Transparency Talk

Category: "International Aid Transparency Initiative" (5 posts)

The Foundation Center and MacArthur Foundation Join IATI – Open Philanthropy Meets Open Global Development
December 23, 2013

(Jeff Falkenstein is vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center.)

FalkensteinThe Reporting Commitment, an initiative by 15 of the largest foundations in the United States to be more transparent in how they share data on their grantmaking, launched a year ago in October. Since then, those 15 foundations have been joined by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the VNA Foundation. These organizations have committed to a level of transparency and scrutiny never before seen in the philanthropic sector. But why? Some foundations are interested in communicating out what good works they are doing and sharing lessons learned; some are hoping to improve their organizational intelligence through the sharing of better and more timely data, and others are hoping to be more effective, efficient and targeted in both their grantmaking and collaboration efforts. Not that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

At the heart of the Reporting Commitment is a set of standards by which the participating foundations have agreed to report their data. 1) The grant data must be reported at least quarterly; 2) the grant data must include the details of the geographic area being served using the Foundation Center’s geographic taxonomy--the Geotree--so the data can be reported consistently; and 3) the foundations must all report their data using the Foundation Center’s html-based reporting standard, hGrant.

Egrant_reporterhGrant is just one approach to joining the Foundation Center’s eReporting program; another part of the program is eGrant Reporting wherein nearly 1,000 foundations provide data in an Excel format through standard report queries via one of the Center’s grants management software partners. We are working closely with many of our partners to include hGrant as a reporting output option as well.

IATIGiven our experience with data standards, the Center was invited to join the Technical Advisory Group of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an initiative to create an XML-based data standard to capture data on global development flows, primarily those of governments and international agencies. The goal of this work was to bring together organizations committed to working together to increase the transparency of capital flows benefitting aid on a global scale. In developing this standard, IATI has been careful not to duplicate the great work already being done by other organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-Operative Development, which produces statistics about past aid flows. Instead, the IATI standard builds on this foundational work and tries to improve the timeliness and accessibility of such data.

Realizing that government and multilateral/bilateral data does not tell the whole story of aid flows, many NGOs have also joined the IATI community. Additionally, two foundations have joined the initiative, including early adopter the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation Center is very excited to report that we are officially the 200th organization to join IATI, through the help of the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
. The MacArthur Foundation, one of the original participants of the Reporting Commitment, realized that it wanted to have a voice in international global development, as did the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation. Rather than MacArthur reporting directly to IATI, creating redundancy in their workflows, the Foundation Center worked to enable MacArthur’s Reporting Commitment hGrant feed to be simultaneously converted into the IATI XML standard and, as a result, it is now reported on the IATI registry. We are pleased to be able to help the MacArthur Foundation more fully engage in the global development conversation, and this is just one of the ways the Foundation Center is working to help philanthropy open up its data.

The Foundation Center is dedicated to increasing knowledge on philanthropy through the timeliness and transparency of data, as can be seen via our recent efforts around:

Much like the MacArthur Foundation wanting to get its information out to both peer foundations and the global development community, the Foundation Center is looking for ways to help other foundations be more strategic, gain access to more timely data, better understand where they sit in the sector in relation to their peers, and create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning.  We'll be announcing some new foundations joining the Reporting Commitment soon. Our work with hGrant and IATI is just another step down that road to helping foundations become a part of the open data movement. Come join us!

If you want to learn more about the Foundation Center’s eReporting program, IATI or anything else in this blog, please contact me at

-- Jeff Falkenstein


Aid Transparency Data is Growing (and Being Ranked!)
October 31, 2013

(Yinebon Iniya is manager of international data relations at the Foundation Center.)

Iniya-100In 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 letter word.


International Aid Transparency Initiative
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 least transparent.

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.

Information published 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 aid”.

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.

Aid Transparency 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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The learning that can be made possible by the volume of data that can be shared in the information space is an important element.

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.”

--Yinebon Iniya

Glasspockets Find: The Gates Foundation Joins the International Aid Transparency Initiative
October 16, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Gates-image-wall-crop2The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become the latest organization to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), signaling their intention to publish open data on their global development activities. IATI, launched five years ago in Accra, Ghana, aims to make information about aid spending easier to find, use and compare.

"At the end of the day, our goal is the same: to identify common ways we all can share information that will help the development community achieve greater impact."

In his blog post about the announcement—“Information Sharing for Impact”—Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes commented, “To figure out our approach to sharing information, we have taken lessons from what governments and other nonprofits are doing well, while considering the unique aspects of operating a foundation. At the end of the day, our goal is the same: to identify common ways we all can share information that will help the development community achieve greater impact.”

IATI has brought together donors, developing country governments, civil society and aid information experts to agree on a common, open, international standard for publishing more, and better, information about aid. The public can search and download data from the IATI Data Registry, which includes raw data from 189 organizations and counting.

If you’re not ready for IATI’s raw data, you can check out Open Aid Search, a simple search and browsing interface; or Aid View, a prototype visual interface to browse aid activities by donor, country and sector.

The Gates Foundation is one of the first private foundations to become a member of IATI, joining The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in increasing transparency through this global initiative.

-- Rebecca Herman


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

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Transparent of Them All?
March 28, 2012


David Sasaki, who works with the Omidyar Network (ON) in Mexico City, wrote in his blog last week that he aspires to be the "most transparent grant-maker in philanthropy," publishing his grants data on his personal blog as well as making it available in XML format using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards - meaning that anyone, anywhere, can access and repurpose his data. Sasaki has promised that within 15 days of a grant being awarded, he will share via his blog the following information:

  • Amount of grant
  • Date that grant agreement was signed
  • Name and link to receiving institution and other organizations involved in the project
  • Name and link to co-funders
  • Summary of grant
  • Contextual analysis of related issues
  • Metrics to gauge the impact of the grant
  • Date and manner that the relevant project will be evaluated

Omidyar and Sasaki are helping to grow the movement for transparency and accountability in philanthropy with this pledge of open grants data. This is the logical next step for one of the eight founding funders of a global effort called the Transparency and Accountability Initiative donor collaborative (TAI), which aims to empower citizens to hold their governments to account. It has been our experience at Glasspockets that funders seldom mention transparency unless they are speaking about grantees or governments, so it is refreshing to see that Omidyar is committing to play a leading role in grantmaker transparency.

The TAI funders' collaborative states on its web site that one of its aims for government transparency is "...encouraging all those working in this field to learn from their successes and failures so that they can have greater impact in the future." This is exactly what Glasspockets aims to do in fostering greater transparency, specifically among grantmakers. Just recently  Omidyar Network's Glasspockets profile was posted to the Glasspockets website and it shows the different ways in which ON is becoming more transparent as well as steps it could take to fulfill Sasaki's aspiration of becoming "the most transparent grantmaker in philanthropy."

The Glasspockets' assessment was developed by pouring over hundreds of foundation web sites to come up with a set of criteria that constitute the best existing practices in online foundation transparency. Of a total of 23 transparency and accountability elements, Omidyar Network meets 14, including making available online its code of conduct policies, conflict of interest policy, whistleblower procedures, and process by which it sets its executive compensation. But like other foundations, it is lacking what many in the field have found the most challenging: sharing details about things like an assessment of the foundation's overall performance, a centralized knowledge base of lessons learned from previous program evaluations, details about its investment policies, and information about its diversity practices. The Glasspockets Heat Map, portrays the information most and least publicly shared by the foundations and shows that Omidyar is not unique in this regard; as many of the 37 foundations that have volunteered for the Glasspockets assessment also lack these elements.

The most challenging criterion for the field to meet is that of assessing overall foundation performance: only 7 of the 37 grantmakers on the Heat Map have some documentation pertaining to overall foundation performance publicly available online. However, given the emphasis many foundations now place on grantee performance and outcomes, and how such assessments can help inform the course of other funders working in similar fields, it is arguably among the most important criterion. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Commonwealth Fund, just to name a few, have each posted their overall foundation performance assessments publicly. Most recently Humanity United, founded by Pam Omidyar, used its online annual report as a mechanism to assess its overall performance. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also developed an internal transparency and accountability scorecard that can be used as a helpful reference by other grantmakers aiming to improve their own transparency practices.

The TAI donor collaborative grantmakers well know from their global government transparency efforts, creating a culture of transparency can be a daunting task requiring influential leaders to build momentum. So thanks to Sasaki and the Omidyar Network for kicking off this important conversation, and leading by example.  Philanthropy is most commonly defined as the use of private wealth for public good. Growing numbers of foundations are discovering that transparency is the best means for putting the public in public good.

Help the philanthropy story unfold, submit your Glasspockets profile today.

-- Janet Camarena

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the GlassPockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Candid highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Candid.

    Questions, comments, and inquiries relating to guest blog posts may be
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    Janet Camarena
    Senior Director of Candid Learning