As a principle, aid information should be transparent. Whether it is public or private money, if its purpose is to improve the lives of others, aid affected peoples and other stakeholders should be able to see how much is being spent, where, why, when and how. Without it, how can there ever be independent scrutiny of and accountability for this vital resource? Simply disclosing aid spending deters governments from making ill-informed decisions and reduces the likelihood of conflicts of interest.
Transparency has many purposes. The role of accountability and coordination, part of the aid effectiveness movement since its inception, is now established. What is less developed – but is of at least equal importance – is using the information as a means for strong engagement with local and national actors – country governments, civil society, and advocates. This helps create the path for locally led development, a policy goal that has long been sought by advocates and which is now gaining traction among donors. Robust engagement with local actors can enable the shift in power to those who are too often excluded but are best positioned to know both the priorities and how best to reach communities that the resources are aimed at.
Transparency can also help a diverse range of stakeholders improve the effectiveness and efficiency of aid and development finance. As we enter the second decade of the aid transparency movement, there are a variety of examples where the availability and accessibility of up-to-date and comprehensive aid data is leading to better aid. Having a more complete data set, and more tools to access the data, is enabling more people to use the data to inform evidenced-based policy and funding decisions. Examples include:
Better alignment with country governments’ plans
- The number of country governments systematically using International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data for decision-making increased to six (Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Liberia). In 2022 Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Finance and Development Planning spoke about the Liberian Project Dashboard and the importance of aligning international aid flows with national priorities. Also in 2022, government officials from Chad, Madagascar and Lesotho highlighted their efforts to use IATI data to understand aid flows and align them with their national resources.
More capable civil society
- An effective civil society can provide useful feedback to aid agencies and represent the interests of aid affected communities. Aid transparency data is being used in the UK to hold the government to account where aid cuts were made without being made public. Globally aid data is being used to monitor and hold donors accountable for their promises and contributions to nutrition funding.
- In Nigeria the Follow the Money campaign has been using aid data to monitor the implementation of aid programmes. Meanwhile INGOs and NGOs are using global aid data to identify potential funders and analyse sector investments.
Faster and deeper research and learning
- Research organisations are using IATI data to answer major policy questions. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s annual global health financing reports have been using IATI data since 2020. The report provides estimates of spending on health, development assistance for health, and projections of future health spending and shows patterns between income groups and regions over time, highlights variations between countries, and helps identify where more resources are needed most. Meanwhile IATI data lends itself to analysis relating to immediate crises and has been used for research relating to COVID funding, including work by Georgetown University on mental health funding throughout the COVID period, as well as analysis by Development Initiatives of the crisis response and aid diversion relating to the war in Ukraine.
- Researchers working on the “Development consultants and contractors: for-profit companies in the changing world of ‘Aidland’” project based out of Cambridge University have been using IATI data to help trace aid flows to private sector implementers and triangulating this with open contract data to build a picture of the role contractors play in UK aid delivery.
- Publish What You Fund has also used global aid datasets for its own research on localisation, climate finance, and women’s economic empowerment.
Increasingly efficient and effective aid agencies
- As aid agencies have developed their own data portals the cost of responding to internal and external enquiries has significantly reduced. Examples include the UK’s DevTracker, the US’s gov, the European Commission’s EU Aid Explorer, and Sweden’s Openaid.se portal.
- A variety of aid agencies report that the efforts to be fully transparent have a positive ripple effect across their organisation. In 2022, Gavi spoke about how their transparency efforts have helped them make their internal information management processes and systems stronger.
Facilitating media scrutiny
- Journalists are using IATI data to investigate aid spending – for example in relation to anti-LGBTQ groups in Uganda and Ghana.
Accessibility to aid and development information is also a critical issue, and which too often has been a barrier. But an increasing number of third-party data visualisation and analysis platforms allow stakeholders to access, manipulate and interpret vast data sets. Examples include D-Portal, the Country Development Finance Data downloader, the OCHA COVID-19 dashboard and AIDA. Thematic dashboards, driven by IATI data, are also emerging including the livestock data portal. Also, the opportunities for research are increasing as new approaches emerge, including methodologies to merge IATI and OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System data or to provide real time insight into aid spending.
Today, after years of investment, most of the world’s major aid agencies provide good quality and up to date data about their activities. However, given the recent reversal of a number of formerly “irreversible” policy positions, such as the UK’s 0.7% aid commitment, and reductions in the quantity and quality of aid, it would be too easy for aid transparency progress to be rapidly reversed if nationalist or populist actors chose to do so. It is therefore critical we continue to campaign for greater aid and development transparency, and encourage the use of aid data to engage, understand and improve aid.