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As an advocacy organisation campaigning for aid transparency, constructive engagement with donors is an important part of our work. But another vital area has been measuring the state of aid transparency, how different donors are responding to these challenges and whether they are living up to their commitments. This is why we developed an Index to monitor progress and incentivise change. After last year’s successful pilot Index, we have added another 14 organisations, bringing the grand total up to 72.
As well as the Index, this year we’ve worked with ONE to produce a U.S. Aid Transparency Report Card, so we could explore this important juncture for the U.S. as it moves from political commitment to IATI towards implementation.
So, let’s take a look at the results! You should all have a copy of the Index, so you may wish to turn to page 4 as I go through the global ranking.
I think the first thing to note is the remarkable spread in performance, from the UK’s Department for International Development at the top with an impressive 91%, down to Malta at the bottom, which scored zero and pulled off the rather less than impressive feat of being even less transparent than China.
International organisations tend to do well, possibly because of the greater levels of scrutiny traditionally placed on them by their many stakeholders. In the top ten are found the World Bank (number 2 overall), the European Commission’s main aid department, DEVCO and the UN Development Programme.
You’ll see a similarly wide spread across the rankings for the five U.S. agencies and one program included in the Index. MCC – the Millennium Challenge Corporation, comes top of the pack with a very respectable 9th place, U.S.A.I.D. is 27th overall (with a score of 50%), PEPFAR just behind at 29th, the Department of the Treasury came 34th, the Department of State was 46th and finally, the Department of Defense was 56th out of 72.
Because of small adjustments to the methodology for this year’s Index, we have used like-for-like indicators to assess progress between years. This graph demonstrates that all U.S. agencies showed improvement against last year, though some from a very low base. The biggest improver in the U.S. was Treasury, which posted an 18 percentage point increase.
So, without going into too much detail on who came where, let’s reflect on what to make of these results. First, the 2012 Index shows that progress is being made. But, this progress is modest. Although nearly two-thirds of organisations surveyed in both years showed improvement, the average score across all donors was just over 41%, compared to 34% in 2011.
It is also clear that some organisations are trail-blazing. For the first time, two organisations (DFID and the World Bank) scored high enough to receive a good rating – the threshold being over 80%.
Our second overall conclusion is more “glass half empty”. Although progress is being made, 41% is a long way short of good practice. Most aid information is still not published systematically or in a comparable format. The number of organisations in the poor and very poor groups is smaller than 2011 but those bottom groups still contain nearly half of all organisations surveyed, including some of the world’s largest donors.
Being able to compare information is essential for building the bigger picture of aid flows. Hence our emphasis on the need for more donors to publish to the international common standard.
Which leads me to our final conclusion: IATI is the most effective vehicle for delivering aid transparency. It is no coincidence that the top 16 organisations in the 2012 Index are all IATI signatories. Some of the best improvers, including GAVI, Australia and the European Commission’s DEVCO, achieved big jumps in the Index ranking by publishing to the IATI Registry.
Nine of the top 16 organisations have begun publishing to the IATI Registry, significantly improving the availability of timely and comparable information.
While donors can improve their aid transparency without publishing to IATI, it is hard to be fully transparent and thus achieve high scores in the Index without publishing high quality information at all levels – a process made far easier by building IATI into information systems.
So we were delighted by the release last week of guidance from OMB on foreign assistance data. As well as stating a bold vision and establishing robust principles for aid transparency, the guidance shows how U.S. agencies will implement the commitment to IATI. This seems to be a solid approach, as long as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard is able to deliver the full scope of the IATI standard.
Last year’s Index was launched ahead of a key political moment – the Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. Many donors, notably including the U.S., Canada and the Inter-American Development Bank, signed up to IATI at Busan and promised to engage with the standard.
So our first recommendation echoes the comments made by Secretary Clinton earlier this year – it is now time for decisive implementation. Donors should publish ambitious implementation schedules, by the end of the year and at least start publishing to IATI next year. This timeline is essential if donors are to deliver on their Busan commitment of full implementation by December 2015.
Our second recommendation is about how to implement. Donors should employ a “publish what you can” approach to test the capability of their existing systems to produce high quality, timely information. Governments, such as the U.S, that have several aid agencies should not wait until the slowest mover is ready to publish. Instead, start publishing to IATI what is already at hand. Other agencies will learn a great deal from the experience.
The next step is to increase the quality, frequency, accessibility and detail of publication, to deliver IATI’s unique benefits: the comparability and traceability of aid information throughout the delivery chain. This information will soon be linked to partner country budgets through the forthcoming IATI “budget identifier”, radically improving the budget planning process of aid dependent recipients.
Eventually organisations should automate publication to the IATI Registry. This would reduce data-entry errors and help to make multiple reporting requirements less costly and less burdensome.
Our last recommendation is that all development finance actors should engage with IATI. Publication to the IATI standard has been undertaken by all sorts of actors, from large bilaterals and multilaterals to private donors and CSOs.
Permit me to finish with some reflections on implementing IATI.
First, don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Where countries have multiple aid-spending components, let leaders lead. We’ve seen what a catalytic effect this can have, both within national jurisdictions and internationally.
Second, seize the opportunity to deliver on aid transparency by using the best tools available to you. For example, it is great to see the new OMB guidance calling for XML, the smart choice, not yesterday’s approach. As Dr Shah said at the launch of last year’s Index, (I quote) “we have to pursue these reforms aggressively”, (end quote). To me, that means not settling for easy solutions. Do it once, and do it right.
Third, national or regional visualisations, such as the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard or the EU’s “Transparent-aid” portal, can play an important role in presenting an aggregate picture of aid information across their constituencies. But it does not make sense to funnel information through them before publishing to IATI. This is likely to reduce the quality and timeliness of the data – key reasons for doing IATI in the first place. These portals should be prime consumers of IATI data rather than producers. This fits the model of “publish once, use often”.
Donors like the U.S. will be able to see the bigger picture via IATI, putting its own activities in the context of other donors, NGOs, contractors and recipients. It allows visualisations and applications like this, which shows MCC’s current activities in Tanzania along other IATI donors. We used MCC’s publicly available data and mapped it manually – just imagine how easy this will be once U.S. agencies start publishing to the IATI Registry.
And finally, as I said earlier, some organizations are blazing a trail at the top. As the world’s largest donor, wouldn’t it be great if the U.S. was up there too, leading by example.