Congratulations are due to all those involved with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which last month agreed on a new global standard for publishing aid information.
The standard is the result of two years of discussions among donors, governments of developing countries, and NGOs that together make up IATI, which was formed to implement the transparency commitments laid out in the Accra Agenda for Action. IATI’s efforts are much needed; as we say in the QuODA (Quality of Official Development Assistance) report, our dimension called Transparency and Learning has the weakest indicators (compared to the other 3 dimensions – Maximizing Efficiency, Fostering Institutions, and Reducing Burden) due to the weakness of the data available to assess how transparent donor agencies are, and how well they evaluate and learn from aid programs.
The standards, if honored, will increase the availability of information about how aid money is spent – and, we hope, eventually about how effective that money is. The global standard marks IATI’s biggest milestone to date and a critical but early step in making available timely, internationally comparable, and publicly accessible aid data. (For an excellent discussion of why we should care about aid transparency in the first place, and thoughts on where we should focus new efforts, see this blog post by Owen Barder.)
The IATI standard provides a common language and format for donor countries to provide information on the aid they are spending. The idea is that donors will report, through their own mechanisms, information about aid projects as it becomes available (at least quarterly), making it timely enough to be useful for budget planning in recipient countries. Donors will link their information to a registry, which will acts as a “single point of access” whereby users can search an index of available data.
With the new standard, donors will be required to report information on their aid commitment and disbursement amounts. We are particularly interested in whether IATI donors will link these expenditures to project results in order to see how transparency can contribute to evaluation and learning. A second phase of the standard, not yet finalized, is meant to require reporting on results. If donors agree to reporting on project outputs and outcomes, more transparent information can be used as an input to learning about what works in development.
In February, the U.K. Department for International Development became the first donor agency to put information on the IATI registry. Other donors (a list of IATI signatories is here) plan to finalize their implementation schedules of the standard by March 31. The U.S., a participant in the initiative but not an official signatory of IATI, is moving towards greater aid transparency with efforts like the new Foreign Assistance Dashboard. But it remains to be seen how far the U.S. – and IATI signatories – will go in implementing the new global standards.