Helping the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) reach its potential

by Conrad Zellmann and Wilbrod Ntawiha


Development Initiatives’ new report on IATI data use sets the scene for TAG 2017

This week, we’re representing IATI – an initiative making information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand – at TAG 2017. This is the flagship event for IATI’s global technical community committed to improving transparency and open data in development.

To date, IATI has attracted more than 500 publishers, who are sharing information about transactions that last year alone totalled US$146 billion (see the 2016 annual report). It’s essential that the valuable information reported to the IATI standard is now used to improve the effectiveness of these resources through enhanced decision making, transparency and accountability.

That’s why Development Initiatives has launched its new report ‘Reaching the potential of IATI data’, which we hope will add value to discussions at the TAG. In the report, we assess how data published to the standard since its inception in 2011 has been used, and what is now needed from our community to ensure more people benefit from this initiative.

Why use IATI data?

It’s vital that we are clear on the potential benefits that the data can bring for a wide range of actors, from developing-country governments to citizens. Our report identifies three key examples:

  1. Increasing transparency through the application of a common and open reporting standard to enable access to and use of comprehensive, comparable, timely and forward-looking data on financial resource flows.
  2. Increasing efficiency and effectiveness through the use of IATI data in planning, coordinating and mobilising resources for better development interventions.
  3. Increasing accountability through the use of IATI data by a range of official and non-official actors to monitor delivery, detect corruption and advocate for improvements.

Who’s making the most use of IATI data now?

Surprisingly, it’s donors. IATI was originally established with the aim of meeting the demand from developing-country governments for timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on external resources. Currently, however, the most evident use of this data by far is in information portals set up by donors and development partners. Due to their focus on (mostly) individual providers, these efforts primarily serve to demonstrate transparency and accountability to a domestic or international audience.

Our report lists 12 such portals currently operating; they span major bilateral aid providers as well as multilateral actors.

Are developing countries using IATI?

Local aid-management systems

Using the data for decision-making processes crucially depends on the level of integration of IATI with local AIMS (aid information management systems). Work has been undertaken to import IATI data into AIMS in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar and Senegal.

Full picture of resources

Some governments are regularly using IATI data to check and/or complement their own data. For example, in Liberia the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning reported using IATI data to monitor flow of external resources in the context of the Ebola crisis.

Accountability

Evidence for the use of IATI-based information to hold development resource providers and implementers to account is perhaps the most limited use to date. An example of such a use involved efforts to monitor implementation of DFID-funded NGO projects by the National Taxpayers Association together with Integrity Action in Kenya.

What does our community need to work on?

  • Raising awareness at national level Busy government officials may not even be aware that IATI exists, and we need greater efforts to promote the initiative. As stated in the report, donor country offices of leading IATI publishers have indicated an urgent need to raise awareness.
  • Supporting integration with in-country aid management systems We need to work together to ensure more countries implement the automatic import of IATI data into their AIMS. For this to be sustainable, there needs to be ownership by developing-country governments, as observed in Myanmar’s Mohinga and Bangladesh’s own home-grown AIMS.
  • Evidence of value added To encourage more use, we need a clear evidence base on how IATI data adds value to government systems and their decision-making processes.
  • New solutions and tools for different users needs We need more in-depth research on what specific problems IATI can solve. This will contribute to developing appropriate support as well as technical and analytical tools.
  • Overcoming key technical obstacles Existing IATI tools need to be improved, in particular making IATI’s Datastore (an online service that gathers all data published to the IATI standard) more user-friendly. Also required are improvements to data quality and the standard through better publication of data by organisations (such as accurate sub-locations, local language descriptions, use or related field to enable traceability of funds, etc.)

To achieve the above, we need more investment, as well as political will, from many key stakeholders, including developing-country governments, donors and other non-state actors. Being at TAG 2017 has filled us with confidence that the IATI community is ready to meet these challenges.

Read the full report