In the UK Cabinet’s recent reshuffle, the departing International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, was thanked for his efforts in making ‘British development policy [more] transparent’. Over the past few years there has been a real push to make international aid spending more transparent, born of the belief that more transparent data allows for greater accountability (in both donor and recipient countries), greater coordination of aid efforts and fewer opportunities for corruption. A cornerstone of the transparency agenda has been the creation of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which provides a standardised way for governments, companies, philanthropic donors, NGOs and others to publish data relating to their international development activities. At present, almost 80 organisations – including DFID, UNDP, Oxfam and Indigo – publish their data through the IATI Registry. IATI allows these organisations to publish details of international development projects, such as geographical data, financial transactions and details of results.
The initial focus of IATI and others in the field of aid transparency has been on getting the big bilateral and multilateral donors to publish details of their spending. Increasingly, however, NGOs and charitable foundations are keen to get involved, although they have often faced difficulties getting to grips with the technical side of publishing their data. This is particularly the case for smaller organisations without in-house IT expertise or the budget to buy in external consultants (that was certainly our experience).
Fortunately, however, help is at hand in the form of Open Aid Register, a website that allows users to input their data in a straightforward way. The site then converts it into the (XML) format required by IATI. We have used the site to publish details of all our grants and are delighted to be supporting the site with a grant of £10,000, which will enable its creator, Ruth del Campo, to add several new features to the site. These new features will give users greater control over what data they publish and allow them to make better use of that data once published. The improvements to the site will include:
- Enhanced project form: This will give publishers greater flexibility to decide what they want to publish by adding several new fields to the standard project form.
- Document upload and management: IATI allows publishers to upload documents, such as evaluation reports and award letters. Open Aid Register will provide users with storage that will enable them to upload such documents directly via the site.
- Data export tool: This will allow publishers to download their own data in a variety of formats, such as Excel. This is particularly useful for smaller organisations that may not be adept at manipulating raw XML data.
- Developers API: An API is a tool that provides external applications with an easy way of accessing data held on a given site. This API will allow other sites and applications to access and use data held on Open Aid Register in a variety of ways.
- Personalised visualisation: This will give users the opportunity to view detailed project information plotted on a map and provides a user-friendly view of XML data.
Although the aid transparency movement has made impressive gains in recent times, there is still a great deal more to be done. The 78 organisations currently publishing their data are merely the tip of the iceberg and we hope that many, many more organisations will follow suit and start publishing their own data. We believe that Open Aid Register provides a simple and straightforward way of doing this (especially for smaller organisations) and that’s why we’re delighted to be supporting them. Now all I need to do is enter the details of this grant to Open Aid Register (on Open Aid Register, of course).