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This is how aid transparency could look like!

17 Jan 2011
Posted by Claudia Schwegmann
Image uploaded by Claudia Schwegmann on 17 Jan 2011 - 10:18

People who argue for more transparency in development cooperation are often eager to point out all the merits of transparency. Unfortunately, often we are not very sure whether our claims are well founded. Even worse, there are very few examples who can illustrate how exactly „more transparency“ could look like. The International Aid Transparency Initiative which will be implemented by the first donors in 2011 is a concrete example of governmental and multilateral donors representing a large percentage of global ODA making aid information available and accessible.

Also, in non-governmental development cooperations efforts are underway to increase accountability and transparency. The UK-based NGO OneWorldTrust even created a website to map over 300 NGO accountability initiatives around the world. But there are few concrete examples of making the information about work of more than one NGO transparent and easily accessible.

An excellent example of how aid transparency at an international level could look like has recently been provided by InterAction, the largest alliance of US-based NGOs working in development cooperation. In an effort to improve development cooperation in Haiti InterAction set up a website called Haiti Aid Map which provides information about all current projects by Interaction members in Haiti. According to the Interaction, one objective of this website are to facilitate partnerships and improve coordination among NGOs and other stakeholders such as privat sector, governments and other donors. By visualising information about who is doing what, where and in which sector all organisations working in Haiti will be able to make more informed decisions on how to spend limited aid resources. I am all excited about it and think it is not only a very important initiative for the work in Haiti. Instead my hope is, that other stakeholders in development organisations will use this example to advance aid transparency generally.

The strong point of Haiti Aid Map are that relatively detailed information is provided about geographic location (department and commune), activities, project duration, budget and contact information. Other required data fields in this database are for example the name of the donor, the implementing agency and the number of people reached. The website provides a search function for sectors and geographical areas and its data can be downloaded in machine readable formats (csv and kml). Optional information, that is available for some projects, include the local partner organisation, latitude and longitude and the link to a website. The stated objective of Haiti Aid Map is to enhance coordination and cooperation among aid agencies. For this purpose the information given is really helpful.

However, it would have been possible, to also consider information needs of citizens in donor countries and particularly to citizens in Haiti. To increase accountability it would have been possible to give more detailed budget information, e.g. how much money is spent on material, running costs and staff salaries. The Dutch NGO platform AKVO is doing just that. Contact information could have included a mobile phone number and a physical address in addition to an email address. Information about activities could include details on who is eligible to receive aid. To make information accessible to people in Haiti, translation in French and Kreol, at least brief summaries, would have been helpful as well as a mobile application. Other really worthwhile additions to Haiti Aid Map would be to allow private donors to publicly ask questions about a project like betterplace in Germany and the option for people in Haiti to comment on the projects like on the AKVO website. There is hardly a debate in development cooperation that doesn't touch on impact and participation. Why not allow people on the ground to tell us how they perceive the impact of a given project?

The fact that Haiti Aid Map exists is a great step ahead in aid transparency. However its really crucial limitation is that it is not open to other stakeholders in Haiti working to build up this country and provide services. InterAction explicitly states on Haiti Aid Map that due to limited administrative capacity. This is a shame.

Establishing a standard on how aid agencies should publish information, to whom and in which format is all but easy. Gain political support to increase transparency and to risk possible exposure of shortcomings is challenging. Those involved in the International Aid Transparency Initiative will certainly confirm this. However, in the long run, there is not really an alternative, if we want aid to be well coordinated, well allocated, efficient and effective. The good news is, IATI is open to non-governmental, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies around the world. If a network like InterAction would adopt the IATI standard, which is in fact quite similar to the data catalogue on Haiti Aid Map, they could extract information on Haiti and present information on their members and many other donors on a single map. Add crowdsourcing functionality and we would have come a long way in terms of accountability!

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Very interesting to compare

Very interesting to compare the Haiti Aid Map with the project mapping site of the Worldbank in Haiti - http://maps.worldbank.org/lac/haiti. Very nice visualisations. Again, I would love to see project budgets and crowdsourcing elements. Thanks, Mike for pointing this site out to me.