Case study: Developing a Homegrown Aid Database: Lessons from Bangladesh

This is a guest post by Mehdi Musharraf Bhuiyan, Aid Effectiveness Unit, Economic Relations Division, Government of Bangladesh

With sustained economic growth in recent decades, Bangladesh has been successful in reducing its dependence on foreign assistance. Nevertheless, foreign aid still plays a significant role in the overall development of the country. Up-to-date information on aid flows in the country, however is often only available off line. It is also currently scattered between different institutions like the Economic Relations Division (ERD) which is in charge of aid coordination, the Planning Ministry which is in charge of development planning, IMED which is in charge of monitoring results, the Line Ministries who negotiate projects with the donors and so forth.

To provide a single entry window for all foreign aid related information in Bangladesh and to properly track and manage the aid flows, the ERD, with support from its Aid Effectiveness Project has developed a homegrown Aid Information Management System (AIMS).

The AIMS now acts as a one-stop-shop for all information related to foreign assistance in Bangladesh, covering all sectors, projects and donors. It offers a single software application that records and processes information on development activities and related aid flows in the country.

Any Development Partner (DP) Agency willing to share their aid related information will have to register for entering their data into AIMS. Towards that end, a total of 17 DPs out of around 28 DP agencies working in Bangladesh have so far registered for the system– while it is expected that all other DPs will start entering their data into the system very soon. For the donors who have not registered into the AIMS, their aid data is currently being captured by offline outreach to the donors through Excel sheets that documents only commitments and disbursements.

Here are some salient points that are being replicated or can be replicated from Bangladesh’s experience of developing a homegrown aid database:

  • Bangladesh AIMS was developed through a wide consultative and inclusive process involving the government, development partners and civil society organizations over a period of 20 months. This continuous stakeholder consultation and feedback has ensured that the design is perfectly adjusted to the needs of future users and local stakeholders. – For example- it was ensured as per stakeholder requirement that the system is interoperable with other databases of the government.
  • The designing of AIMS in Bangladesh went through several stages of evaluation before it was made accessible to everyone. Initially a prototype of the AIMS software was developed which was later disseminated with the stakeholders for their comments and inputs. Afterwards, the User Acceptance Test (UAT) version of AIMS was released to test whether the application meets necessary requirements. A few months later, the BETA version of the software, with limited accessibility, was released for online testing. This step-by-step process allowed us to fine-tune the design from time to time as per the user requirements. For example- a number of additional data fields as well as reporting features were added while a few interface issues were addressed in later stages as part of this fine tuning.
  • By opting for a home grown, locally developed software, we ensured that the designing cost was much lower and there are no continuous licensing fees. In addition, locally developed software also ensures that (i) source code and software documentation will be available to the Government, which ensures further customization at minimum cost. (ii) server costs are low, at local market rates (iii) up grading the system need only be done when government (not the service provider) requires them, at low cost (iv) the maintenance cost of the AIMS can easily be absorbed in the revenue budget after project closure (v) system can be interoperable with other data bases of the government such as domestic budget database (iBAS), debt management database (DMFAS) and the future M&E database. As such, Bangladesh AIMS has generated keen interest in replication by other developing country government, as a more cost-effective solution for aid management than the commercially available systems.
  • In Bangladesh—the use of latest digital equipment (e.g. – tablet PCS, smart phones) in public institutions and civil society organizations is still limited. Government institutions, in particular, are still in the process of switching from paper-based works to digitized systems. Taking this into account, AIMS application has been customized for easy use on traditional ICT tools like desktop PCs and laptops. This can be an important lesson for countries that are still lagging behind in terms of ICT usage.
  • The rollout of AIMS, in our case, was initially confronted with limited awareness among DPs around their international commitments in the field of aid transparency, limited understanding of IATI standards and limited readiness of DPs to provide project data on AIMS. However, extensive consultation and training has been undertaken to address this issue and will be continued in the near future which resulted in increased data upload by the donors
  • Currently, the data on our aims is provided directly by the donors. But we are in close touch with the IATI Secretariat and we will be piloting automatic data collection from the IATI Registry in the near future. However, there are certain limitations of automated transfer of IATI data which, we feel, need to be addressed. For example:
    • Multi—donor projects, when drawn from the IATI data-store, gets reflected in AIMS as multiple projects.
    • Funds that are channeled through multilateral agencies cannot be traced back to their original donor within IATI.
    • Experience of the IATI secretariat also shows that considerable manual verification by the local DP office is required for the static data, or non-financial data due to generally poor quality of the data published in the IATI registry.
    • Very few DP headquarters publish forward looking data in IATI. This means that forward looking data would still have to be entered manually by the local DP office.

“It is satisfying to note that the response from our development partners since the establishment of AIMS is very encouraging. For the majority of donors on the system, we now have a quite comprehensive data set. It is expected that regular and timely data sharing on AIMS will ensure better availability of comprehensive, accurate and timely aid data to get a complete picture of aid flows. This will improve national budgeting and promote sector level alignment with national priorities spelled out in the 6th Five Year Plan”- said Mr. Mohammad Mejbahuddin, Senior Secretary of Economic Relations Division (ERD) of the Government of Bangladesh and Vice Chair of IATI in a newspaper article.