Global aid transparency: taking the data out of the darkness
By Robin Davies
Heated debates about the volume and allocation of international aid have long been conducted under conditions of poor lighting — it’s not an easy matter for interested people, in both donor and recipient countries, to know exactly what is done with aid at the level of individual countries and activities.
The OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) helps somewhat. It’s an authoritative source of activity-level data (hint for the uninitiated: click on the expenditure totals to view the underlying activities). However, CRS data enters the system with a very long lag and the system is quite narrow in scope, having been designed long before contemporary transparency desiderata took shape. The CRS is a rich repository of quality-assured data on past commitments and expenditure, but contains nothing very current and nothing qualitative beyond short activity summaries.
In some respects, lighting conditions have improved dramatically over about the past decade. Aid transparency has received much attention and now figures in indexes, rankings, individual donors’ policy frameworks and the collective doctrine on development effectiveness embodied in the Busan outcome document. Certainly the news is not all that it could be, but it’s pretty good.
The vast bulk of the attention directed to aid transparency, however, has been directed to the reporting of information, most notably the reporting of it in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard. In general, far too little attention has been directed to ensuring that the information reported is accessible and meaningful, and that it can be combined — in practice, not just in principle — with information from other sources in order to allow useful international comparisons.
While my subject here is not Australian aid transparency, Australia’s case illustrates one half of the point just made. While Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade …read more