Image by Laura Reinhardt/World Vision
  • Blog
  • 28 April 2020

The power of transparency: Data is key to an effective crisis response

DI's Verity Outram and World Vision's Daniel Stevens share lessons, applicable to the coronavirus pandemic and more broadly, for how transparency and high-quality data can help humanitarian organisations, donors and advocates better respond to crises.

High-quality, timely, reliable data has long been recognised by humanitarian organisations and donors as a cornerstone of effective advocacy and coordination around crises – this is part of the logic behind the Grand Bargain’s transparency commitment, agreed by the world’s biggest humanitarian donors in 2016 and now being implemented by 62 signatory organisations. The coronavirus crisis has now brought the value of quality data into sharp relief; a range of humanitarian organisations find themselves under intense pressure to respond to a challenge that is new, and in many ways unprecedented – and where data is being reported inconsistently.

At the end of March the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) issued new guidance to support organisations in publishing data about their coronavirus-related spending and activities. This is a crucial opportunity for humanitarian actors and donors to support one another, and to build an evidence base that could be used to influence governments in their response to the crisis – and ultimately to coordinate a global response, ensuring scarce resources are directed to those most in need.

The coronavirus pandemic once again highlights the importance of humanitarian organisations fulfilling the transparency commitments they’ve made through the Grand Bargain, so that high-quality, open data can drive an effective, efficient and accountable response to one of the greatest global challenges of modern history.

While the coronavirus pandemic is in some senses different to other crises the world has faced, some of the challenges remain the same – and in particular, there are lessons to be drawn from how good quality data shared in a transparent way has fed through into successful advocacy and improved results in the past.

Case in point: ‘It Takes a World...’

A great example of data-led advocacy is ‘It Takes a World…’, a campaign by World Vision which called on the UK government, a major global donor and signatory to the Grand Bargain, to increase its investment in ending violence against children in emergencies.

A cornerstone of World Vision UK’s ‘It Takes a World…’ campaign was analysis by Development Initiatives using IATI data, which concluded that the UK government was investing only 2.5% of bilateral humanitarian aid in ending violence against children. By contrast Sweden was investing over 20% on a like-for-like basis.

This research was the basis of an overarching call to government, and was used to engage the public on the issue of ending violence against children. This in turn drove greater public scrutiny and a demand for increased accountability when it comes to UK humanitarian aid being spent on ending violence against children. The Guardian carried a 500-word article on the research in its digital and print editions, with a response by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) – while the Times Red Box carried a 500-word opinion piece on the research by the Shadow International Development Minister. Overall, related messages reached some 4 million people through press and social media activity. And more than 34,000 members of the UK public engaged directly with the issue by signing a World Vision UK digital petition calling for increased funding to this area.

The campaign and the petition gave the public the opportunity to hold DFID accountable for their spending to end violence against children. The issue was raised by MPs in Parliament, was addressed in a letter to World Vision UK’s Chief Executive from the Secretary of State for International Development, and subsequently discussed in meetings with the responsible Director General in DFID. While the Department rejected the methodology of the research, they have promised a formal response to petition signatories and engaged with World Vision UK on the issue of tracking investments in ending violence against children.

The research – and its use – has resulted in increased engagement with SDG 16.2 by decision-makers, influencers and the public. In particular, it’s helped increase civil society interest in target 16.2 and tracking funding for the SDGs, as evidenced by BOND’s submission to UK DFID ahead of the UK presentation to the UN High-Level Political Forum in July 2019.

Where next?

As IATI data becomes more comprehensive thanks to organisations fulfilling their commitments to transparency through initiatives such as the Grand Bargain, it can help signatories and the broader humanitarian community not only to inform their advocacy, but also to collaborate more effectively in humanitarian and development programming. Better data can enable a greater understanding of who is doing what, where and when, which in turn can support actors to identify where gaps are, and which partnerships and collaborations would bring the greatest impact.

There is still some way to go on this goal, but as the Grand Bargain enters its final year, there is a huge opportunity for all signatories to be publishing more and better data – a collective good that can help us all more effectively pursue our humanitarian missions, now and in the future.