It’s been a busy year at Publish What You Fund. As is traditional at this time of year, we’ve been reflecting on what we’ve achieved and what we need to do next. Here’s our quick roundup of what the team has been up to – from the influential Aid Transparency Index, and on the ground research into aid flows in Liberia and Cambodia, to developing new tools to increase access to aid and development data.

Holding power to account

The year started with headlines coming out of the US about the low numbers of refugees being admitted to the country, well below the administration’s own limits. Against this backdrop we took a look at the EU’s own Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and in the process identified a number of gaps and inconsistencies with the data that could serve to undermine confidence in this relatively new and vital initiative.

Our US Foreign Assistance (USFA) work commenced with an initial look at the US’ Foreign Aid Explorer dashboard followed by a series of insightful country studies which illustrated the reality of what the administration’s cuts might mean on the ground. We did a deep dive into four countries where the US plays a significant development role: Liberia, Senegal, Cambodia, and Nicaragua. We highlighted concerns about how erratic budget processes threaten US Foreign Aid and how the presence of multiple and conflicting dashboards hinders transparency and aid coordination (first here and then here). Much of the research conducted as part of the US Foreign Assistance project was used to inform real policy, including representations to the Senate.

We used vast quantities of aid and development finance data in our USFA work. We applied our learning to provide feedback to the US publishers on where we had found errors or inconsistencies with their data. 

Improving data quality

In June we launched the 2018 Aid Transparency Index with a new animation. The Asian Development Bank topped the Index for the first time, USAID was the biggest improver among US agencies, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office was one of the least transparent donors assessed on international aid transparency (see here and here).

To ensure we reflect the reality of what aid transparency means at the ground level, we also published data-user case studies from journalists and civil society organisations in Mexico, Kenya and Mozambique. During and then following the 2018 Aid Transparency Index process we shared our insights as to how the sampling process (the manual data and document checks) had highlighted a number of areas where publishers could improve their data. We followed this up with specific advice on getting the basics right and also on improving the publication of performance related indicators.

We were buoyed earlier in the year by the paper produced by Dr Catherine Weaver and Dan Honig detailing the extent to which the Index has helped influence the norms and behaviours of major aid donors around the world. Against this backdrop we were delighted to launch our new strategy which, writing now in December 2018, is being implemented with gusto!

Supporting users

On the tech side we were delighted to see the OECD DAC introduce machine-readable code-lists. Our team devised and developed a number of new tools including a bulk download tool for IATI data.

In October we announced the release of IATI Decipher – a tool that enables users to visualise vast quantities of data held in the IATI Organisation Files which had previously been locked away in xml code. For the first time, users unable to read xml code could access over 22,300 strategy documents and $2.6 trillion of global donor budget information.

As we’ve identified and then fixed tech issues, such as those affecting the IATI Dashboard, we’ve always made sure we follow up with publishers to inform them where we see data challenges.

Beyond the US and the UK, and in partnership with a number of organisations, we looked at how the political environment in Italy, Liberia, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and China is providing challenges or opportunities to improve aid transparency. Likewise we’ve been trying to stay connected globally by combining country visits in the Global South with conferences in the North including the IATI Technical Advisory Group Meeting, the UN World Data Forum, and the Open Government Partnership conference.

As part of our data use strategy we conducted two interactive webinars on how to make the best use of international aid data. In these webinars we covered a variety of tools which can be used to access open aid data, and went into detail on the use of IATI, OECD-DAC and World Bank portal data.

We’ve also been looking at the issue of aid transparency in new areas including a preliminary look at the state of gender disaggregated aid data. 

Looking forward

Our relationship with IATI continues to build and we were encouraged to see them commit to publishing their guidance on how to implement aid and budget alignment. We followed this up with an analysis of the progress made on aid and budget alignment to date.

A core part of our new strategy is looking at transparency of Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and indeed the resources they can help mobilise. We’d already written on the subject of the collection and publication of this information through the regular OECD DAC Credit Reporting Service (CRS) process. With the launch of the new US DFI – the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) we’re already working to see how best this new institution can set the gold standard in terms of aid transparency.

There were changes here at Publish What You Fund with Rupert Simons stepping down as CEO at the start of the year and the appointment of Gary Forster in July. In October, ten years since the founding of Publish What You Fund we took the opportunity to reflect on the original vision of those who conceived the idea, and the journey to date including some of the successes achieved along the way and the challenges which remain.