This week, we’re at TAG 2017 – IATI’s flagship event for its global technical community committed to improving transparency and open data in development.
To date, the initiative has attracted more than 500 publishers who are sharing transactions of $146bn (see IATI’s 2016 Annual Report). It’s essential that this valuable information is now used to improve the effectiveness of these resources through enhanced decision making, transparency and accountability.
That’s why Development Initiatives has launched a new report ‘Reaching the potential of IATI’, which we hope will add value to discussions at the TAG. Co-written by me and Conrad Zellman, we’ve assessed how IATI data has been used since the standard was created in 2011, and what is needed from our community to ensure more people benefit from this initiative.
Why use IATI data?
It’s vital that we are clear on the potential benefits that the data can bring to a wide range of actors: from developing country governments to citizens. Our review of available literature identified three key use cases:
- Increasing transparency, through the application of a common and open reporting standard to enable access and use of comprehensive, comparable, timely and forward-looking data on financial resource flows.
- Increasing efficiency and effectiveness, through the use of IATI data in planning, coordinating and mobilising resources for better development interventions.
- Increasing accountability, through the use of IATI data by a range of official and non-official actors to monitor delivery, detect corruption and advocate for improvements.
Who’s making the most use of IATI data now?
Surprisingly it’s donors… IATI was originally established with the aim of meeting the demand from developing country governments for timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on external resources.
However by far the most evident current use case for this data in practice is in information portals set up by donors and development partners. Due to their focus on (mostly) individual providers, these efforts primarily serve to demonstrate transparency and accountability to a domestic or international audience.
Our report lists 12 such portals currently operating, spanning major bilateral aid providers as well as multilateral actors.
Are developing countries using IATI?
Local aid management systems
Using the data for decision-making processes crucially depends on the level of integration of IATI with local AIMS (Aid Information Management Systems). In Bangladesh, Rwanda, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, and Senegal work has been undertaken to import IATI data into AIMS.
Full picture of resources
Some governments are regularly using IATI data to check and/or complement their own data. For example, in Liberia the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning reported using IATI data to monitor flow of external resources in the context of the Ebola crisis.
Evidence for use of IATI-based information to hold development resource providers and implementers to account is perhaps most limited to date. An example of this use case involved efforts to monitor implementation of DFID-funded NGO projects by the National Taxpayers Association together with Integrity Action in Kenya.
What does our community need to work on?
- Raising awareness at national level – Busy government officials may not be aware that IATI even exists and we need greater efforts to promote the initiative. From the review, donor country offices of leading IATI publishers indicated an urgent need to raise awareness.
- Supporting integration with in-country aid management systems – We need to work together to ensure more countries implement the automatic import of IATI data into their AIMS. For this to be sustainable, there needs to be ownership by developing country governments, as observed in Myanmar’s Mohinga and Bangladesh’s own home-grown AIMS.
- Evidence of value added – To encourage more use, we need a clear evidence base on how IATI data adds value to government systems and their decision making processes.
- New solutions and tools for different users needs – we need more in-depth research on what specific problems IATI can solve. This will contribute to developing appropriate support as well as technical and analytical tools.
- Overcoming key technical obstacles – Existing IATI tools need to be improved, in particular making the Datastore more user-friendly. Improvements to data quality and the Standard through better publication of data by organisations such as accurate sub-locations, local language descriptions, use or related field to enable traceability of funds, etc.
To achieve the above, we need more investment, as well as political will, from many key stakeholders including developing country governments, donors and other non-state actors. Being at TAG 2017 has filled me with confidence that the IATI community is ready to meet these challenges.