The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Aid transparency, what is it good for? Accountability, gender equality, ownership, planning, and coordination.

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Over the past 10 years, development actors have committed to high-quality transparency through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Civil society in Uganda can use IATI information to monitor service delivery in ways they were not able to before.

Contributors: Joseph Olwenyi; Sophie Kyagulanyi; Charity Kyomujjurizi; Miriam Talwisa; Julius Kapwepwe and Elliot Orizaarwa

There is a lot of talk about data revolutions, and with services like Google Maps, the ease of access to data has drastically changed life around the world. However, smaller data initiatives, like the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), get lost in the sea of data and over-information with uncertainty around what is the right data, the right source, and how to find it. It takes more than simply being part of the revolution; it takes engagement, training, and awareness rising.

You cannot simply build it and assume they will come. To build on this belief I ran a training on using data from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in Uganda. The participants reacted as though suddenly, a spotlight was cast on the services in Uganda funded by external actors. Some projects are funded by loans, some in grants, some through their government, some through external implementers, but all the information flowed through this subset of data revolution–IATI—that many were unaware of. As the training went on, it became clear the information that civil society and media participants had previously thought was inaccessible is now at their fingertips through the power of the internet.

However, knowing data exists is just the first step in the process; the second step is using the information, and then hopefully, it brings about change. So, after the training, some members of civil society and the media found projects to dig into and figure out what was happening in their country.

With access to the information through d-portal.org, a women’s rights organization known as Women and Girl Child Development Association (WEGCDA) was able to see details of a Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response project for $40 million, which has funding from the World Bank in the form of a loan. Not only did this women’s rights group now know this money was committed to their country by the World Bank for this project, but also had details on how it was supposed to be spent, what the objectives are, how men and boys are included, and who the broad targets are. Without IATI (and World Bank’s own progressive access to information policy), they may not have known about this project. Even had they known from media articles or other sources, they may have had to hope and beg for little tidbits of information based on connections with the right people in government. Needing connections with government officials to access information further consolidates power with the elite and limits the ability of women and other marginalized groups to push for change. Now, this women’s rights organization can use such project documents immediately to examine if a given project is geared at addressing equality in their engagement with women, girls, and persons with disabilities. If this project begins to be implemented – one document found through the portal suggests the Ugandan parliament has not yet approved it – the information accessible through this portal will be incredibly helpful for organizations like WEGCDA and the communities that are intended to benefit.

Having easy access to more detailed documents via IATI is not just useful for gender work, it also is for all types of projects, from roads and infrastructure to agriculture development and climate.

However, not all organizations that publish information on IATI are equal, as Climate Action Network Uganda discovered when they tried to find information on a disaster risk reduction project they were excited about. The donor did not publish enough information. While they could have reached out to the donor to find out more, in a limited time frame without inside connections, they were not able to gain access to more information. They decided it was a better use of their time to find a new project. Thankfully d-portal has a search function for climate policymakers, so it is easy to find climate mitigation and adaption projects, and they were able to identify another project focused on climate adaption.

Regardless of sector or focus, aid transparency is facilitating access to information about service delivery for civil society actors in Uganda. As more and more organizations across the world learn about this data revolution, opportunities to improve development outcomes globally will also hopefully improve with increased coordination and accountability.

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