Interim recommendations from the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) are rumoured to be released this week. To follow-up on last month’s QDDR blog series, and continue to ask the hard questions, MFAN presents the following guest post from Karin Christiansen, director of Publish What You Fund – an MFAN partner organization. Let us know whether you think aid transparency is critical to foreign assistance reform, or what you think might rank higher in the comments section below.
Why is aid transparency so critical to foreign aid reform in the 21st century?
By Karin Christiansen
Transparency is not just the latest buzzword in Washington but a concept that the QDDR has true potential to bring to life. From country ownership to food security and from Afghanistan to Haiti, aid transparency is no longer seen as a niche policy concern, but rather a necessary – though not sufficient – component of improving the impact of aid and delivering development overall.
Aid transparency is not just about more information, but also about better structured information. If you do a search on the web, there is a fair amount of data about donors and aid agencies in Haiti, but it is not presented in a way in which you can use it to talk to each other. The QDDR is a major opportunity for the U.S. Government to address the availability of comprehensive, timely, and comparable aid information and increase aid transparency for both U.S. citizens and the people benefiting from U.S. foreign assistance.
There are three practical steps to achieving this change:
The first is the production and disclosure of aid information across the range of actors and flows leaving the U.S. for developing countries. Understanding and coordinating these diverse financial flows is essential to making informed policy decisions and maximizing development impact. Citizens and taxpayers have the right to know how much money is coming into their budget and domestic expenditure. Without this information, it is hard to see how ownership, let alone leadership, of their own development is likely to emerge.
Secondly, the information produced needs to be comparable. This requires acommon language that enables the U.S. government to compare and synchronize its efforts with other donors and recipient countries. Practically, this is about developing a language to maximize the ‘interoperability’ between, for example, the State Department’s Foreign Assistance Coordination and Tracking System and equivalent systems. Without comparable information on foreign assistance, both donors and recipients will continue to face serious challenges to cutting out duplication and maximizing the impact of their resources. The emerging vehicle for developing a common language that can be used across donors is the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). The Initiative is currently defining a standard with a range of bilateral and multilateral donors.
The third step involves fostering the demand for and use of aid information through new technologies and facilitating relationships between stakeholders who want to use the data and technicians who can build the necessary tools. Websites such as www.data.gov are important efforts by the Administration, and more innovation appears to be coming through the pipeline with the Open Government Initiative and the Public Equals Online campaign.
These steps will push foreign assistance transparency to move beyond being a ‘data dump’ to providing accessible information that will foster accountability and effectiveness and ensure U.S. taxpayers get value for money to their efforts. Publish What You Fund looks forward to the findings of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) and welcomes the Administration’s efforts on foreign assistance and aid reform.