2020 has been a tough year, and a time that many of us will want to forget. As we look ahead to a hopefully brighter 2021, we decided to take a moment to reflect on developments in 2020, to find the bits to remember and focus on the work that lies ahead.
In January, we released our review of the transparency of UK government departments which spend official development assistance (ODA). Our research found that 3 out of 10 government departments were meeting 2020 targets for aid transparency. As the year progressed, the UK’s international development and foreign office departments were merged and aid budgets cut; our work remains highly relevant in the debate over the prioritisation of ODA programmes and the transparency of decision-making.
In March, we launched our Gender Financing project, which seeks to improve the publication of gender-related financial and programmatic data to achieve better development outcomes. Reaching and measuring progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 will require more transparent, usable and robust gender data. Working with our partners, we are using a country-based approach to track the gender-related aid in Guatemala, Nepal and Kenya by the top donors to determine what information is available and what is missing. We have already produced a visualisation of ten year trends in published gender aid data, and initiated a data diary blog series. Our initial findings will be released in early 2021, and we will go on to produce targeted recommendations and advocate more widely for improvements to gender financing data. Look out also for a series of short films on how to go about tracking gender funding.
In June, after a rigorous process, we launched the 2020 Aid Transparency Index, the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major aid donors. It highlighted significant improvement in aid donors’ overall transparency compared to 2018, but only a minority of donors are publishing project results with fewer still publishing project reviews and evaluations. We held an online launch and also released a blog series and a collection of short films, exploring issues raised by the Index – including the future of aid transparency and the importance of trust and engagement. With only the briefest of pauses, work is now underway to review and refine the research method we’ll be using for the 2022 Aid Transparency Index.
It has been full steam ahead for our team working to improve the transparency of public funds invested in the private sector through development finance institutions (DFIs). We believe that greater transparency can start to lay the foundation for more informed decision making, more accountability and better allocation of resources, including information to assess the development impact of and learnings from DFI investments. In April the first meeting of the DFI Transparency Initiative’s advisory group agreed the five focus areas for our work. In July, we released the findings from the first of these – basic project information. In October, we completed the second focus area – impact management. We looked at the use and disclosure of impact measurement practices of 20 leading bilateral and multilateral DFIs, and found that they rarely disclose expected impacts, or actual development results. We also launched a DFI spotlight series, highlighting interesting approaches and innovative practices. In 2021 our collaborative work to better understand the priority issues for development, transparency and DFIs will continue with the third focus area on environmental and social safeguards and accountability to communities. Later in the year we will develop and advocate ambitious and actionable transparency recommendations for DFIs.
In August, we completed work on our Humanitarian Data Transparency project, releasing two research briefs exploring the information needs of humanitarian actors on the ground in Bangladesh and Iraq, and the challenges they face in accessing and using this information. the research highlighted key challenges around data quality, a lack of data governance and leadership at the field level, and limited data use capacity. Earlier in the year we produced four global research briefs, exploring key issues facing front line responders accessing and using timely, comprehensive, and comparable data they require to make operational, programmatic, and financial decisions. We found substantial opportunity to re-calibrate our collective humanitarian data management efforts as well as transparency initiatives to incorporate the data needs and challenges of frontline humanitarian actors. This will require a re-balancing of effort, moving beyond a focus at the HQ level, and encouraging engagement around data at the field level.
We have more exciting news on the horizon including a new initiative to explore the role, limitations, and opportunities associated with Women’s Economic Empowerment data which we hope to launch early next year.
In this turbulent time, our core principles remain as important as ever and we continue to strive towards our goal of ensuring that transparency delivers meaningful impact. We could not have delivered any of the work above alone and we would like to thank all of those who have funded our initiatives, contributed to our research, collaborated on our endeavours and helped to amplify our findings.