• Blog
  • 14 June 2017

Humanitarian transparency: moving from commitment to action

Liz Steele reviews commitments to humanitarian transparency made in the Grand Bargain, and discusses the path towards realising them.

The first of the 10 commitments within the Grand Bargain, signed at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, is to improve the transparency of humanitarian financing. This is a very welcome commitment, both setting out practical actions for signatories and playing an important role in tracking other Grand Bargain commitments. All signatories committed to “publish timely, transparent, harmonized and open high-quality data on humanitarian funding within two years” and to use the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to do so. Through this commitment to greater transparency, the Grand Bargain sets a clear direction for improving the quality, availability and use of humanitarian data to inform decision-making and improve accountability.

Greater transparency is now widely accepted as vital to ensure the effectiveness of humanitarian interventions. A lack of reliable, timely data on what resources are used where significantly impacts the ability of donors, governments and responding agencies to plan and implement effective responses to crises. It is clear from both the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2016 that access to reliable, timely data on resources would have enabled better coordination among humanitarian actors, resulting in a more effective response. Furthermore, better reporting and sharing of information is needed to track progress on commitments made in other Grand Bargain areas – by enabling greater visibility of funding to national and local actors, for example, or tracking spending through cash programming – and to hold the signatories to account.

We’re now a year on from the signing of the Grand Bargain and progress is being made; donors and aid organisations are taking steps towards meeting their commitments to improve transparency. Our baseline report – Implementing and monitoring the Grand Bargain commitment on transparency – finds that 73% of signatories are currently publishing data to the IATI Standard, and 61% are already publishing humanitarian aid data. While the report highlights challenges that some actors face in publishing to IATI, the overall picture is a positive one that suggests that organisations are recognising the benefits of better humanitarian data.

However, no matter what progress has been made, we must remember that, while it is a critical first step, making more data available does not automatically translate to better decision-making or more effective responses to humanitarian crises. The data that is produced must be used if it is to be useful – it must be turned into information, and used as evidence to inform and influence decisions about future humanitarian responses, ongoing resilience building and development work. It should also be used for improved accountability. Donors must be able to better explain to their citizens how and where their funds are being spent, their impact, and where the gaps lie. People affected by crises should be able to use the data to better understand, and influence, the resources that are made available to them.

While commitments to greater transparency and progress in this area should be commended and continued, investments must also be made to encourage and support the use of data, which will ultimately determine a better humanitarian response for affected populations.

Read our report Implementing and monitoring the Grand Bargain commitment on transparency

For more on humanitarian financing, look out for the upcoming Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017, which will be published on this site on Wednesday 21 June 2017.

Photo: International Organisation for Migration / IOM Iraq