by Paul Lenz (Chair) and Gary Forster (CEO) of Publish What You Fund
The way we think and talk about aid transparency is evolving. So today we are launching a new three-year strategy for Publish What You Fund – setting out how we want to work and what we want to achieve by 2024.
Where we’ve come from
A lot has changed since we prepared our last three-year strategy in 2018:
- Our team has grown from 9 to 16, now spread across four time zones.
- We have analysed the gender financing flows in Guatemala, Kenya and Nepal and used our findings to help gender equality funders to increase their transparency.
- We have initiated work to understand and improve the transparency of funding for women’s economic empowerment.
- We have researched the data needs of local and national humanitarian actors in Iraq and Bangladesh.
- We have expanded our focus on aid agencies to examine the transparency of development finance institutions (DFIs).
- We have continued to drive global aid transparency through the Aid Transparency Index.
- We have worked with more partner organisations across more countries than ever before.
At the same time the aid transparency field has been challenged by a number of developments. We’ve observed donor governments announcing unilateral budget and policy changes without the requisite reporting to stakeholders, COVID has highlighted the importance of up to date and comparable data, and the crisis in Afghanistan has demonstrated the importance of balancing openness while minimising harm.
Our recent projects have informed our understanding of the needs of those producing and using aid and development data. They have also caused us to redefine the way we think about transparency. As an organisation, we are starting to move towards a definition of transparency which includes not just publication but engagement and accountability. This encompasses the building of transparent relationships between data publishers and stakeholders, consultation, participation and inclusive decision-making. This will inform our work and our aims over the coming years.
Where we’re heading
Launched this week, our 2021-24 strategy builds directly on everything we’ve accomplished, and also everything we’ve learned, since our establishment in 2008. Aid transparency remains very much at the core and as such we’re sticking with our vision and mission and the three pillar structure of our objectives. However, despite the similarity, it is important to share where our thinking has evolved in the past three years and how we have sought to reflect these changes in our strategy. Specifically, there are three key areas that we’ve been focusing on: engagement, language and power.
Engagement: Our previous research ‘With publication comes responsibility’ highlighted the need for engagement and more understanding of the gaps between publishers and data users. This was carried further in our 2020 Index and launch event which highlighted the need for more engagement around data to drive change in development outcomes. The launch of our 2021−2024 strategy marks the beginning of a journey for Publish What You Fund towards understanding, defining and measuring the concept of engagement. Our working definition is that data engagement is the process whereby data publishers actively engage with data users, including them as active partners from the inception of the process. Engagement should help build trust, increase the use of data and increase local ownership. Data engagement is a recognition of the various stakeholders, especially local actors, and the need for their voices to be heard. This strategy will enable us to improve Publish What You Fund’s methodology for engagement.
Language: Across all of our work we’ve been reviewing how we communicate and specifically the words we use. We understand the power of language and the need to use words and phrases that portray the reality of aid and development rather than those which perpetuate outdated tropes or exacerbate unfair power dynamics. We will regularly revisit and update our communications guidelines and strive to use language that is clear, inclusive, truthful, and consistent.
Power: At Publish What You Fund, we have reflected on our own position and power and recognise that we function in a sector where decisions, control and resources are held by a small number of donors and INGOs, mostly based in the global North. Power is a topic that we are still exploring as an organisation and we are only at the beginning of our journey of learning and trying new ways of working to contribute to a shift in this dynamic. We firmly believe that transparency and access are tools that can tackle unfair power structures and hope to be a leader and supporter by sharing information held by those in power, whilst being mindful that we ourselves are an organisation headquartered in the global North, with staff predominantly based in the UK.
So far, our work, in particular the Aid Transparency Index, has seen us working far more with development agencies, donors and technocrats, than with data users or policy makers in countries where this aid is spent. Equally, our theory of change has very much focussed at the global level, largely due to our organisational definition of transparency, which until recently, focused on data publication, open data and information disclosure. However, our approach to transparency is evolving. Transparency must include not just publication but engagement: building transparent relationships with partners, consultation, participation, inclusive decision-making with civil society and local actors, and accountability.
What we want to achieve
Our objectives for the next three years build on what we’ve achieved in the last three but with the important caveat that we will now encourage and measure engagement between data publishers and data users. We never saw aid transparency as a means to make data available, but rather to fulfil development effectiveness goals by ensuring projects are inclusively co-designed and aligned with partner country objectives. Our strategic pillars are:
1) Engaging with data: Collaborating to ensure that actors engage around development data and that this data is used to contribute to improved outcomes and achievement of local, national, and global development goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Goal: By the end of 2024, aid and development data will have been used in a number of settings and countries as a direct result of our encouragement of publishers to engage with data users, especially local actors. This will support greater accountability and more informed and inclusive decision-making for better development outcomes and achieving the SDGs.
2) Full transparency: Making all aid and development finance data transparent, available and usable.
Goal: By the end of 2024, over and above traditional bilateral aid and humanitarian spending, we will have worked with donors in at least three new areas/aid and development funding vehicles to make their aid and development information more transparent.
3) More quality data: Strengthening and extending our research, advocacy and technical expertise to improve the quality and usability of aid and development finance information.
Goal: By the end of 2024, we will have measurably driven improvements in the quality and usability of aid and development information provided by donors and other financing vehicles.
We’re excited that our strategy provides the structure, and also the flexibility, for Publish What You Fund to play a significant role in advancing aid transparency to support development goals at the local, national and global level.