(Yinebon Iniya is
manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center.)
In almost every corner of the philanthropic world,
transparency appears to be the buzzword these days. Foundations and donors often talk about their
efforts to more strategically catalyze change and make an impact, however,
while they have great stories to share, the quantifiable outcomes of their
efforts are difficult to fully measure and further, in many cases, best practices
that may potentially help others become more effective are not shared at all.
So what’s happening in the world of government aid, where
there has also been a lot of transparency talk, especially around the looming Millennium Development Goals?
If you were at the Opening Up
Aid: Better Data, Better Use forum at the Brookings Institute last week,
then you already realize that aid transparency can be summed up in a four
IATI stands for the International
Aid Transparency Initiative, a bold undertaking that is in its fifth year
and continues to push efforts to publish open data in a standard that allows
government agencies to tell their story.
The forum was about promoting the progress that has been
made during IATI’s five-year period and
to display the 2013 Aid
Transparency Index (ATI), an online index launched jointly by Oxfam America
and Publish What You Fund that
measures aid transparency from some of the world’s leading aid agencies in the
form of a ranking system that demonstrates which organizations are most and
The ATI is a colorful chart that displays the name of the
donor and their score. Clicking on the
chart brings up the donor profile information and its relevance to IATI. There is specific detail about the scoring,
which contains data about what the donor has made available and its score there
as well. Users can filter their searches
by organization size, type, or initiative. This is all available online, and can be accessed by anyone for free.
on a quarterly basis in extensible markup language (XML) format, is machine-readable and according to David
Hall-Matthews, Managing Director of Publish What You Fund, the best format
because it is the ”only format that is both comparable and accessible.”
Hall-Matthews, who gave a rousing address about the
importance and push for agencies to become more transparent, talked about a
data revolution, clearly excited about the potential and commitment many of the
groups are making to publish useful data on aid activities.
And the Highest
Ranking Aid Transparency Agency is…
He also had the pleasure of announcing the top ranked agency
so far, which happens to be the Millennium
Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. based foreign aid agency that since
2004, has been providing assistance in the fight against global poverty. According to Publish What You Fund, which
ranked 67 donor organizations, MCC, scored 88.9% overall, narrowly beating
organizations like GAVI Alliance, Department
for International Development, and United Nations Development
Program which also scored high marks.
The scoring was based on organizations that are providing “large amounts
of accessible, timely, comparable, and comprehensive information about their
This information is useful to people like Hector Corrales,
Director of International Cooperation at the Republic of Honduras’ Ministry of
Planning and International Cooperation, who made a compelling case when he
talked about mutual accountability; a coming together of donors and countries,
and the need for the data to be published quarterly so that it could create a
friendly competition among the agencies while also reminding them about the
areas that need to be improved.
Honduras, an active member of IATI, recently launched an aid
management platform, which contains information on all aid activity, including
government data. Mr. Corrales praised
IATI for its efforts while indicating it was imperative for the “long term transformation
of development actors in the field”.
After all, in order to be really effective and impactful, having good,
searchable, timely, comprehensive data is not only important, it’s vital. He was pleased to announce that Honduras is
committed to IATI and its standard.
Advice and Best Practices
There was also a panel on transparency that featured a list
of high-profile aid agencies that are involved in everything from capacity
building, development planning, economic growth, political reform to budget and
policy. The panel, moderated by Tessie
San Martin, President and CEO of Plan USA, included Caroline Anstey, Managing
Director of World Bank; Tony Pipa, Deputy Assistant for the U.S. Agency for
International Development; Robert Goldberg, Director, Office of U.S. and
Foreign Assistance Resources, U.S. Department of State; the aforementioned
Hector Corrales; and Sheila Herrling, V.P., Department of Policy and
Evaluation, Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Herrling, who was thrilled that MCC climbed from a 9th
place ranking to the top of the standings shared how they were able to
accomplish the feat along with some best practices;
- Declare that you’re going to be transparent and
have the political will to be able to overcome fear because you have to be
willing to answer questions about your own data and that takes time.
- MCC uses data to make decisions on everything so
the realization they could not access their own data, coupled with a push from
external audiences asking for better data made their decision to publish better
information an easy one.
- The learning that can be made possible by the
volume of data that can be shared in the information space is an important
Most of the guests on the panel shared their best practice
of having a good group of technical and policy teams working together and
agreed that political will and the hunger to see transparency of aid data
improve are all important aspects of keeping this movement alive and growing.
To sum this all up in the words of the Senior Fellow of
Brookings and the introductory speaker, George Ingram, “This is a small but
important element in the data revolution.”