How can people who are caught up in crises have more of a say in what assistance they receive? It’s an all too familiar question that’s all too often answered more in rhetoric than in practice. So this week in Addis Ababa, at ALNAP’s 29th annual conference more than 150 people from across the geographic and humanitarian world have come together to try to find ways to change this. It’s an impressive group of people bringing combined centuries of experience to tackle questions of ‘engagement of crisis affected people’.
So why are we, GHA, here amongst this ‘community of practice’? After all, we’re not practitioners in the field operational sense – we’re concerned with data and analysis about humanitarian assistance, we’re not there in communities affected by crises, delivering aid ‘on the ground’. Well, we’re here because whilst we want the global money questions answered (how much assistance is available, who gives it, where does it go) we believe that people on the receiving end of humanitarian assistance, as well as those giving it, need to have access to these answers. In other words, a displaced person in Somalia or Afghanistan has as much right to know what money is going where as does a donor in Washington or Istanbul.
It seems obvious, and yet financial transparency tends to be conceived as an ‘upward’ accountability issue (i.e. humanitarian agencies financial reporting to donors) rather than a ‘downward’ accountability issue (i.e. sharing budgets with communities). And civil society budget-tracking initiatives are often understood to be the domain of development action, rather than something that can or should be done in the life-saving urgency of the humanitarian context. But this needs to change – if people are going to meaningfully engage in designing and monitoring the kind of humanitarian support they receive, they need to be given access to financial information.
The first discussions of the conference suggested that there is a tension between the metrics-oriented donor-driven ‘value for money’ agenda (if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count) and the community-driven qualitative participation agenda. Perhaps the way to counter this is to align the two – give communities the information and the fora to have their say in what value for money means for them.
In the opening panel of the conference, Robert Chambers, an eminent exponent of participatory approaches, raised this question of budget transparency as essentially a question of power. Sharing this powerful knowledge goes right to the heart of the question of trust between recipients, agencies and donors. And it’s for the same reason that GHA has organised a panel at this ALNAP conference, called ‘Knowledge is Power’.
This panel tomorrow, brings together two people from civil society in Uganda (Doreen Abalo from Development Research and Training) and South Sudan (Denis Ladu from Society for Civic Development) with one from a donor, DFID (Clare Devlin), to discuss how they address financial transparency from their perspectives. Doreen will present findings from DRT’s work empowering communities and tracking resources in post conflict communities in Northern Uganda; Denis from will discuss some of the challenges in holding donors to account in Lainya County in South Sudan and Claire Devlin will present the international perspective, highlighting work DFID is doing to make its financial resources more transparent and accountable through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).
If you are not able to join us in Addis for this panel, we’d still like you to join the discussion – you can post your thoughts here on our blog, tweet your views and questions to the panellists @GHA_org and follow the debate #ALNAP2014. We’re particularly keen to hear good ideas and practical examples of sharing financial information in humanitarian crises.