The Revolution Begins: A New Aid Transparency Standard, and What’s Next

By Claudia Elliot 11 February 2011

Children carry a container of detergent supplied by the Department for International Development for Pakistan flood victims. DfID was the first agency to act, putting their aid information on the International Aid Transparency Initiative registry. Photo by: Vicki Francis / DfID

After two years of negotiating, the 18 donors of the International Aid Transparency Initiative agreed on Feb. 9 to the final details of a new global standard for publishing aid information. With a format to make aid information internationally comparable now in place, more information will now be better information.

The new aid transparency standard provides a common language and format and a single way that donor countries can share information on the aid they are spending. It will enable us to build a bigger picture of aid activities. Donors and recipients will be better able to coordinate their plans and complement the activities of others, reducing duplication and waste. People working in development can see the impact of their work, learn from experience, and see how their work relates to the efforts of others.

However, to see the bigger picture, we need more data.

Publish What You Fund’s director, Karin Christiansen, welcomed this development, saying: “For the first time, a standard exists, which means more aid information will actually be better aid information. And that is what we need to make aid transparent – not only to other governments and aid agencies, but to the public in all of our countries, too.”

When everyone can see how much aid is being spent where, and on what, governments – whether giving or receiving aid – can be held accountable by their citizens for spending it well. In addition, people working in development are able to compliment each others’ efforts, measure impact, and carry out evaluation more accurately than previously possible.

Judith Randall, director of Aidinfo, a U.K. nonprofit, points out what aid transparency means for developing countries: “If aid recipient governments can find out what aid they will receive next year, they can plan how to use their own resources more effectively. At the moment, they can’t see a coherent picture of all the aid coming into their country, making budgetary decisions a constant challenge for them.”

Who are the people behind the new standard? IATI is a group that includes some of the world’s largest donors, such as the World Bank and the U.K. Department for International Development, 18 recipient governments and civil society organizations.

Over two years’ work has produced this format, but now aid donors need to start using it.

Last week DfID was the first agency to act, putting their aid information on the IATI registry. Major progress is also being made in the United States. Although the U.S. is not an IATI signatory, efforts to coordinate with the newly agreed standard suggest that as the U.S. aid dashboard moves forward, foreign assistance could be mapped to both other donors’ and recipient countries’ own spending.

To fully realize the potential of aid, other governments must be urged to open their books and let the world know where their money is going, too. Now that more information is better, it is time for the data to flow so that the benefits of aid transparency can be felt by all.

Read more:
>> Donors Agree on New Aid Transparency Standard
>> DfID Takes Lead in Aid Transparency Campaign

Read more of Full Disclosure: The aid transparency blog, written by aid workers for aid workers.

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