Friday, October 29, 2010
international standard (like the one suggested here) specifying the type and format of data that donors were obligated to make public.
Over the weekend I'm hoping to find time to compare the QuODA metrics with the PWYF metrics, but for now let me throw out a few quick reactions.
1. I'm very happy to see all these transparency assessments. Such reports provide transparency advocates within aid organizations with evidence to help them push for greater openness. These reports also provide ammunition for external critics who are advocating for access to more information. Both QuODA and PWYF promise to publish their assessments on an annual basis. This will allow all observers to see which donors are becoming more transparent in both absolute and relative terms. I'm hoping these publications promote a "race to the top" in terms of transparency.
2. Like the QuODA report, the PWYF assessment looks mostly at the usual suspects. The authors do include GAVI alongside traditional donors, but in the future it would be nice to include more donors in these studies.
3. If you focus exclusively on "commitment to aid transparency," which includes participation in IATI, reporting to the CRS, and whether a donor has a robust FOIA-like regime, then Ireland comes out as the most transparent donor in the study. Had I read the measures for this variable six months ago, I'd have been skeptical of their actual impact on current transparency levels. However, researchers at AidData who are currently trying to convince non-traditional donors to give us access to their aid information are having a much easier time in countries that do have enforceable FOIA-like policies (India) than in those that do not (China and Russia). Also, while IATI participation may not matter directly in 2010, it is very likely to be a good predictor of transparency going forward.
4. If you focus exclusively on "transparency to recipient governments," then multilateral development banks take 4 of the top 5 positions. This is especially noteworthy since there are only four MDBs among the 30 donors in the study! Could this result follow from the fact that recipient governments are members of those MDBs and thus help to determine the policies of the MDBs? Some recent academic research (beware of shameless self-promotion) suggests a mechanism for such a conclusion.
I'm encouraged that so many people in the academic, advocacy, and policy worlds are focussing increased attention on aid transparency. If we keep this up we are likely to learn something and to to increase the effectiveness of development outcomes.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
In addition to the obvious planning and budget challenges associated with off-budget aid, there are political reasons why aid modality decisions could have a profound influence on development outcomes. Research shows that young democracies, like Liberia, are highly vulnerable to political instability, violence, and unconstitutional transfers of power. Newly-elected governments in post-conflict settings generally have a tenuous grasp on power and must convince voters of their credibility and legitimacy if they have any hope of escaping a major democratic reversal (e.g. a coup). One way for a young democracy to shore up its credibility and legitimacy is to build effective and sustainable public service delivery systems. However, when voters get all of their development "goodies" (e.g. food, water, health, education) from donor-funded projects via off-budget aid, recipient governments risk the appearance of impotence and losing public support. This is precisely why the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, has privately advocated for increased budget support to the Karzai administration and an "Afghanization" of U.S. foreign assistance.
Team Obama has acknowledged the importance of refocusing U.S. foreign assistance programs on long-term capacity building, but only time will tell if the administration can translate its good intentions into tangible changes in the way foreign assistance is delivered. USAID recently announced that it will select 5 pilot countries to test the feasibility of channeling more funds through host country systems in transitional settings. And, as chance would have it, Liberia will be its very first test case. USAID will initially provide small amounts of funding through Liberia's public financial management system, and after assessing whether the country has managed the money well, consider a more substantial increase in on-budget aid. This is an important policy development that deserves careful scrutiny.
Here at AidData, we have begun collecting more comprehensive "channel of delivery" data --in collaboration with Simone Dietrich at Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Bermeo at Duke University -- to enable researchers to evaluate competing claims about the usefulness of on-budget and off-budget aid in different country settings. Our hope is that the emerging set of IATI standards will also facilitate more systematic "channel of delivery" reporting by donor agencies.
Friday, October 8, 2010
In addition to the searchable maps on the World Bank website, my colleagues Mike Findley, Dan Nielson, and Josh Powell are working on several case studies of aid allocation. In Nepal active World Bank projects are visible on maps showing population density and poverty rates.
A case study in Africa focuses on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a country's conflict history can have a major impact on the location of development projects. According to Findley and his colleagues, "While few agricultural, energy, or water supply projects went to the Kivu regions, many health and transportation-related projects did locate there. In fact, health appears the overwhelming focus of the World Bank in DRC, while the transportation projects largely target the borders with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. This suggests that the World Bank’s country strategy in DRC seeks to improve the health of the general population while promoting regional integration to facilitate trade."
In a Thursday panel hosted by the Bank on Open Development Solutions Aleem Walji, Manager for Innovation at the World Bank Institute, highlighted the possibilities of using open data to create apps and maps. Walji suggested that if the World Bank and other donors provide data in an open format and free of charge, that users would build things that we currently "can't even imagine." To test that proposition the World Bank is sponsoring an Apps for Development Competition where users will be invited to use World Bank data to build applications addressing at least one of the MDGs.
For users who want the underlying data used in the Mapping for Results project, each country has a page like this one for Kenya that allows you to download in csv format. Very cool and very useful. I do hope other donors and aid organizations follow the lead of the World Bank in making their data publicly available and in learning how to geo-code their project locations.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
More importantly, the report is packed with interesting descriptive and comparative statistics on donor agencies, which will have researchers and practitioners debating data, methods, and indicator weightings for a long time. Unlike some previous efforts to rank donor effectiveness, the authors are explicit about their assumptions and remarkably transparent about their methods, data, and justifications for the decisions they have made. As a result, they have opened themselves up to criticism, but have dramatically increased the probability that we will actually learn something about development. As important, their own transparency makes it more likely that the authors will improve upon their methods and data in future iterations of this project. KUDOS.
The report ranks both donors and donor agencies in terms of four broad categories -- Maximizing Efficiency; Fostering Institutions; Reducing Burden; and (my favorite) Transparency and Learning. These broad categories are broken down into 30 different specific indicators and the authors do a very clear job of unpacking the broader categories so that you can focus on the indicators you really care about. The report ranks 31 donors and 152 different development agencies.
While the first edition of this report will be accessible to policy wonks and researchers, QuODA also has a related interactive web tool that allows the user to select the donors, agencies, or variables that he or she wants to analyze or graph. Readers beware. I just flushed 90 minutes playing with this thing instead of writing mid-term exam essay questions. It is very cool. If you have other work that you need to do today, do not click on this link.
OK, I really do have to go write an exam, so here are my last few comments on this for tonight.
1. I'd love to see the authors add more donors going forward. The report does not analyze the quality of Non-DAC Bilateral donors and only includes a handful of multilateral donors. Of course, this is easy for me to say since I will not be producing this massive report for years to come.
2. If you want to download the wonkcast interview with the two authors, you can get that here and if you want to see video of the roll out with Q&A click here.
3. It is nice to see evidence-based advocacy. Too often development discourse is characterized by doctrinaire advocacy or sterile social science published in journals that few people read. The authors of this report and the associated web tool are explicit about their goals: "We hope that public scrutiny and discussion will help us improve our methods and contribute to healthy pressure on official and private aid funders to make information on their aid practices and policies better and more accessible." Me too.