Strengthening data-driven transparency in response to Covid-19
Liz Steele and Mark Brough share DI's experience of developing a new Covid-19 data visualisation, including incentives for organisations to improve the quality of the data they are publishing.
The Grand Bargain recognised that greater data-driven transparency is essential for building trust, improving the visibility and accountability of donors and aid organisations and enabling a more coordinated and effective response towards affected populations.
In light of the unprecedented scale and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the need to support a coordinated response across the humanitarian and development sectors, digital platforms and service providers are working together to improve the tracking of the global financing response to the crisis. An example of this approach early on in the pandemic is the collaboration between the World Health Organization, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)’s Centre for Humanitarian Data and Financial Tracking Service (FTS) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Secretariat to align guidance to enable organisations to report and publish data about their coronavirus-related spending and activities in a more coherent and coordinated way.
To support these efforts, and on behalf of the Grand Bargain transparency workstream, Development Initiatives has developed a new Covid-19 visualisation prototype. The experience of developing the visualisation has provided proof of IATI’s added value for the humanitarian and development communities and highlighted incentives for organisations to improve the quality of the data they are publishing while identifying some of the key challenges that still need to be addressed.
1. IATI offers added value complementing existing platforms
Within the humanitarian sector, FTS provides valuable curated information on whether funding meets the requirements set out by humanitarian response plans and also provides a more holistic picture of humanitarian funding by capturing flows outside those plans.
However, short-term humanitarian responses will not address the longer-term implications of Covid-19 on people’s livelihoods. This will require more joined up assessments, planning and programming as well as more flexible and appropriate financing. The Covid-19 prototype demonstrates how organisations’ IATI data can complement FTS by showing how humanitarian and development financing on Covid-19 is being spent in affected countries. The prototype has already highlighted the need to improve the way data is published when large projects contain a smaller Covid-19-specific amount. Commitments to Covid-related activities currently total US$26.9 billion. However, when transactions unrelated to Covid-19 are excluded, the total amount of commitments falls to US$19.6 billion.
2. User engagement has incentivised publication
Grand Bargain signatories were encouraged to provide feedback on the prototype’s functionality during its development and to use IATI’s new publishing guidance on Covid-19 to publish their data. As organisations quickly realised the value of using IATI as the vehicle through which to publish their data, we saw a big increase in the number of activities published – from 17 to 52 publishers, and from 92 to 635 activities in just one week. Several publishers made a special effort to get their data out early so it could be included in the visualisation.
3. Organisations should publish their data more consistently
Developing this visualisation has highlighted a few ways in which some organisations are inconsistently using the IATI Standard. In particular the prototype emphasises the importance of organisations publishing timely and more comprehensive data for this to be useful for rapid and effective decision-making.
Organisations should publish information as quickly as possible and update it regularly with progress on the implementation of the activity. Several publishers have made special efforts to speed up their IATI publication cycle specifically for Covid-19-related projects, including the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.
Some publishers are not publishing the names of the organisations that are implementing their activities, making it difficult to show how funding is being allocated along the transaction chain. In some cases, the data suggests that 100% of their spending is direct expenditure, rather than disbursing on to other organisations, which may not accurately reflect the reality of their business processes. More work is needed to support the publication of better transactional data around traceability. However, where such data is available (for example for implementing partners of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), it can provide rich insights into how funding flows downstream through the chain of organisations.
The new visualisation tool provides some rich and detailed insights into the availability and usefulness of data on the Covid-19 response, as well as the response itself. The outcome emphasises how progress can be achieved in a relatively short space of time with collective effort. Now more than ever, and in the lead up to the Grand Bargain annual meeting, donors and aid organisations need to accelerate their efforts to fully implement the Grand Bargain transparency commitments by publishing timely data to IATI. This will enable a more efficient and effective response to Covid-19 and existing humanitarian crises.
This post originally appeared on the Development Initiatives website.