Case study: IATI
Building on around 20 years of work, the first version of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard was launched in early 2011. The IATI specification documents data about both aid donors and aid activities, enabling comparison and encouraging good practice in data management. The IATI standard also includes space to attach relevant documents and details of project results, allowing the standard to build context around the data and become an end-to-end solution, tracking projects from inception to execution.
The IATI standard has seen far greater uptake than any previous aid spending standard. Its success has been attributed to the multi-stakeholder nature of its design process, which included both policy makers and technical experts. From 2009 to 2010, IATI consulted with a wide range of stakeholders on the design of the technical standard, alongside a parallel process to secure donor support for publishing their aid information.
In the past, it was common to respond to information shortages by building new databases. But by working with open data principles, IATI allows a more distributed solution, where information can flow between organisations in many different ways, not just into a central database. Donors publish aid information as a feed which can be read by many different applications, including those created by other donors, by the open data community, and – importantly – by software providers that are developing country financial systems. By providing aid information in a standard format, many different users can access the data in the way they need to, and developing countries can see the resources which are supposed to be flowing to them.
Aid donors and CSOs who monitor aid are among IATI's users, but its primary users are parliamentarians in developing countries. IATI provides parliamentarians with better oversight of available aid resources. Knowing where to allocate resources in their budgeting processes is vital to ensure that money is spent in the best way, and IATI helps overcome the transparency asymmetry within different levels of government that sometimes hinders this. A treasury, for example, may be very willing to open the information it holds, but departments which benefit strongly from aid donations (e.g. departments of health) may be more reluctant to be transparent about aid revenues, as they will not want to lose out from central government budgeting. Adopting and promoting IATI across all levels of government helps solve this problem.
At present, no. The way many governments report their financial data is a function of how their budget process works or how they use their accounting software. This may not even be consistent within a government but rather vary by department and sub-department.
Could it be useful to create one? We suspect so. The IATI standard is enabling people to track the money across country boundaries for the first time, something which is almost impossible with other types of expenditure but is crucial for accountability bodies such as those who work to prevent international money laundering and corruption.
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