Sustained growth and poverty eradication around the world have been underpinned by what the Prime Minister has called the golden thread of development: open societies and open economies where everyone can participate and use their skills and maximise their potential. Transparency is one of the building blocks of the golden thread. Transparency helps to create the basic conditions that people need to lift themselves out of poverty.
The Prime Minister has challenged us all to get our house in order, including in the developed world. Driving greater aid transparency is a critical part of this. I made it clear in my first few weeks in this job that I will continue to focus on getting value for money from our aid programmes and will do it transparently. UK taxpayers will demand no less from us.
But it is not just citizens in Britain who need more transparency of aid budgets. Transparency means that recipient governments can plan and manage the resources coming into their country. It empowers citizens and parliamentarians in these countries to hold governments and donors to account.
In India DFID supported the Government of Bihar to develop the Right to Public Services Act 2011 and implement a public awareness campaign to improve services for the poor. Establishing this as a right and raising awareness of it, led to a big increase in application for services. The first 5 months saw more than 9 million applications and there was an associated improvement in service delivery with more than 80 per cent of applications successfully processed.
So transparency is important. I’m speaking to the converted here. Today I want to talk about two things. Firstly, I want to commend the UK aid sector for the progress that we have made together.
And secondly, I will announce new work that means my department will be pursuing even faster progress.
The UK has played a leading role on aid transparency amongst the major donors.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to transparent public servicesand open data has enabled DFID to lead and drive a similar agenda in the aid world. DFID has made great strides over the last couple of years. We were the first development organisation to publish data according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s standard.
We redesigned project documents to make them more accessible to the public. Transparency featured heavily in DFID’s Country Operational Plans and in the Multilateral Aid Review. We have continued to put more new and detailed information on our aid spend into the public domain. And we are continually working to improve the quality of this data.
All organisations receiving DFID Partnership Programme Arrangement funding will now publish data in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative standard this year. UK Civil Society Organisations, such as CAFOD, Oxfam GB and Save the Children UK, are leading the world in this area. DFID is promoting greater transparency and accountability in the countries with which we work - encouraging work towards more open government and fiscal transparency.
These efforts have borne fruit - we saw DFID jump from 5th place to 1st place in the space of a year in the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index. It was great recognition of our achievements and the effort put in by DFID staff all over the world.
Even so, this also needs to be an international effort. Transparency was one of the four key principles that countries agreed in Busan.
The International Aid Transparency Initiative agreed a common standard for aid transparency in February last year. This is now a shared objective of 35 major aid providers. It is endorsed by 22 partner countries. And in November UN Women became the 100th organisation to publish their data.
DFID has a bold and ambitious vision on transparency.
We believe it should be possible for anyone, anywhere to track our aid spending right through the aid system - from the taxpayer to the beneficiaries. Increasing the traceability of aid will help beneficiaries feed-back on its impact, increase transparency of governments, and reduce waste, fraud and corruption.
At the Open Up! conference, DFID shared the Department’s new Open Aid Information Platform. I think this is really exciting. The Platform will give line of sight on our programmes from start to finish. But the Aid Information Platform will only work if organisations and intermediaries down the aid chain provide information about what they are doing with DFID’s funding. What more do we need to do?
So we are launching what I’ve called an Aid Transparency Challenge to ourselves and our partners to deliver this vision.
Firstly, we will require organisations receiving and managing funds from DFID to release open data on how this money is spent in a common, standard, reusable format.
They will need to require this of sub-contractors and sub-agencies - right through the aid chain. This will include the unique identifiers that will make it possible to follow the money.
We will support our partners in this process and we’re going to make sure it is not an unreasonable barrier to accessing DFID’s aid. But we are very serious about making aid more traceable.
Secondly, we recognise that making aid information open is the just the start. For transparency to be transformational we need to encourage the use of this aid data. So to do this we will establish an Aid Transparency Challenge Fund to stimulate work by developers to create tools promoting the use of open aid information, supporting the traceability of aid, and improving results reporting.
Such tools may also help us answer critical questions on traceability of different delivery chain models; making data relevant to different users whether they are aid data experts in Kenya or activists in Britain; and relating aid data with other datasets, such as development indicators.
We believe this is a public good so we will require that all tools developed through this Fund are made ‘open source’ so that others can use and further develop them. To go alongside this we will also bring developers together to build awareness of the business opportunities open aid data creates.
New International Development Sector Transparency Board
DFID will also seek challenges from the people who produce and use this data through establishing a new International Development Sector Transparency Board by March next year. This Board will have representatives from DFID, civil society, aid contractors, open data experts, partner countries, privacy experts and other government department representatives.
Finally, we will improve our data through geocoding aid, showing on maps where DFID aid is spent at the local level. And we can make it compatible with partner country budget classifications, enabling government and citizens to see where aid is supporting their own priorities increasing accountability. We will improve our data by publishing feedback of those directly affected by aid.
To conclude, we are at a critical juncture in development with discussions of a new framework for international development. Now is the opportunity to build on our progress in driving a more transparent aid system and look forward to the opportunities we now have to work together to embed the principles and practice of transparency in the heart of development cooperation.
Read more about the Aid Transparency Challenge in our news story