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Small World, Big Data: 2012 Aid Transparency Index Released
October 26, 2012

David Hall-Matthews is the Director of Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid transparency. He was previously a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in International Development at the University of Leeds, where he focused on governance and accountability, including food security, democracy, corruption, colonial administration and the global political economy of development.

Mathews-100I am pleased to have the chance to write for the Glasspockets blog, as I believe it is a powerful online resource that can help increase the understanding of best practices in foundation transparency and accountability. Its products, such as the Transparency Heat Map and Eye on the Giving Pledge, demonstrate the different areas of philanthropic giving that need to be made more transparent. 

Our recently released 2012 Aid Transparency Index shows a slow but steady improvement in global aid transparency, but it also finds that most aid information is still not published. For those not familiar with the Aid Transparency Index, it is a tool used to monitor the transparency of aid donors across 43 different indicators, to track progress and encourage further transparency.

Produced annually, this year’s Transparency Index ranks a total of 72 donors – a combination of bilateral and multilateral agencies, climate finance funds, humanitarian agencies, development finance institutions and philanthropic foundations. This year’s average transparency score rises to 41 per cent – a modest 7 percent rise from 2011.

The UK Department for International Development and the World Bank became the first two organisations to ever receive a ‘good’ rating. Six organisations – including the African Development Bank – also rose in 2012 to join nine others in the ‘fair’ category.

Unfortunately, the poor and very poor groups still contain nearly half of all organisations surveyed – including some of the world’s largest donors, such as France.

In addition to ranking donors, the Index urges all donors to sign and implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which offers a global common standard for publishing aid information. Foreign assistance published to this standard is shared openly in a timely, comprehensive, comparable and accessible way.

As mentioned above, this year we included private foundations in our Index, to recognise the role that foundations play in aid and development. We decided to include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the ranking for specific reasons. The Hewlett Foundation is a prime-mover behind IATI, as one of the original signatories and second organisation to publish to the IATI Registry. The Gates Foundation was included because of its size and impact.

The Hewlett Foundation performed moderately well, increasing its score by 7 percentage points from 2011, to hold 31st place. Hewlett performed well at the activity level, tying 18th overall, due to its regular publication of project level information to IATI.

The Gates Foundation likewise performed moderately, ranking 33rd and scoring above the average for all donors. It performed consistently across all indicators, posting above average scores on the country and activity level indicators. Most information is found in a searchable, comprehensive grants database that could be converted to the IATI format – although it has yet to sign IATI.

While we understand the specific challenges that foundations face, particularly around safety for the NGOs they fund, they must publish to the IATI Registry as with any other development assistance donor. It is important to note that smaller foundations, such as the Indigo Trust, are already publishing to IATI.

Nine of the top 16 ranking donors in our Index have begun publishing to IATI, significantly improving the availability of timely and comparable information. Some of the biggest increases in rankings can be attributed to donors, such as Australia, publishing information via IATI.

But as the Index shows, there continues to be too little readily available information about aid, undermining the efforts of those who both give and receive it. All donors should publish ambitious implementation schedules, in line with the commitments made at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, to start publishing to the IATI registry in 2013. This timeline is essential if donors are to deliver on their Busan commitment of full implementation by December 2015.

The work of organisations like the Foundation Center is crucial to improving the transparency of foreign assistance, and increasing the understanding of the role foundations in international development.

The Gates Foundation has been reviewing what approach to take in its own transparency policies, and we hope they will decide to publish to IATI as well, so that its current activities can be seen alongside the work of other foundations, NGOs and official donors. When all donors are publishing consistently to a common standard, it will help to improve – and demonstrate – the value of their aid. It will also help to encourage other, newer donors to improve their transparency.

For aid to be fully transparent, donors must publish information to IATI. Only then can aid and related development activities be made truly effective, efficient and accountable.

--David Hall-Matthews

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