Why Transparency Matters Part 4: Does it really make a difference?

Photo By: Sarah Siguenza

“Why Transparency Matters” Series Part 4: Does it really make a difference?

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 fourth blog, we asked contributors to share one example in which being transparency has made a positive impact in international development and humanitarian response.

Capturing good examples on data use and its impact in the field are essential for promoting transparency. Those collecting and sharing data need to see that the time and effort is worthwhile. At InterAction, we have conducted an annual user assessment to determine how NGO Aid Map is being used and what difference it makes. Preliminary findings tell us that users visit the site to learn more about NGOs and to find partners and donors. However, we know we need to take these findings one step further and find out how the publication of our data leads to better results.  


Samantha Custer (AidData): Maps using transparent aid and development data are conversation starters. These data visualizations provide compelling evidence with which to ask informed questions and make needed course corrections. This example from Nepal is case in point.

With 25% of Nepalis living below the poverty line, the government and international donors want to maximize the results of every development dollar. Ministry officials used open geocoded data to find that donors were underinvesting in one of Nepal’s poorest regions. “We didn’t know about [aid] fragmentation before, but now we have evidence,” said Tilak Bhandari of the Ministry of Finance. With this evidence in hand, ministry officials constructively dialogued with donors to remedy this oversight in future investments.

From a pilot to geocode the World Bank’s development projects to mapping the universe of aid with USAID in 7 countries, AidData works with a growing number of organizations to turn open data into better results.

Joni Hillman (Development Initiatives): The Government of Nepal set up their Aid Management Platform (AMP) in 2010 and used it to collect data on aid flows, although they found significant gaps as data from international NGOs and foundations was generally not available. They made the AMP publicly available so that both the citizens of Nepal and the taxpayers of their development partners would be able to see how foreign assistance has been utilised in Nepal. Once the AMP was established, thorough analysis of the data revealed an urgent need to reform Nepal’s aid policy. The existing policy, the Foreign Aid Policy 2009, had been formulated prior to the existence of standardised and disaggregated aid data made available by the AMP. The improved availability of aid data enabled decisions about formulation of the new policy to be based on rigorously established objective evidence. Policy discussions to shape the new legislation were shaped by evidence, enabling the design of a new policy that is forward looking rather than being responsive to short term pressures.

Using the raw data from the AMP, the government has been able to develop an evidence based policy. This policy is targeted at reducing Nepal’s aid dependency by 2022 and building a self-reliant economy – something which would be much harder to achieve without data to inform the policy.

Janet Camarena (The Foundation Center): One compelling example in foundation transparency is from the Oak Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, which had commissioned an internal report to review its work in the area of international human rights. Recognizing that there was much in the report that would help its peers, the foundation invited other international human rights funders to two convenings to discuss how the findings could be valuable to field as a whole. The other funders reported finding the feedback incredibly helpful to improving their own work. By openly sharing an internal report that was originally meant to inform its own practices, the Oak Foundation was able to contribute to larger field building across its sphere of influence, thus making a greater impact with what it had learned.  More details about this effort are available via podcast with Kathleen Cravero of the Oak Foundation.

Elizabeth Dodds (Open Aid Partnership): We can point to a growing number of cases where transparency has led to quantifiable benefits, including economic growth and innovation in service delivery in developed countries. From our experience working to build awareness and the capacity to access and use open aid data in developing countries, we have witnessed changes in mindset around what transparency means and why it matters. We've seen instances where different stakeholders are starting to use open data in analysis and publications, such as development cooperation reports, and to develop innovative applications. One recent study on the emerging impacts of open aid and open budget data in Nepal highlights growing use of this data among government, development partners, civil society and journalists. Still, the study concludes that it is too soon to tell whether open data in Nepal will lead to a discernible difference in development outcomes, and highlights several challenges to achieving this level of impact.

The truth is that up to this point, we have focused mostly on the potential of transparency for governance and development, without being able to point to concrete evidence in developing countries. While this is due in part to the early stages of “open” initiatives, now it’s time to start reflecting on what has been achieved, and taking a hard look at whether or not this is in fact useful for development.​

David Saldivar (Oxfam America): Oxfam America’s Active Citizenship initiative supports local partners who are tracking development spending in their countries – following the money, engaging the public about their findings, and pushing governments for reforms to make anti-poverty programs more effective.

The experience of our partner organization SEND-Ghana shows why transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand in development.  SEND-Ghana has created and field-tested an approach to participatory monitoring based on years of experience organizing citizens at the grass roots and connecting them to policy makers and advocates at the regional and national level. SEND’s process involves organizing ordinary people to monitor service delivery, aggregating the monitoring data into reports, and deploying the reports in national campaigns that identify problems and challenge policy makers to commit to solutions. The process has been successful in influencing a range of poverty alleviation initiatives in Ghana, such as a program to provide school children with nutritious meals made from locally-sourced food.

Catalina Reyes (Publish What You Fund): The annual Aid Transparency Index (ATI) is a big incentive for donors to open up their aid data. We see it year after year. The ATI is the only global measure of donors’ aid transparency and a well-recognized advocacy tool to encourage donors to accelerate progress. It doesn’t just assess what data is published, but also how and how often. Donors publish a lot of information to IATI just before our deadline for data collection. Donors want to do more and better and improve their ranking. The ATI generates a healthy competition among donor agencies. The 2014 ATI Launch will be in D.C. on Oct. 8 at 9 a.m.

Want to learn more?

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

Contributing Authors:

Samantha Custer, Director of Policy and Communications, AidData. Working in international development for 14 years, Samantha’s diverse experience cuts across traditional boundaries between research, policy and practice. Wearing many hats along the way, she's designed grassroots development projects, coordinated advocacy campaigns, developed policy recommendations, conducted research and monitored results. Samantha has co-authored seven World Bank publications on open data, open government and citizen engagement and assisted former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to teach a class on US foreign policy. Previously, she oversaw multilingual education projects with SIL International, coordinated the advocacy efforts of the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group for UNESCO and conducted performance audits of Save the Children’s sponsorship-funded programs. Samantha holds masters degrees in Foreign Service and Public Policy from Georgetown University.

Joni Hillman, Aid Transparency Programme Manager, Development Initiatives and the IATI Secretariat. Joni is a member of the IATI Secretariat, managing the Technical Team to provide support to a wide range of development cooperation actors to publish good quality IATI data, to produce guidance and materials to help people publish and use IATI data and to look after the development and integrity of the IATI Standard. Previously, Joni spent six years at Bond, the UK NGO network, delivering programmes on NGO transparency, donor relations and development effectiveness. She has a MA in History from the University of Edinburgh and a MSc in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

Janet Camarena, Director, San Francisco Office/Project Lead, Glasspockets, The Foundation Center. Janet has served as director of the Foundation Center-San Francisco office since 2001 and has worked for the Center in a variety of roles since 1995. As director her responsibilities include leading a team of six professionals in offering extensive outreach for the Center's resources and services in the Bay Area and beyond, planning and overseeing educational programming offered in the Western region, carrying out donor development and cultivation, producing and conducting online programming such as the Philanthropy Chat podcast series, and most recently leading the creation, management, and redesign of the Glasspockets web site, which is dedicated to promoting foundation transparency.

Elizabeth Dodds, Consultant, Open Aid Partnership. Elizabeth is a consultant with the Open Aid Partnership (OAP), a multi-stakeholder aid transparency initiative hosted in the World Bank Group's Innovation Labs. In her current position with the Bank, she supports OAP efforts to engage civil society, journalists and citizens in development decision-making through the use of open data. Prior to joining the Bank, she gained private sector experience as a financial regulatory associate for BNY Mellon Asset Servicing. Elizabeth received a master's degree in public administration from the London School of Economics and a bachelor's degree in International Relations and French from Colgate University.

David Saldivar, Policy & Advocacy Advisor for Aid Effectiveness, Oxfam America. David leads Oxfam’s policy and campaigns work on transparency in foreign aid, and contributes to Oxfam’s advocacy and programming on accountable governance.  Prior to joining Oxfam, David worked on legal reform and institutional capacity in the justice sector, served in the Peace Corps in Jordan, and worked with the federal judiciary in San Francisco. David received his JD from Stanford and an LLM in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago.

Catalina Reyes, Senior Advocacy Associate, Publish What You Fund. Catalina works on U.S. development policy and foreign assistance transparency. Her role includes directly engaging with the U.S. agencies included in our annual Index and with our U.S. counterparts who work on aid reform and aid effectiveness. Catalina also covers our engagement with the Open Government Partnership process, and monitors its implications to the aid transparency agenda. Her background includes education reform and human rights advocacy in the nonprofit sector.  She holds a BA in Psychology from Arizona State University and a MA in International Affairs from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Want to read more? Check out the other blogs in the series: