The Aid Transparency Index: Where Have We Come Since 2013?

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained the importance of transparency and open data to a packed audience at the USAID Frontiers Forum. His “Overview” in the Frontiers book also emphasizes his belief that “central to the new development landscape is a demand for transparency, accountability and data-driven decision-making.”

This recommitment to transparency from the U.S. administration is encouraging when we are just a couple weeks away from the release of the 2014 Aid Transparency Index (ATI), which will be launched at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. on October 8.

In the year since the 2013 Index was launched at the Brookings Institution, the organization Publish What You Fund has been plugging away in advocating for more and better aid transparency (I chair the U.S. advisory council).  They have met with U.S. agencies and partnered with colleagues in the NGO community to make sure the United States continues to build on the progress to-date. Government and civil society must step up their collective efforts as we near the 2015 deadline for donors to publish to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Without giving away the findings of the new ATI, some of the highlights of the last year include:

  • Two new U.S. entities—the Department of State and the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR)—now report to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) registry. This is noteworthy progress, as their aid volumes and sectors are significant.  
  • More broadly, this year has seen other major aid donors open a window to their aid. France, Japan, and the Gates Foundation are among those who have started to publish aid information in the IATI standard.
  • The Foreign Assistance Dashboard and IATI are now speaking the same language—the dashboard has  recently moved to the common XML IATI standard—which will save time and data quality.
  • There are new tools available to visualize IATI. Donors, NGOs, and developers have been busy creating tools, maps, visualizations, and platforms to make the data easier for us to use (See the portals created by Sweden and the Netherlands).
  • The NGO community has been feverishly working with the U.S. government to get them to deliver on their Busan commitments. There has been an increase in consultation, open discussions, briefings, and collaboration. I welcome this, as the best way to make good policy is to make it open to all.
  • USAID is conducting pilots on aid data demand and use in three countries—Ghana, Zambia, and Bangladesh. The research will be completed this fall.  I am excited to see this effort, as it indicates USAID wants aid transparency to be useful, and am eager to learn from the findings.
  • The Open Government Partnership continues to be a platform for discussions on open data and open government. I am pleased to see the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy engaging on this through consultations with the NGO community. (A mid-term evaluation of the 2013 plan will be released this December.)

These are just some of the reasons to feel optimistic about what’s yet to come, but we also must feel a sense of urgency. Disappointingly, with the exception of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, we have not seen comprehensive and high quality data from U.S. agencies, or concrete plans on how they can get there.

This is the big task for the remainder of this year and 2015 – and it is critical.

Real time aid data can be transformative to both donors and recipients of aid but the U.S. must step up its efforts. And, though the policy commitments are there, what we need now more than ever is implementation.

Publish What You Fund will be working during the week of the launch on pushing this important missing piece forward. The political will displayed by Secretary Kerry, Dr. Shah, and of course President Obama can only be carried out when it is married with the right resources and manpower. Publish What You Fund and its partners will be asking all agencies at the launch what they plan to do.

Yes. There is more data being published to IATI. And this was also mentioned by Secretary Kerry: We are publicly releasing more data on our development programs and funding through and the Development Experience Clearinghouse, and reporting it to the International Aid Transparency Initiative.”

While this is a first step to fulfilling U.S. foreign assistance transparency commitments, to date the effort has not been robust. This vision must translate into full delivery of existing aid transparency commitments.

USAID, in its recent announcement to draft a cost management plan, obviously has come to understand that it will only get there by carefully assessing the specific steps it must undertake for it to be fully compliant with IATI by the target date of the end of 2015. That deadline will be upon us in a short 15 months.

As an indication of the seriousness with which it is approaching this commitment, and in order to have all of 2015 to devote to achieving it, USAID must produce the plan by the end of this year. Let us hope that this example, plus the newly invigorated leadership of PEPFAR on aid transparency, will pull the Department of State in the same direction.

And what about the data revolution, discussed prominently in the post-2015 agenda deliberations? If we are truly to deliver a data revolution, we must act now and work together to achieve real and lasting impact.

Hopefully the launch of this year’s index on the 8th offers a good opportunity to reflect on last year’s activities and discuss the path forward!