A Data Revolution for Development

Photo By: Publish What You Fund

Submitted by Rupert Simons, CEO of Publish What You Fund. 

In 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake. The global community, including many InterAction members, rallied to respond. But the response was hampered by a lack of information and coordination. The Center for Global Development estimates that $9 billion was spent on relief and reconstruction for Haiti – more than its annual GDP. Six years on, we still don’t know much about how that money was used. Meanwhile, most Haitians continue to live without reliable supplies of water and electricity.

This lack of transparency is not unique to Haiti. We see it in every humanitarian crisis. When migrants crossing the Mediterranean reach land, they reach for their smartphones to tell others they are safe. But they can’t use those phones to access basic information on their rights and the services available to them.

People can feel powerless without information. But things are slowly changing, at least in the field of international development. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) now covers almost all big aid donors. Many NGOs are also using IATI to share information. Just last month, InterAction published over 11,500 projects from over 100 NGOs on its NGO Aid Map.

More and better data is critical for transparency, accountability and learning. But it’s not enough to publish the data: it needs to be used too. The IATI registry is a growing source of data on development, but few organizations are using it, least of all in the countries it is intended to help. Meanwhile, the UN Statistical Commission just agreed to 230 indicators to measure the Sustainable Development Goals – but only half of them have an agreed methodology or cover enough countries.

We know that big data dumps don’t equal transparency. That is why we have a vision of “data on demand.” We want development data of all types to be as accessible and searchable as the internet is today. To do that, we need to understand how it can all fit together. Where are the gaps? What are the different kinds of data we need? How can we share it better? And what can we do to reconcile it all? These are big questions, and we must work together to solve them. Join us on day two of the InterAction Forum to work out what we can all do to help.


Rupert Simons is CEO of Publish What You Fund. Simons will be speaking at the Transparency track workshop, "A Data Revolution for Development" at InterAction's Forum on Tuesday, April 19.  

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a series highlighting the various workshop tracks at Forum 2016. Check back every day until April 15 for a new blog!

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