The Home Straight

The 31st of December 2015 marks the deadline that donors set themselves to make their aid fully transparent. The Road to 2015 campaign was launched over a year ago to push donors to meet their commitment and we are now entering the home straight.

But we are not taking our foot off the pedal. To coincide with the upcoming deadline Publish What You Fund announced last week that we have started collecting data for the 2016 Aid Transparency Index. This means we’ll be monitoring the quality of donors’ open data publication over the next three months. In early January we will have a dataset that tells us exactly who out of 46 of the largest and most influential donors have made it across the finish line, and which have not.

We hope that this will provide some additional impetus to donors to get more data out there ahead of the deadline. With so much happening during 2015, in the shape of the Financing for Development summit last July and finalisation of the SDGs in September, we believe it is crucial not to let donors off the hook for the commitments they have already made. If we are to take new commitments seriously then existing ones must first be met. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that more and better data is needed to support the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Publication of open aid data to IATI is only one part of the puzzle, but an extremely important one. Last week the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data was launched in New York. We have joined the partnership, releasing a statement that includes our commitment to it. But we also included a condition that as donors make new promises, they should not be allowed to forget the promises they have already made.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the U.S. will join IATI at Busan in 2011
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the U.S. will join IATI at Busan in 2011

Our message is simple: There is still time to act. In the past we have seen dramatic increases in the amount of information published during the time we collect the data for our Index ranking. Our last review showed that in Europe, major donors such as France and Germany had significant improvements to make. Others were still stuck in the pits. Italy, for example, has to date published no information to the agreed open standard (although they have joined the Global Data Partnership). In the U.S., spending by the State Department and Department of Defense is still not transparent, despite their commitment to make it so back in 2011. But the review also showed that improvement is possible in a short space on time. USAID, for instance, jumped 20% in terms of their data quality assessment in 2015. They achieved our ‘good’ category for the first time and put themselves on-track to meet the deadline.

So stay tuned to see which donors have made it, and which are still stuck in the garage.

Nick Winnett is Publish What You Fund’s Partnerships and Outreach Officer and the Road to 2015 campaign coordinator.

Where is the EU on the Road to 2015?

“We will work to improve the availability and public accessibility of information on development co-operation and other development resources, building on our respective commitments in this area. To this end, we will…implement a common, open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development…with the aim of implementing it fully by December 2015“.

(Busan Partnership Agreement §23, December 2011)

We now have just six months to go until the deadline for donors to fully open up their aid information. Three and a half years ago at the last major aid effectiveness forum in Busan, Korea, donors agreed to do this. They’ve had plenty of time, but now the clock is ticking on their promise. It is critical that those who have made little progress act now.

In the run up to the deadline we are coordinating the Road to 2015 campaign, a civil society coalition that is pushing donors to deliver on this commitment. As part of the campaign we are conducting two aid transparency reviews to see how donors are progressing. Later this week we will be launching the first of these reviews, which will focus on the progress of major EU donors. We will be publishing a full Aid Transparency Index in early 2016 so we can see how donors have fared in meeting the deadline, but we didn’t want to let them off the hook this year, so we’ve designed these reviews as a mid-year stock-take.

This year is an important one not just for transparency, but for the whole development sector. The Busan deadline that was set back in 2011 is also timed to coincide with the start of the post-2015 Development Agenda, the shape of which is currently being negotiated. To give the new agenda every chance of success it is crucial that donors have laid the proper groundwork to allow them to systematically publish timely and complete information about their activities.

Furthermore, if donors cannot fulfil a promise which is so achievable then it is hard to take any new commitments seriously. A group of donors are taking the lead and showing that high levels of transparency are achievable; but the efforts of this lead group are being dragged down by the rest. For transparency to be transformative, we must be able to see the whole picture, not just patches of it.

So which European donors are we reviewing?

When will the review be out?

The review will be released on Wednesday June 3rd, and the findings will be discussed as part of an event at the European Development Days in Brussels on Thursday June 4th. If you’re coming to the EDDs then please come along!

How can you get involved?

If your organisation is interested in joining the Road to 2015 campaign then please get in touch. We greatly value the support of our partners; by working together we can put extra pressure on donors throughout the rest of this year to deliver on their promise.

This blog was originally posted on 1st June 2015 on the Publish What You Fund website

Financing and Development: Donors must make the aid data revolution reality

Years ago, I spent a summer working in the research department of an investment bank. My job was to analyse company data and spot long-term trends in equities markets. As finance professionals know, the data can be overwhelming: numbers blinking on Bloomberg terminals, scrolling across TV screens and clogging up your email in endless reports. But in mature markets, the data is freely available on the day its published, and there are stiff penalties if its withheld or falsified. An army of analysts jumps on every quarterly earnings report or press release, digests its implications, and quickly raises the alarm if the numbers don’t add up. There are many obstacles to the efficient functioning of financial markets, but a shortage of information is not one of them.

The contrast with international development is stark. Last year, I helped the Government of Sierra Leone to set up a Situation Room to manage the fight against Ebola. The government and its partners were able to map where the sick people were, where the hospitals and clinics were, and how many people were being treated in each. Many partners have been generous with financial assistance – not least the UK. But the government often doesn’t know how much aid it is getting, or where that aid is going. Imagine opening an Ebola treatment centre without knowing who will pay the staff.

There is a lot of data in development, but most of it is buried in long reports and hidden in closed IT systems. Even if you can get hold of it, you can’t always trust it. In his book ‘Poor Numbers’, Morten Jerven explains why. One reason is that national statistics offices are rarely a priority for cash-strapped governments. But there is no excuse for the poor quality of data on aid. The governments and foundations who provide aid know where it is going and have in fact committed to publish this information to a common standard for aid reporting by the end of 2015. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) currently has over 300 aid organisations opening up their accounts and publishing their aid to the IATI Registry. Yet many leading donors of international aid are still publishing too little, too late.

Take Sierra Leone for example. You can see at www.d-portal.org that Sierra Leone received US$321 million for humanitarian aid in 2014. Almost all of that was for Ebola. The UK government was a major contributor, and the Netherlands and UN agencies also pitched in. But there is little information from major donors like the U.S., France or Germany. The U.S. government has committed over US$1 billion to fighting Ebola in West Africa. That is more than the entire annual budgets of Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone. Those governments need to know what donors are doing so they can use their own money to best effect and not spend it on the same things.

Aid transparency doesn’t have to be hard. Governments like the Netherlands have found that if they publish to IATI once, they can give the same data to their partners, taxpayers and other donors. The United Nations Development Programme has shown that UN agencies can do it too – indeed they ranked first place in our 2014 Aid Transparency Index. In the U.S., the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are leading the way. Donors who publish soon find that transparency makes their aid better. The French Minister for International Development, Annick Girardin, told Devex what happened when France put its aid to Mali online at www.transparence-aide.gouv.fr:

Malians themselves come to the website to tell us, “this particular project did not meet expectations”, or “we would have preferred something different”. Beyond transparency, this is enabling participation of French citizens, but also of countries where we provide support through our partnerships.

The transparency rules in financial markets were usually established after stockmarket crashes like 1929 or 2008. It was during the Great Depression that the U.S. Congress required public companies to have their accounts audited, report their results once a quarter, and prohibited insider trading. The system isn’t foolproof, and requires constant updating, but no investor can imagine modern finance without data.

In 2013, a UN panel of presidents and prime ministers called for a data revolution in development. It’s time for aid donors to make that revolution a reality. See www.roadto2015.org for more information.

Rupert Simons – CEO of Publish What You Fund

Development Initiatives’ Data Manifesto

Development Initiatives has put together ‘The Data Manifesto’ which sets out 12 recommendations for the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution.

The Manifesto sets out DI’s belief that the data revolution should be about data “grounded in real life”. This means information that gets to the “people who need it at national and sub-national levels to help with the decisions they face – hospital directors, school managers, city councillors, parliamentarians”.

it also refers to the need to disaggregate data, to show the real impact of decisions and results on the ground, something which Publish What You Fund strongly advocates for as well.

To deliver this vision, we need the following steps.

The Data Manifesto 12 recommendations are as follows:

1. Implement a national ‘Data Pledge’ to citizens that is supported by governments, private and non-governmental sectors

2. Address real world questions with joined up and disaggregated data

3. Empower and up-skill data users of the future through education

4. Examine existing frameworks and publish existing data

5. Build an information bank of data assets

6. Allocate funding available for better data according to national and sub-national priorities

7. Strengthen national statistical systems’ capacity to collect data

8. Implement a policy that data is ‘open by default’

9. Improve data quality by subjecting it to public scrutiny

10. Put information users’ needs first

11. Recognise technology cannot solve all barriers to information

12. Invest in infomediaries’ capacity to translate data into information that policymakers, civil society and the media can actually use

DI believes we need a data revolution that “sets a new political agenda, that puts existing data to work, that improves the way data is gathered and ensures that information can be used”, and argues that these 12 steps will get us there.

What do you think?

To share your views or find out more, get in touch.

First impressions of the new UN data revolution group

By Jeannet Lingan, Publish What You Fund.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon last week announced a new independent expert advisory group on the data revolution.

As an organisation that has been vocal in its support of the data revolution from the start, Publish What You Fund very much welcomes this initiative. It is great to see the UN paying attention to the discussion around the importance of high quality information to drive sustainable development efforts.

Our new Road to 2015 campaign (launched in July at the UN Development Cooperation Forum) is all about harnessing the power of open data to create meaningful change. It seeks to raise the profile of transparency and accountability in the post-2015 agenda – and we hope the creation of this group is an indication that the conversation is moving forward.

A lot of organisations have been talking about the data revolution in the past year, and there seemed to be general confusion over how the post-2015 agenda would address the issue. We hope the group will help bring clarity on this issue, and help define the positive outcomes this revolution has the potential to bring.

The expert advisory group will input to the Secretary General’s synthesis report on the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing specifically on chapter 4 (the accountability framework). We will be happy to contribute to their discussions and inputs, and will engage with the group as part of our Road to 2015 campaign.

With that in mind, we hope the advisory group will:

1.Produce recommendations on how to enhance access to information;

2.Focus on the users of this information, when discussing more and better quality information on sustainable development financing and results;

3.Draw on the potential that new technologies offer for transparency and accountability and how can we make it more accessible to different stakeholders.

The data revolution must by its nature be inclusive if it is to affect change. As such, I would have liked to see more civil society represented in the panel. Nevertheless, there has been a lot of work done by many actors in the transparency field, so I hope this will be a great opportunity for us all to share best practice and work together.

​Why we’re running the Road to 2015 campaign

Today we launched our new campaign, Road to 2015: Open Data for Sustainable Development. It’s the first campaign we’ve launched at the UN Development Cooperation Forum – in fact, it’s the first time we’ve come to the UN Headquarters in NYC, where the forum is being hosted.

But we had a good reason for choosing this forum, and this building.

In 2011, Publish What You Fund ran the very successful Make Aid Transparent campaign, with over 100 organisations joining the coalition and 65,000 individual signatures to the petition.

We presented the petition at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, and subsequently the world’s largest donors promised to publish their aid information to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by the end of 2015.

But you know all this. And you know that since then, we’ve been reminding donors of their promises, helping them to put them into practice, and measuring their progress via the Aid Transparency Index.

Now, with 2015 around the corner, we are launching a new campaign to keep up the pressure. With just over a year left, the clock is ticking on those promises.

The world of development finance is also changing. Top-down development, with donors telling recipients what to do, is twentieth century thinking.

Partner countries are better equipped now, more than ever, to take full ownership of their development agenda. They have asked for more information about development cooperation spending so they can better manage their own resources, and ensure the delivery of results.

If donors don’t keep the original promise to citizens and recipient governments, they risk becoming irrelevant. But if they do, they can set a great example of good, open government, for others to follow, which is especially important as development flows, modalities and actors become more diverse.

If we don’t deliver on past promises, and aid information is not open and transparent by the end of 2015, how can we even talk about the future agenda?

Which brings me to why we launched the campaign at the UN Development Cooperation Forum: Those conversations are happening right here, right now.

And as debates on the next set of sustainable development goals and the post-2015 agenda come to a head, transparency must be an essential part of all goals, giving citizens more information and more say in their own lives.

In 2011, our Make Aid Transparent campaign galvanised public support for aid transparency, and since then we’ve been working tirelessly to translate commitments into action. The majority of the largest and most influential donor agencies are now publishing their aid information to IATI, but we need to finish the job we started.

The Road to 2015 must be paved with open data, not just good intentions.