Why Transparency Matters Part Five: Where Do We Go Next?

(This post was originally published by InterAction)

Moderator: Julie Montgomery, Director of Innovation and Learning, InterAction

“Why Transparency Matters” is a six-part blog series featuring AidData, Development Initiatives, Foundation Center, Open Aid Partnership, Oxfam America, and Publish What You Fund. These organizations are coming together with InterAction to discuss transparency – why it matters, what it means to be transparent, what impact transparency has on aid effectiveness, and more. In this fifth blog, we focus on the future. What’s next for transparency? How do we continue to build buy-in or momentum around this issue? How do we better coordinate efforts? What are the challenges we have to overcome?

At InterAction, we will continue pushing on the importance of transparency both within our own organization and with our members. We plan to better integrate our data collection efforts with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by making NGO Aid Map IATI compliant, enabling our members to easily publish to IATI and helping fill one of the key aid information gaps – the work of NGOs. We will also be focusing more on ensuring that our members are not just providing data, but also using it.

Learn more about what is in store for the future of transparency…

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Samantha Custer (AidData): It’s not enough to publish vast amounts of aid and development data – the completeness of that information and the capacity of people to use it matters too.

Joni Hillman (Development Initiatives): At DI, we would like to see the global discussion on the post-2015 ‘data revolution’ informed by the needs of data users in developing countries, particularly those at sub-national level, like those we work with in East Africa and Nepal. We’d like to see more community actors from developing countries having their say about what the data revolution should look like – it’s important these voices are heard for a true recognition of the challenges and opportunities that there are on the ground. If this idea going to realize its ambition,we need more than governments being accountable to each other: we need civil society to be empowered to play a role. IATI is critical here, since it’s the way that all development finance (from traditional ODA, to funds coming from private companies, foundations and NGOs) is made available. IATI is continually expanding the range of actors it works with and is currently exploring how development finance institutions (DFIs) and South-South Cooperation providers can use IATI to publish data on their activities.

Jeff Falkenstein (The Foundation Center): The future of transparency in philanthropy is about better and more open data and more efficient processes. The Reporting Commitment, which launched two years ago and today and includes 19 foundations, is a data-sharing initiative aimed at developing more timely, accurate, and transparent reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars. The participating foundations have committed to a level of transparency and openness never before seen in the philanthropic sector.

At the heart of the Reporting Commitment is a set of standards by which the participating foundations have agreed to report their data and that is compatible with the format used in the IATI registry. But one challenge of opening up this kind of data is figuring out how to use technology to develop efficiencies rather than redundancies.  In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, Foundation Center worked to simultaneously convert MacArthur’s Reporting Commitment Grant feed into the IATI XML standard. As a result, the data is now reported on the Glasspockets website and IATI registry at the same time requiring no extra work on the part of the foundation.

Elizabeth Dodds (Open Aid Partnership): I think many of us are already moving to the next phase of transparency when we start to ask ourselves, “So what?”  What has been achieved, what have we learned, and how can we improve our efforts? At the Open Aid Partnership (OAP) we’ve recognized that 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. In the field of aid transparency this seems to be a relatively new and challenging area, particularly in terms of identifying the “right” measures of success. 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, and sharing our experiences and lessons learned. This is one of our priorities this year and we invite anyone with ideas or interest to please reach out.

David Saldivar (Oxfam America): Oxfam learned the secret to establishing and sustaining transparency when we participated in the launch of InterAction’s redesigned NGO Aid Map this summer. We assembled a crash team of programs, policy, and technical staff to collect and verify the data about Oxfam’s grant programs that we submitted to the Map. What happened next told the whole story of the future of transparency – when the Map launched and our colleagues went on line to look at it, we didn’t get a single call from anyone concerned about sharing information or objecting to publication of specific data about their projects. Instead, we got two types of calls – why didn’t you include my data, or – how can I add more data about my program? Our colleagues immediately saw that publishing this information helped them in their work. This response demonstrated that transparency will stick when an organization makes it central to the mission.

Catalina Reyes (Publish What You Fund): The next or the now is the “use” of data. But to get there we still have to work on the quality of it. Comprehensive and high quality data is still hard to come by. We need the biggest donors around the world to lead on this agenda. Many tools are being built which use/consume IATI data. The problem we now face if that all these tools will only show you a partial picture because donors’ aid data, in the IATI Registry, is incomplete. The next step is to fill in the gaps. Only then will we know who is doing what in comparison to others.

The next step is also for donors to see the utility of this data and use it internally. Donors can manage their own resources if they know what they’re measuring, if they know what they do and if they know what they’re doing in comparison to others. Data and data use should be promoted internally and it should be promoted with relevant stakeholders.

Want to learn more?

Join the discussion by following #TransparencyMatters on Twitter and tune in for a live discussion on October 6th from 12:00-1:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time, to learn more and chat with the authors.

Tags: transparencyinteractionopengovernmentdataoxfam americadevelopment initiativesPublish What You FundOpen Aid PartnershipAidData