Last week, transparency organisation Publish What You Fund launched the 2011 Pilot Aid Transparency Index at a conference hosted by the Overseas Development Institute. Although I was unable to attend in person, the event was livestreamed and looked at why aid transparency is important, how different countries compare and some of the challenges behind publishing aid data.
The first speaker, Karin Christiansen, outlined what she sees as a lack of transparency among many governments about aid spending. Even where data is published, much of it is of poor quality with broken URLs or locked away in PDFs. If the aid community is to push beyond this, then four things need to happen:
- Civil society must keep the aid transparency agenda in the public eye and ensure that political pressure is maintained.
- Organisations should publish the data that they do have and put in place systems to capture data they currently don’t collect.
- All data needs to be machine readable.
- Data publishers must follow the common standard for aid transparency, IATI.
The second speaker was the Rwandan High Commissioner to the UK, Ernest Rwamucyo, who highlighted the fact that aid transparency is but the first step on the road to aid effectiveness. To be able to fully evaluate the impact of any aid spending, we must first know how, where and what that aid is being spent on. He said that donors and recipients both need to be open about what happens to aid money if we are to progress.
The third speaker, Alex Gerbrandij, of the European External Action Service spoke about some of the challenges faced by donors looking to publish their data. His experience with IATI had not been straightforward and that implementation required IT specialists, high-level commitment and patience. While I would agree that IATI implementation could and should be much simpler, recent developments have reduced many of the barriers previously faced by organisations wanting to be more transparent. Tools such as Open Aid Register and a similar aid data web entry platform being developed by aidinfo now allow organisations to publish their own data without the need for in-house technical expertise or knowledge of XML. Still, the aid transparency movement is still in its early stages and the road to full transparency is by no means smooth or straight.
It will be interesting to see how the movement progresses over the coming months and years and in particular to see whether smaller NGOs, emerging economies and private donors truly embrace the transparency agenda.