By Pascal Barollier, Managing Director of Public Engagement and Information Services, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
In the run up to the launch of the 2022 Aid Transparency Index, Pascal shares Gavi’s aid transparency journey, how the use of aid data has evolved, and how they incorporated data for the fast-moving COVAX initiative into their systems.
Gavi’s journey on the use of aid data has been guided by our six core values – teamwork, respect, openness, accountability, innovation and being country-driven. We put the Gavi implementing countries at the centre of everything we do. We first started publishing data in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) open data standard in 2014 because we wanted to ensure that Gavi implementing countries, donors and the public have access to information about how funding is being allocated with maximum impact to protect children in low-income countries with life-saving vaccines.
In the eight years since we began publishing our data we have made significant efforts to continually improve the quality, quantity and timeliness of what is reported. Working in conjunction with Publish What You Fund, we worked hard to understand key areas for improvement, and to design and implement specific measures to address these – which has resulted in a rating rise from the ‘good’ category to ‘very good’ in 2020.
“At Gavi, we are building and maintaining a glasshouse. While setting up and hosting COVAX, we had to be even more innovative and determined to make sure this critical addition to our mission would not become a black box.”
Better transparency makes for a better organisation
Aside from our increasing performance, what has become apparent over the years is that the effort to become fully transparent, and to ensure that our information is useful and of good quality, has helped make our processes and systems stronger, and our internal management information better.
Over the years, the organization drastically improved in financial data management, content and data management, communications, and programme management. Transparency is fully embedded into Data Management, which is one of Gavi’s core corporate priorities. In addition to that, Publish What You Fund’s external fresh look recommendations were always helpful to target precisely which processes/outcomes could be improved in information and data management. This improves transparency, but also the efficiency and impact of our processes and programmes.
Furthermore, through significant investments in process improvement, technology, training and education, transparency is now part of Gavi’s day-to-day. The “barrier” between internal and external information has become very thin, and this is what is expected from an organization like ours. With very few exceptions in limited areas like salaries and manufacturer vaccine tenders where privacy and commercial/operational interests must be observed, this spirit of openness runs throughout our work: almost everything is “transparent” and available. Gavi’s stories, impact and supporting content and data which you can get from IATI is pretty much the same as what Gavi staff can access internally, and much of this can also be found on our website or those of Alliance partners. Transparency is one of the drivers that fosters tight collaboration between Gavi teams and information management focal points, to make all this possible.
Launching COVAX – an unprecedented effort
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF. It was established in 2020 to ensure people in all corners of the world could access COVID-19 vaccines once they were available, regardless of their income level – and that those at greatest risk (healthcare workers, the elderly) in all countries could be protected.
Transparency is a core principle among the COVAX team: both on principle and a key operational lever to successfully set up an emergency response system during an unprecedented pandemic, which requires unprecedented real-time collaboration between organisations, countries, and other stakeholders around the world.
As COVAX got up and running from the ground up, we started to look at how we could use existing systems, specifically Gavi’s reporting processes, to share information about what we were doing. This was tough for two main reasons.
- Firstly, the pandemic was an uncertain, constantly shifting environment – for example, deals were in various stages of negotiation, countries’ needs and targets were shifting along with scientific guidance that influenced COVAX policy, offers of support and donations of excess vaccines were coming in from donor countries but some of these were estimates, or needed to be kept confidential while each donor country sought appropriate approval from their own governments. The need for communicating with the public had to be weighed against risks of reporting inaccurate or out-of-date information, or information that could negatively impact COVAX’s ability to deliver.
- Secondly there are the technical challenges which are unique to COVAX disclosure, and of collecting real-time data at such scale in an emergency response situation. As one example, while we’re proud to share up-to-date data for the number of vaccines we have shipped to individual countries, given countries’ rollouts involved COVAX and non-COVAX doses it was harder to track COVAX doses administered in real time. Similarly, information around country targets, demand, available stocks, etc. were constantly shifting – with uneven reporting frequency and quality across various regions. To better understand countries needs in real time and to support these efforts as well as the larger rollout, COVAX has funded additional vaccine management specialists in lower-income countries and enhanced systems to track stocks available in-country and administration rates.
Using external aid data to inform decision making
Having established a process for disclosing COVAX’s operational data, much of this information now forms the foundation of our internal information management in support of our day-to-day work. However, we also use aid data, including donor data published in the IATI open data reporting standard, to help us understand health financing trends, donor priorities, and what’s happening in individual countries. Seeing detailed information on financial commitments and disbursements helps us identify the key donors and philanthropic agencies operating in the same spheres as us.
At Gavi, we are building and maintaining a glasshouse. While setting up and hosting COVAX, we had to be even more innovative and determined to make sure this critical addition to our mission would not become a black box. We are proud of the results. We also know transparency will require constant attention in the future.