The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Why Aid #TransparencyMatters

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Researcher and human rights advocate Alexis Nkurunziza (pictured) worked with the Rwandan Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to develop The Budget of Rwanda: A Citizens Guide 2012-2013. The guide helps educate Rwandans about the purpose of the national budget and how they can get involved in developing and monitoring it at local levels. Information about development aid in the hands of citizens is key to ensuring that aid actually achieves the goals intended. Read more at: http://bit.ly/1x6tBXI Photo courtesy of Alexis Nkurunziza.

Most importantly, to people outside the beltway

Over on the InterAction blog, our Policy and Advocacy Advisor on the Aid Effectiveness team, David Saldivar, has been participating in a series of six blog posts leading up to the release of this year’s Aid Transparency Index, scheduled for October 8th. The series featured AidData, Development Initiatives, The Foundation Center, Open Aid Partnership, Publish What You Fund, and Oxfam America.

Below is a Storify summary of the 10/6 online discussion via google hangout, followed by some highlighted insights I pulled from the blog series below. You can keep the conversation going by using #TransparencyMatters on Twitter.

Why is transparency important to aid organizations and why should someone care about this issue?

A Nepali government official asks why international donors are under-investing in his country’s poorest province. In Uganda, a smallholder farmer reports that his family never received a goat from a government-run rural development program. A PhD student and a health worker in the United States assess whether antiretroviral treatments are reducing HIV/AIDS prevalence among expecting mothers in Malawi.

“What do these people have in common? They need transparentrelevant and hyper-local information at their fingertips to achieve their goals. In particular, they need to know who is funding what, where, and to what effect.” ~Samantha Custer, AidData

What does it mean to be transparent?

Transparency is, in a word, openness.” ~Janet Camarena, The Foundation Center

Transparency is like development – it’s both a quality, and an ongoing, active processadopting transparency as a value in principle is not enough; an organization has to “do transparency” within its partnerships to realize the benefits, and that requires an ongoing dialogue about needs and interests.” ~David Saldivar, Oxfam America

This is challenging because this degree of transparency is often a departure from the norm, and requires changing the culture of and incentives for information sharing within an organization or government.~Elizabeth Dodds, Open Aid Partnership

How does a donor or organization become transparent?

Aid transparency starts with an agency’s commitment to publish to the International Aid Transparency Initiative Registry. The commitments made by donors in Busan to implement IATI have a specific deadline – December 2015. In order to deliver on this deadline, donors must lay out a plan for implementation, allocate the necessary resources to deliver on the plan, and make an initial investment to see it to fruition.~Catalina Reyes, Publish What You Fund

Transparency is not about a quick fix, but signaling that your organization wants to work in a way that is accountable and responsive to its partners, beneficiaries and funders… Increasing your transparency through implementing IATI can also be really helpful internally – improving data capture and management processes, and enabling better monitoring and coordination of your own activities.” ~Joni Hillman, Development Initiatives

Does aid transparency really make a difference?

The experience of [Oxfam’s] partner organization SEND-Ghana shows why transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand in development… SEND’s process involves organizing ordinary people to monitor service delivery, aggregating the data into reports, and deploying the reports in national campaigns that identify problems and challenge policy makers to commit to solutions. The process has been successful in influencing a range of poverty alleviation initiatives in Ghana, such as a program to provide school children with nutritious meals made from locally-sourced food.” ~David Saldivar, Oxfam America

The Government of Nepal set up their Aid Management Platform (AMP) in 2010 and used it to collect data on aid flows, although they found significant gaps as data from international NGOs and foundations was generally not available… Once established, thorough analysis of the data revealed an urgent need to reform Nepal’s aid policy… Using the raw data from the AMP, the government has been able to develop an evidence based policy. This policy is targeted at reducing Nepal’s aid dependency by 2022 and building a self-reliant economy – something which would be much harder to achieve without data to inform the policy.” ~Joni Hillman, Development Initiatives

Aid transparency: Where do we go next?

It’s not enough to publish vast amounts of aid and development data… People won’t use open data unless they know where to find it and can easily access and interpret it. Data visualizations can make your information more intuitive for the public. Equipping civil society organizations and government ministries to use this in program planning, advocacy and research is also essential to sustaining uptake.~Samantha Custer, AidData

“…it is time to move beyond measuring outputs in terms of data supply, to evaluating impact, and coming up with more rigorous methods for doing so…We think an important next step will be not only evaluating our own activities, but bringing our partners and colleagues together to start collectively gathering evidence of success and failures…” ~Elizabeth Dodds, Open Aid Partnership

One last piece of advice on aid transparency

The road to aid transparency should be paved with more than good intentions. Donors must accelerate progress to meet their 2015 aid transparency commitments.” ~Catalina Reyes, Publish What You Fund

The journey will be different for each grantmaker and it is not an activity that has a specific endpoint, but rather it is part of an ongoing and evolutionary process.” ~Janet Camarena, The Foundation Center

You need to ask early and often what the prospective users of your data want and be responsive to their needs.” ~Samantha Custer, AidData

Learn by doing – start with what you can do based on your current systems and processes, and build from there.” ~David Saldivar, Oxfam America

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