An open data revolution, but what’s next?

An open data revolution has taken place in the aid transparency world in the past two years, but the story doesn’t end there. Today’s guest bloggers, Roy Trivedy and Mike Battcock from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), argue that the challenge for 2014 is to ensure that published data is used to make aid even more effective and transformative.

Opening up data helps to strengthen public accountability, improve public services and stimulate economic growth.

DFID has contributed to increasing openness in aid data through our Aid Transparency Guarantee, delivering more detailed information on our expenditure than ever before and encouraging others to follow suit. In December 2012, Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development went further and set out a vision – the Aid Transparency Challenge – to enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to track global development assistance throughout the delivery chain. Improving aid traceability helps increase the transparency of governments, reduces waste, fraud and corruption, and ultimately improves aid impact.

DFID and our implementing partners are doing just this: making the UK’s development spending traceable, from taxpayer to beneficiary. All organisations receiving and managing DFID funds have been asked to release open data on how this money is spent using a standard International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) format. This format allows us to share meaningful information on our development activities with supporters, taxpayers and development partners in a way that can be easily understood,
compared and used.

In 2011, when Oxfam became the first international NGO to publish its data to the IATI standard, it led the way for many other UK civil society organisations to follow. Of the 175 civil society organisations publishing data through IATI more than 120 are based in the UK. Their data is already beginning to transform the scope of information publicly available on international development.

Keeping on track

The Secretary of State, Justine Greening launched DFID’s Development Tracker in October at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, with representatives from 60 countries showing their commitment to radically greater transparency. The Development Tracker is a user-friendly website which makes it easy for citizens in the UK and developing countries to see – at the click of a button – where and how UK development assistance is being spent,
as well as what is being achieved. The tracker is a key tool in improving the traceability and mapping of development assistance from tax payer to beneficiary. It is important for our accountability to British citizens and is also an important way for all our partners and recipients to see where and how we are delivering UK Aid. It also allows users to sign-up for automatic alerts, updating them on new activities in their particular country or countries of interest.

But publishing individual agencies’ activities is only part of the story. By publishing to a common standard, we are able to join up activities to give a more comprehensive picture of how UK aid supports people in developing countries. As we link activities, people will increasingly be able to trace funding from donor through to beneficiary. This will help people to understand the part that different organisations play and see the results of aid and how people’s lives are improved. 

The challenge now is to take this further and ensure the use of the information and data to improve development effectiveness.

The challenge now is to take this further and ensure the use of the information and data to improve development effectiveness. Civil society organisations like Oxfam can keep pushing the boundaries on this work to make an even bigger difference. For example by: 

  • Developing new tools needed to enable citizens and civil society to access the data in easily understandable formats and making the IATI data machine readable for all citizens;
  • Helping country partners to implement IATI;
  • Reusing one’s own data (as we have found) to help drive better decision making and  improvements in the quality of programmes;
  • Getting information and data on outputs published and showing how this is contributing to impact monitoring and  lesson learning 
  • There is already a critical mass of organisations publishing data. There is real momentum on this and the transparency train has genuinely left the station.  We are on board for an exciting trip.

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Author: Roy Trivedy
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.