial, as only then can donor aid spending be mapped and properly aligned with the partner country’s domestic budget.

Access to information can potentially transform the relationship not only between citizens and governments, but also between donors and recipients. Open data has the power to reduce corruption, improve decision-making and the allocation of resources, empower citizens and support good governance – all prerequisites for encouraging local ownership and responsibility and, ultimately, sustainable development.

Making aid more effective is a crucial part of the UN’s goal to end extreme poverty by 2030, as is good governance and the data and information revolution. As debates on the next set of SDGs and the role of the Global Partnership come to a head, transparency must be an essential part of all goals, giving citizens more information and more say in their own lives.

The Road to 2015 must be paved with open data, not just good intentions.

Rachel Rank

Rachel is the Deputy Director at Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at rachel.rank@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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