Transparency has been a buzzword in the aid community recently. But simply publishing data will not ensure aid effectiveness, experts say.
For data to be useful, they must be accompanied with analyses and not taken out of context. Interpretation and context are vital in the whole issue of aid transparency, according to Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Transparency in its own is not the “great equalizer,” Boyd said at the Government 2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C., held May 25-27.
“We desperately need an informed citizenry. But getting there is two pronged. We need information transparency and we also need to help people develop the skills to leverage that information to their advantage. And to help society writ large,” Boyd said.
Ranil Dissanayake concurs. Data publication, he says, must be complemented by analyses that are readily understood and circulated, and will explain the impact of aid in the beneficiary communities.
“We need to make sure that public data can easily be analyzed to become meaningful data. Obviously, not everyone will spend hours playing around with numbers until they’ve worked out rates of return or the predictability of aid flows … Such analyses shouldn’t just tell us how much money is being spent, but also how well it’s being spent,” Dissanayake, an economist-historian, writes in a blog for Change.org.
Furthermore, Dissanayake suggests that “levers for accountability actually exist” to ensure that suggestions or complaints are heard.
“In donor countries, this means ensuring that relevant agency heads are responsive to their critics (for eg., through regular forums), and that aid agencies behave in the same fashion,” Dissanayake says.