Twaweza published its first set of IATI data last week. By doing so, Twaweza joined 276 other organisations sharing data on their work in a common standard. And since doing so, I’ve been asked several times why we have done this: isn’t IATI something for official aid agencies like DFID and USAID, and for the bigger international NGOs?
For those who don’t know it, IATI – the International Aid Transparency Initiative – is “a multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, development and humanitarian resources in order to increase their effectiveness in tackling poverty.” It’s essentially a common standard that means different organisations publish data on their development spending in ways that are more easily accessible in one place, and more easily comparable.
That does sound like something that’s mainly for donors and INGOs. And that is how it started, back in 2008. But more recently, more and more smaller NGOs, including several fairly small organisations based within developing countries have been publishing. Alongside the likes of DFID, UNICEF, the Global Fund, Oxfam and the Gates Foundation, there are organisations from Nepal, India, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Malawi. And in fact, Twaweza was not the first organisation in Tanzania to publish IATI data: CUAMM beat us to it.
There are a couple of reasons for this – reasons that apply just as much to NGOs in Tanzania as to the organisations listed above.
First, the logic of aid transparency applies to everyone involved in the development business.
Aid transparency means people everywhere can see what is being spent – that means Tanzanian citizens, civil society and the media, and people within the Tanzanian government, as well as taxpayers in donor countries. That means more accountability, and more efficiency, which is a good thing.
Development projects of all kinds usually involve spending money that came from people in one place on activities that are intended to help people somewhere else. There are multiple accountabilities involved – or there should be. If all we do is report our spending to our donors, we are being more accountable to them than to the communities we are trying to serve. Aid transparency makes it possible to correct this imbalance.
If an MP in Songea, for example, or an opposition candidate, wants to know what development projects are happening within the district, they don’t want to have to search through the websites of every single development agency and NGO to see what each one, individually, has published – IATI is trying to make it possible to get all the information in one place.
And if we are asking others to be transparent – for example asking for governments to publish their budgets – then it only makes sense that we should practice what we preach, and set a good example.
Second, there’s a practical reason as well – one that is potentially very significant for many Tanzanian NGOs:
DFID is so firmly committed to IATI in its work that it has begun to insist that organisations that receive funding from DFID should also publish IATI data. They have applied this first to organisations that get funding through a couple of UK-managed funding schemes: the Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) and the Girls Education Challenge (GEC). Many (though not all) of the smaller organisations that are already publishing to IATI are recipients of funds from these schemes.
But DFID are much more ambitious than that. Here’s what Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development (DFID’s senior Minister) said on the subject in 2012:
“We will require organisations receiving and managing funds from DFID to release open data on how this money is spent in a common, standard, reusable format. They will need to require this of sub-contractors and sub-agencies – right through the aid chain.” (my emphasis)
And in the UK’s second Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan (see page 34), DFID re-affirmed this, by committing to:
“introduce approaches to improving the traceability of UK development assistance through a range of delivery chains by August 2014; this includes pilots with a number of private sector suppliers and CSOs by March 2014 and a requirement of IATI publication by the end of 2015 for all implementing partners.” (my emphasis)
(I checked with DFID staff by email whether these statement are still correct – they are.)
The Development Tracker tool that DFID has developed to showcase their IATI data shows how they want this to work. If DFID channels funds through PWC to WaterAid, who then pass some of the funding on to a local Tanzanian NGO, then someone using the Developer Tracker should be able to click links that show each connection in the chain, and finally to see how that local NGO has spent the money.
In other words, any organisation anywhere in the world that is receiving funds directly or indirectly from DFID is going to have to publish IATI data fairly soon. That includes any organisation funded, for example, through the Foundation for Civil Society, the Tanzania Media Fund, or the new Human Development Innovation Fund.
It is ambitious, but not impossible. IATI is not that difficult to apply – there are excellent tools and guidance materials available that make it relatively straightforward for small organisations. Two hours of training can be enough for a small organisation to get to grips with IATI, according to Bond, an association of British NGOs working in international development that provides training in publishing to IATI. And then another hour to get the tools working for you. (It took Twaweza a little longer than that.)
The direction of travel is clear. Before long, I would guess that even those organisations that are not getting any DFID funding will find they need to publish IATI data as well. Other donors will start asking why other organisations are not doing so, and they will start building it into their criteria for deciding which organisations should be given funding. When politicians in the US, for example, see how easy it is to track British aid money, and how difficult it is to track American aid, I suspect US versions of the Development Tracker and the IATI commitment will follow quickly. I hear the Dutch already have something like this in the pipeline.
It is even possible that in a few years time, donors won’t ask for financial reports at all – they will ask for up-to-date, detailed and accurate IATI data, and an independent audit at the end of the year. Transparency in development funding is becoming the new normal, and the sooner we prepare for it, the better. The good news is that it’s not that difficult.
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Further reading / resources:
- DFID International Development Sector Transparency Panel (STP)
- The UKaid Transparency Guarantee
- Transparency and IATI, by Bond (Network of UK-based International Development NGOs)
- IATI CSO Working Group
- IATI YouTube channel with videos on publishing to IATI
- How Nepal’s NGOs Can Set the Bar for Aid Transparency