Helen Clark: Keynote speech at the 2016 Aid Transparency Index launch

This speech by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, was initially posted on UNDP’s website here. You can view the recorded version of the event on the Aid Transparency Index website

I am delighted to join this launch of the 2016 Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index. UNDP places the utmost importance on making information about its activities freely available and accessible. I am delighted that UNDP is ranked number one for the second year running in this year’s index. My thanks go to Publish What You Fund for its work to make information about aid, development, and humanitarian resources easier to access, use, and understand. I also thank the Center for Global Development for hosting today’s event.

A great deal has been accomplished since concerted efforts began on improving the availability of development data in the run up to the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra in 2008. Progress made over the last two years on growing the number of International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) participants in the run up to the Busan Commitment deadline in December 2015 has been positive. Publish What You Fund’s annual assessment is a powerful driver for improving reporting on transparency. As this year’s Aid Transparency Index makes clear, however, urgent improvements are still needed to improve both the quantity and the quality of available data.

Why aid transparency matters

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals which were launched last year have set out a bold and universal agenda which responds to the volatile and unpredictable times in which we are living. The 2030 Agenda aims to complete the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, to advance economic and social development and environmental sustainability simultaneously, and to build peaceful and inclusive societies.

Much greater transparency around development funding and operations will be beneficial for the new global agenda in the following ways:

• It will support national ownership, which is recognized in the 2030 Agenda as fundamental to achieving the SDGs. To accelerate development, governments need to be able to make informed decisions on the funding available to them and how to allocate it.

Many countries have already set up systems which integrate IATI data on external resources with their national databases. For these systems to work well, development partners do need to adhere to the IATI standard.

• The full implementation of the IATI standard enables citizens in developing countries and in development partner countries to gain access to the information they need to hold governments accountable for the use of resources allocated for development.

• Achieving the 2030 Agenda will require the effective deployment of all sources of development finance: public and private, domestic and international, and developmental and environmental. Blending, catalysing, and leveraging finance from all these sources will maximize the use of available funds. Accessible and timely data on financing flows will help the governments of developing countries and their partners to have an accurate and comprehensive picture of aid spending. This can then be used to identify trends and gaps, and to make all contributions more effective.

• The breadth of the 2030 Agenda and the scale of the challenges our world faces require many new multi-stakeholder partnerships to be built. Partnerships flourish when they are underpinned by trust, and by common understanding and vision. Transparency and openness are key to this.

More transparency is also needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian work. The United Nations Secretary-General’s report on the World Humanitarian Summit has called for humanitarian organisations to subscribe to IATI principles.   The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing appointed by the UN Secretary-General called in its preparatory report for “a specific time-bound commitment by the international community to provide open and transparent data, including on transaction costs, published on a single global platform – with IATI-compatible data at its core”.  This is a very important endorsement of the value of IATI.

IATI now includes a feature to tag project activities which relate to a particular emergency or crisis. By using this marker, and by increasing the frequency of updates, to IATI, humanitarian actors could make this vital information available in real time. It will also be helpful when taking stock of the effectiveness of spending after an emergency has passed. I urge all humanitarian actors to use the marker, so that the application of the IATI standard can play its full part in ensuring that humanitarian aid is effective.

What does it take to improve aid transparency?

The IATI standard is clearly a valuable tool for driving aid transparency. At UNDP, we advocate its universal adoption. We also know that accepting its disciplines requires organisational transformation.

I came to UNDP in 2009, fresh from being Prime Minister of New Zealand where there had been an Official Information Act giving citizens access to government information since 1982. I could see no reason why a major multilateral organisation like UNDP should not be as open. With some $5 billion spent through UNDP each year, all our partners have every right to expect us to be open about our work. There must be confidence that contributions to UNDP are traceable and are being used efficiently and strategically.

To move in this direction:

First, a culture shift was called for. Working in the open required commitment all the way from management, project, procurement, and communications staff in our country offices to our global headquarters. With our work open to public scrutiny, our staff must take even more care to ensure that information about it is accurate, complete, and up to date. UNDP as a whole must be and must be seen to be responsible and accountable for its work.

Second, improving transparency required putting in place systems and technology which could capture and visualize data adequately. UNDP developed an online portal, open.undp.org, which allows the public to access information on the thousands of active UNDP projects, with activity-level data now published on more than 5,000 projects.

Third, harnessing the value of data transparency demanded long-term commitment from us all at UNDP. We took great pride in being ranked number one in the last Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index in 2014. Since then, UNDP has made further improvements. In 2015, we began to publish even more of our project and financial information to the IATI standard, using the new elements of the standard to add results data at the project level. This is reflected in our being ranked number one again this year.

This new level of transparency has already improved UNDP’s effectiveness in the following ways:

• Project and performance management: the improved quality and quantity of UNDP data has led to much more internal information sharing, which in turn has improved internal management and programme efficiency. Just one example: UNDP’s Evaluation Office used open.undp.org to gather the information it needed to support an evaluation of anti-corruption projects.

Beginning later this year, staff will be requested to consult and use IATI data to identify other development partners working in a sector or location in order to leverage synergies and avoid duplication. These measures are part of a broader effort to enhance programme effectiveness at UNDP;

• Donor relations: rather than waiting for annual reports, UNDP donors can easily access information related to their contributions on open.undp.org;

• Accountability: UNDP has included specific language in all new project documents, which advises project managers and partners that the results of all UNDP projects will be published to IATI, and that the language being used should therefore be clear to an external audience.

As the lead and co-ordinating agency in the UN development system, UNDP is uniquely placed to share experiences with sister UN agencies on achieving high standards of transparency. A dedicated UN Development Group Task Team on Data and Transparency,  of which we are a co-chair, is now working to increase the number of UN agencies publishing to IATI. Fourteen UN agencies  have already published their data to IATI, and three more have committed to publishing in 2016.

To conclude.

Transparency has the potential to transform the effectiveness of development spending by supporting:

• informed decision making;

• improved trust and confidence in development work;

• more monitoring and accountability; and

• improved prioritisation of spending allocations by governments and development partners.

The challenge for partners in development is to keep on improving our performance. UNDP is committed to seeing that transparency is at the heart of its work, and to encouraging all actors in development to work to improve the transparency and effectiveness of development and humanitarian funding and expenditure.

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