New data tool to boost AfDB's transparency efforts

A screenshot of African Development Bank’s new transparency tool.

The African Development Bank had the highest overall score among international financial institutions in the 2013 Aid Transparency Index.

But at the bank’s annual meeting this week in Kigali, AfDB announced it is determined to go a step further by launching on Wednesday its own interactive platform to map out investments across the continent.

MapAfrica is a geocoding tool similar to the World Bank's Mapping for Results and the Inter-American Development Bank's MapAmericas, where coordinates help identify the banks' activities in different countries and regions. For instance, in a sample snapshot, a black dot over Sierra Leone points to a bank-financed transportation project in the area, and hovering over it would give stakeholders a sneak peek into project details such as value and status.

Like its two sister IFIs, AfDB plans to include a results page and a background brief that explains a particular project's purpose, as well as a gallery of pictures and videos. And the institution aims to add another innovative and unique feature: a firsthand account of how a particular project has helped its beneficiaries.

This on-the-ground account will be followed with a beneficiary engagement project, wherein stakeholders are given the chance to voice their appreciation or concerns on a particular bank activity. For instance, locals worried about the environmental and livelihood impact of a transport and communication corridor connecting Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia could voice those concerns using the tool.

How will the feedback mechanism work? Olivier Shingiro, who leads the MapAfrica project, told Devex they plan to test the idea with a few civil society organizations, and then work with the bank's CSO focal point who can then relay the concerns to project teams.

"We plan to use the box popping out when you click a project dot. A link 'Have your say...' will appear. That feedback will be presented on a page similar to the results page," he explained.

Project accountability, effectiveness

MapAfrica’s feedback function — still a work in progress and therefore will not go live on Wednesday — builds on the bank's early rhetoric to deepen engagement with CSOs in a bid to boost accountability and help it gauge the effectiveness of its projects.

The disclosure and access policy that took effect in 2013, which requires AfDB to disclose all bank documents to the public, was a step in that direction — although the bank's civil society coalition still has concerns on its effective implementation.

All of the institution's "active projects" approved between 2002 and 2012 have already been geocoded by researchers from AidData and could now be almost fully accessed, except for items which covers budget support and projects focused on strengthening institutional systems.

Shingiro added that stakeholders can also check out projects that have yet to launch calls for proposals or procurement opportunities, once projects are approved by the board.

"This tool will help better plan our interventions and understand where the gaps are ... and assist all parties [in making] more informed choices. For example, overlaying planned interventions with open data from governments, other donors, researchers or NGOs on population, poverty, disease or other indicators will help to better target and also better measure results," said an official AfDB statement.

Transparency push

AfDB has been stepping up its game on the transparency front, and its ultimate goal, according to Shingiro, is to "make transparency part of the institution's way of doing business," but he admitted there's still work do be done on data classification and ensuring quality information.

He explained: "We have a number of data repositories and owners ... The more we publish the more we know about our data quality."

The bank also needs more staff working on its transparency efforts, apart from data classification experts and International Aid Transparency Initiative consultants it currently employs.

“Once we have regular publications, we will be in a better position to estimate the permanent staff and budget required,” Shingiro said.

In the meantime, AfDB is working to integrate geocoding in its IT systems and policies, and hopes in the future that project teams would be able to do the geocoding work themselves, upload the necessary information to MapAfrica and interact directly with project beneficiaries.

As for IATI publication, Sohir Debbiche, IATI consultant for AfDB, said they plan to automate the data collection process for a more frequent and timely publication.

Over the past few years, the institution has made remarkable progress in the Aid Transparency Index thanks to the bank’s ambitious publication schedule, which includes data from the AfDB-funded African Development Fund and Nigeria Trust Fund, and for making much of the information available in machine-readable format. However, at the same time the bank does not yet publish information to the IATI on project dates, overall activity cost and results, and global aid transparency group Publish What You Fund recommended it should do so on a monthly basis.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.