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IATI: What is it good for? Deep dive into data usage

This article is part two in my series: “IATI: what is it good for (Surprisingly a lot!)”. In this article I am diving deeper into how different stakeholders would use IATI data for their own goals and needs.

High-level look at needs

I shared this table in my first article as a high level overview of what different stakeholders would use IATI data for.

Purpose

Finance Min.

Line Min

Parliament

Media

Academia

Advocacy NGOs

Service NGOs

Private sector

Planning & coordination

 

 

 

Public accountability

 

 

Civil-society participation

 

 

 

 

Anti-corruption

 

 

 

Business & funding

 

 

 

 

Local stakeholders: Huge needs

We spoke with folks from:

What we learned was that there is a tremendous hunger for information on where US and other donor dollars are going, to whom, for what purpose, and most importantly, with what impact. “Where is my borehole?” was a phrase we used to capture this desire for information from the average citizen. The nearly universal response to our spreadsheet was to request a copy and a reiteration that the open publication of this data is crucial for so many in their jobs.

Reality of data in developing countries

It is easy to assume that people have the information they need to make decisions in order to have a holistic view of what is occurring. But the reality in foreign assistance is that most people do not have adequate information to make good decisions. They use their gut, past experience, the latest fads (or corruption) to decide where to invest development dollars. Across all the organizations we met with, we found a profound lack of accurate and up-to-date data needed to make crucial decisions. Basic data (like a list of all active development projects in a particular sector, by district/locatio) was missing. Can you imagine trying to coordinate a national agriculture program when you have no idea where all the agriculture development activities are taking place?

Deep dive into data usage

Planning and coordination

Government representatives in all three countries stressed the need to improve long-term planning and monitoring, for which they need better and more up to date data. For example, the Bangladesh Government’s Aid Effectiveness Unit is tasked with collecting data on foreign assistance that is then supplied to other government agencies for their planning. This data collection is currently challenging, slow and prone to error, as evidenced by the 2014 report which was missing information on US Government foreign assistance in Bangladesh.

But this need is beyond government; donors in all three countries need data to coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication of effort or unanticipated competition. In Zambia, the private sector was interested in data around planned investments in the major economic sectors of agriculture or mining. The Catholic Church in Ghana (a key provider of health services), needed detailed information on development cooperation to allocate resources as efficiently as possible and to coordinate activities. Researchers and academics in the three countries, particularly those who are associated with think tanks, also see the public and private sector as consumers of their information for the purposes of planning and coordination.

Public accountability

Media representatives in all three countries highlighted that their audiences were interested in development activities planned for their communities. Citizens wanted to know:

Academics were interested in comparing funding sources in order to provide analysis on whose interests were being served by donor assistance, and which programs were effective. One Economics professor outlined his work in tracking different donor HIV/AIDS programming approaches and activities in Southern Africa compared to the needs, through performing lot of manual research.

Almost all civil society stakeholders, such as those at the Ghanaian Auditor General’s office and the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, stressed the important role of information on development cooperation in increasing public accountability. The Parliamentary Accounts Committee informed the team that to be able to audit development cooperation projects, detailed information was needed, such as project name, donor’s name, intermediary recipient, end recipient, terms and conditions, potential consequences for unmet conditions, and sub-national geographic information.

The Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR, an anti-corruption NGO) in Zambia provided an example where a World Bank financed water project stalled for several years after Zambia had received the loan. In this case, the JCTR provided relevant information to the intended beneficiaries of the loan and mobilized citizen action to ensure implementation of the project. Another data need highlighted by Transparency International Bangladesh was information on climate funding, since Bangladesh is vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and donors have promised significant resources to mitigate this risk.

Civil society participation

Across all three countries, there was a growing amount of civil society participation despite varied internet and social media access. For example, active discussion of political and national issues on Facebook was cited as an example of the changing culture in Bangladesh towards an increased demand for information. According to one Bangladeshi NGO, this increased interest in participation was particularly pronounced in people who understood how specific projects related to their own lives, and where a project directly influenced peoples’ livelihoods.

One Zambian parliamentarian stressed that plans for development activities were not always in line with citizens’ priorities. Therefore, it is important to be aware of citizens’ priorities and concerns while keeping them apprised of government plans. A Ghanaian CSO, PenPlusBytes, reported on a project with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Government Assurance to improve their ability to track government pledges and facilitate citizen feedback around government priorities. Their efforts to solicit and collect citizen feedback depended on the availability of information.

Anti-corruption

According to most stakeholders, the public is interested in aid information so that it can hold the government accountable, particularly when projects are large or linked to allegations of government corruption. This interest in information seems to go beyond sensationalist newspaper headlines, and there seems to be a growing sense, particularly among young people, that the citizens have a right to this information. In Bangladesh, “Where’s the Padma Bridge?” was mentioned repeatedly as an example of a long-awaited infrastructure improvement promised by The World Bank, JICA, and Asian Development Bank that does not seem to be moving forward.

In all three countries, NGOs as well as media representatives expressed a strong interest in aid information to curb corruption and avoid mismanagement as well as recommended that anti-corruption efforts could be facilitated if donors provided public access to detailed information on the process of awarding contracts. The Zambian Governmental Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigate corruption allegations in aid-funded activities, but need basic project information like the name of a project, its location, planned activities and goals before it can investigate. The ACC also need information on how the money was actually spent and on the procurement and bidding process (including information on the number of bidders).

Business and funding opportunities

Almost all non-governmental organizations and some government bodies expressed interest in this data to perform competitive analysis to help find business and funding opportunities. The Zambian Development Agency, a government entity responsible for promoting trade and export, expressed a strong interest in learning more about the funding priorities of donor agencies as well as possibilities for cooperation. The American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia regularly requests this information from the U.S. Embassy.

Similarly, NGOs in all three countries seek information on opportunities for grants and on contract awards as well as to learn the procedures on responding to requests for proposals. They are also interested in scholarships and fellowship opportunities for students and academics.

Previous and Next

My next article will provide a comparison between the specific data needs identified by stakeholders, some existing sources of data, and how they align (or not) with the IATI standard.

  1. What is IATI good for? (Surprisingly a Lot!)
  2. Deep dive into data usage
  3. Data needs vs IATI standards
  4. Ideas for moving forward with IATI

This article and associated other ones do not reflect the opinions of the US Government or USAID, who funded this assessment. For more information on the three country assessment and our formal findings, please visit https://www.usaid.gov/transparency/country-pilot-assessment


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