Christmas came early yesterday for anyone interested in seeing more effective and accountable aid, with an announcement from DFID which has raised the bar for aid transparency.
At an event in London last night, hosted by BOND and Publish What You Fund, the British Secretary of State, Justine Greening delivered a keynote speech which included (by my count) six key steps forward on aid transparency and accountability. She said that DFID will:
- require organisations receiving and managing funds from DFID to release open data on how this money is spent in a common, standard, reusable format, including unique identifiers to make it possible to follow the money; including (crucially) requiring this of sub-contractors and sub-agencies, right through the aid chain;
- geocode spending data to show where aid is spent at the local level
- make its aid data compatible with partner country budget classifications, so that governments and citizens can see where aid is being spent and increase accountability
- improve its data by publishing feedback from those directly affected by aid;
- start a new Aid Transparency Challenge Fund to stimulate work by developers to create tools promoting the use of open aid information, supporting the traceability of aid, and improving results reporting, including a requirement that all tools developed through the Fund are 'open source' so that others can use and further develop them;
- establish an International Development Sector Transparency Board with representatives from DFID, civil society, aid contractors, open data experts, partner countries, privacy experts and other government department representatives.
In April last year, I listed ten steps for meaningful aid transparency based on three years of working on aid transparency. I think Justine Greening's announcement has met nine out of ten of those suggestions. (It would be churlish to mention here the suggestion not yet implemented. I will follow that up later!)
As I said to The Economist just last week, the ability to follow the money will be a game-changer for foreign assistance. Once we have in place the system to follow UK aid, it is hard to see why other donor's will not follow suit.
DFID will be using IATI, the internationally-agreed standard and mechanism for sharing aid information. All the information that DFID produces, and the information they will require from implementing organisations and sub contractors, will be in an accessible, comparable, standardised format, making it much easier for everyone to find and use it. As other donors move towards more transparent and traceable aid, using this international standard will make it possible to follow all aid money from any source to seeing exactly how it is being used.