Read the whole UK Aid Transparency Report Card here.
UK aid transparency
The UK plays a vital role in championing aid transparency internationally, and was among the donors that established the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in 2008 to provide a global standard for publishing aid information. In 2011, the UK’s active support of aid transparency was further demonstrated by becoming the first to begin publishing to the IATI standard and in its priorities for the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The UK Government’s aspirations for leadership on broader government transparency were apparent in becoming a co-chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in April 2012.
The Government’s commitment to aid transparency is proven by the top ranking awarded to the Department for International Development (DFID) in Publish What You Fund’s 2012 Aid Transparency Index. Furthermore, aid transparency and publication to the IATI Registry is no longer a purely DFID-focused agenda; as stated in the UK’s OGP National Action Plan, other departments such as the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) must also publish aid information.1 This paper draws on the findings of the 2012 Aid Transparency Index to explore the state of the UK’s aid transparency across four UK Government departments and the UK’s development finance institution, CDC, and asks how embedded this transparency agenda is beyond DFID.
2012 Aid Transparency Index
The 2012 Aid Transparency Index monitored the transparency of 72 aid organisations in order to track progress and encourage further transparency and to hold the organisations to account.2 The performance of the UK agencies is shown in table 1.
The agencies ranged widely in performance, with an unweighted mean score of 42.1%. This is marginally higher than the average score of all 72 organisations assessed, which was 41.3%. DFID received the highest score (91.2%) out of all 72 organisations – placing it in the “good” category. The other UK agencies were placed in the categories of “moderate” (DECC) and “poor” (CDC, FCO and MOD), the latter three scoring similarly to equivalent French, German and U.S. departments and DFIs.
Overall UK aid and development flows have a good level of transparency at organisation level but, with the exception of DFID, transparency at country and activity level is weak. A common problem is that only aggregate figures are published, meaning that activity level data is unavailable.
Progress to date
Both of the UK agencies that were assessed in 2011 – CDC and DFID – improved significantly on their 2011 scores. DECC and CDC should be congratulated on beginning to publish to the IATI Registry in September 2012 and both are likely to receive higher scores in the future.
Whilst DFID is delivering on its ambitious transparency commitments, other agencies are lagging behind and have a long way to go to make their aid more transparent. Neither CDC nor the FCO scored on country level indicators, showing that attention must be paid to disaggregating data further to enable publication of data at country and activity level if agencies are to improve their scores. This paper offers agency-specific recommendations to help improve transparency.
Quality and usability of IATI data published
DFID pioneered the publication of data to the IATI Registry and now publishes increasingly high quality and relatively comprehensive datasets. DFID’s flows cannot yet be traced down to delivery level. However, the department is working on geo-coding data and providing names of implementing partners to make it possible to trace the flows from donor to implementation level.
DECC manages a relatively small part of UK ODA, which is presented thematically rather than by country. However, the data published to the IATI Registry is good quality, and includes project documentation. In contrast, the data published to the IATI Registry by CDC currently adds minimal value as it only contains aggregate amounts invested in each country and sector, and is not disaggregated even to the level of the individual fund in which CDC invests, let alone the ultimate beneficiary businesses.
Conclusions and recommendations
The UK has made significant progress in increasing aid transparency and a cultural shift appears to be taking place even in the traditionally less transparent agencies. Despite the UK Government’s commitment to open data and transparency, beyond DFID there remains a lot of aid data that is only partially available, is held in different locations and formats, is difficult to access, or is not published at all.
DFID is leading the way in aid transparency, yet if the UK Government is to be well positioned to deliver on its Busan aid transparency commitment of full implementation by December 2015, then there must be a shift towards publishing, including FCO and MOD aid data.3 Specific recommendations that each agency should prioritise include
- CDC should comprehensively publish investments in a more accessible and systematic format on the CDC website. CDC should seek to publish information on the specific funds that it is investing in. It should also include greater information disclosure on investee businesses in the contracts it signs with fund managers, and include sub-national location, planned and actual dates, impact appraisals, objectives and conditions.
- DECC should improve accessibility of aid information on its website to direct readers more easily to the detailed business cases and case studies. The inclusion of more sub-national location details would make the department’s activities more transparent. It should pilot the publication of climate finance to the IATI standard, work to automate publication and improve traceability.
- DFID should continue to improve the quality of the data published, pilot initiatives such as geo-coding and the forthcoming IATI “budget identifier” and share lessons learned with other agencies to help provide a complete picture of UK development spending.4 One important aspect of increasing the traceability of aid is ensuring that all DFID partners, including commercial contractors, also publish to the IATI Registry.
- FCO should publish an IATI implementation schedule and begin publishing what it can and improve this progressively. The FCO could learn from DFID’s experience – and that of other foreign ministries who are publishing to IATI – in making data accessible on its website.
- MOD should adopt a more transparent approach to its development activities, publish an IATI implementation schedule and begin implementation of IATI. For information not currently collected in a format that can be easily published, MOD should work to improve its internal data collection systems to ensure that this information can be published in the future. The MOD could work with DFID on making