2018 is particularly important for the Grand Bargain’s first workstream: greater transparency. Signatories should have started to publish “timely, transparent, harmonized and open high-quality data on humanitarian funding” within two years of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. So what are the results? Well, according to our latest progress report Supporting Grand Bargain signatories in meeting commitments to greater transparency, 44 of 59 signatories are publishing open data using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard. Of these, over 80% are including some data on their humanitarian activities. This reflects a lot of hard work and energy from all those involved.
However, not all Grand Bargain signatories are currently publishing detailed humanitarian data, and not all are convinced of the merits of publishing their data using the IATI Standard, which has been further developed to enable organisations to provide even more granular information on their humanitarian activities. The Grand Bargain Annual Independent Report also stated that “the continuing lack of clarity on the purpose of and gains to be expected from increased financial transparency and how to achieve it indicates a need for discussion across all workstreams.”
Does this mean that some of the Grand Bargain’s 59 signatories are questioning the purpose of increasing the transparency of humanitarian funding? If this is the case, it fundamentally challenges the underlying premise of the Grand Bargain. The Grand Bargain is about reforming the aid system to deliver a more efficient and effective humanitarian response. It’s about changing the way that the humanitarian community – including donor governments, multilateral and UN agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross Red Crescent movement – works together to respond to humanitarian crises. If some who signed up to it do not believe in the transformative change increased financial transparency can have on improving the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian assistance, then why have we spent the last two years trying to operationalise the Grand Bargain?
Development Initiatives places financial transparency at the core of what it does in order to improve impact and build a much more sustainable, resilient and equal world, where the poorest people are less vulnerable to crisis. Timely, reliable and comparable information on how humanitarian financing is being spent can enable organisations to better coordinate and target their efforts. Greater traceability of funding can improve evidence-based analysis of the efficiency of the humanitarian response and the effectiveness of its impact. Making this information open and available to all can support efforts to strengthen the accountability of governments and aid organisations to citizens in donor constituencies and, most importantly, to those in communities affected by humanitarian crises.
So, transparency isn’t an end in itself, and nor is publishing to the IATI Standard – they are a means to an end. If all Grand Bargain signatories published timely, transparent, harmonised and open high-quality data on humanitarian funding to the IATI Standard in line with the commitments they made at the World Humanitarian Summit, it would allow comparable information on humanitarian funding and activities to be exchanged, connected and used by many different stakeholders much faster than ever before. It would also enable humanitarian and development resources to be viewed alongside each other to provide a clearer picture of the different financing flows being mobilised in response to crises.
There are also clear links between transparency and the implementation and monitoring of other commitments in the Grand Bargain. For example, greater visibility on how funding is channelled to national and local implementing partners can enable efforts to provide “more support and funding tools to local and national responders”. If organisations publish better data on who their implementing partners are, it will not only help track progress in meeting this commitment, but also make the data open and available for local and national organisations to access and use. More and better data on different financing modalities can enable the humanitarian community to monitor progress against Grand Bargain commitments in these areas and to better understand the impacts of that progress.
This will be transformative!
A recent workshop on greater transparency recognised that more has to be done – in particular on the need to focus on data use and user requirements as well as on the collection of good-practice examples, to showcase and learn from efforts that have led to greater efficiencies and enabled a more detailed analysis.
At the same time, it also looks like Development Initatives and others who are supporting the greater transparency workstream have more to do to win over hearts and minds. The workstream can achieve success only if all the Grand Bargain’s signatory organisations are fully behind the ‘purpose’ of transparency, and that this is backed up by investment and action within institutions and sustained by political support and engagement across the Grand Bargain as a whole.
Organisations should be seeking gains which will go beyond them as individual publishers. The ‘gains’ of transparency should not be seeking to reward publishers for their good efforts, but to reward the people the Grand Bargain sets out to serve, and for whom the transparency agenda really needs to deliver. We are not being transparent for its own sake, but for the change it has the potential to bring about in the lives of people affected by crises around the world. It is not until their lives change for the better that success can be claimed.