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Kinshasa at night, courtesy of BBC

IATI: Live in Kinshasa

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aidinfo last week celebrated a milestone as UN Women became the 100th development organisation to publish their data to The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), complying to the IATI Standard, which ensures that the data they published is open and accessible to anyone and in a format that is comparable to others. Everyone at the aidinfo office was excited at the news, and a bit like the local buses here in Bristol, it seemed good news was coming all at once!

Also last week, the UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening MP, speaking at the Omidyar/Open Up conference, strongly supported the UK’s commitment to IATI and called on all organisations spending UK development aid to adopt IATI.

But, what was perhaps most exciting for us, as ‘users’ of IATI data, was that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became the first  country to use IATI as a system to manage the inflow of aid information coming from its development partners into  their aid management unit in the Ministry of Planning. Thanks to a collaboration between the Ministry, Development Gateway (DG) and the IATI TAG secretariat, IATI data from the UK’s Department of International Development (DfID), The Global Fund and GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) is now being exchanged automatically.

For developing countries, this automatic exchange of data between donor systems  and  recipient countries is highly significant. The government in Kinshasa use a system known as the Aid and Investments Management Platform (PGAI) to manage data on incoming aid. The PGAI software is developed and maintained by DG who have partnered IATI throughout this pilot. The DG software now includes an IATI import module which can be used by any of the countries utilising their platform.  For  donor and government administrators on the ground in the DRC whose job it is to attempt to manage and coordinate these various flows of aid and other income coming to the country, IATI offers considerable added value in simplifying the whole process. The monthly or bimonthly task of collecting, transferring and entering data has been reduced from a day-long routine to a simple 15 minute ‘verification’ procedure.

Not all data published to IATI is suitable, or of sufficient quality, for data exchange. For example the World Bank’s country office in Kinshasa currently provides the PGAI with far more granular data on its projects than that provided by its head office via IATI. The administrator of the PGAI is now reviewing the data published by Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada with a view to including them in the exchange pool – and new improved data is expected from the EU and UNDP before the end of the year.

One of IATI’s key aims is to improve the information available at partner country level so governments can plan and manage incoming aid resources more effectively. At present, finance and planning ministries typically rely on manual systems for collecting the information they need from individual donors at country level so that they can input it into budget and aid management systems. This is a time-consuming process for both sides and often results in patchy/incomplete information. The testing undertaken in DRC has provided proof of concept for automated data exchange between IATI and national aid management systems – this is a hugely significant success for IATI, since it confirms that IATI can improve the flow of information at country level, and reduce costs for donors and recipients at the same time.

Before IATI

Before IATI

Before IATI

After IATI

After IATI

After IATI

Why are technical processes like this so important to developing countries? Well,  as developing countries have been requesting for years, to maximise the effectiveness of aid in reducing poverty, governments – like that of DRC, which can rely on aid for up to 50% of their national budget – must have comprehensive, up to date info on current and future aid flows into their country so they can plan and manage those resources effectively. If the model  that has been trialled in the DRC is extended to other  countries, IATI  will have made a major contribution to making aid more effective. Quite simply, it’s good news for governments and citizens in donor and recipient countries alike.

Launched in 2008, aidinfo works with others to improve the transparency of aid information in order to increase the effectiveness of aid in reducing poverty. The proposition underpinning the programme was a simple one: that increased access to information about aid would enable donors and partner countries to plan and manage aid resource more effectively, at the same time as supporting parliaments, CSOs and citizens to hold their governments to account for the use of these aid resources. That is why we are calling for access to information to be a key part of the post-2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals settlement.

As some of our partners recently pointed out the marking of 100 publishers to IATI offers a moment of reflection for everyone involved. This automatic exchange of data between different partner systems only works if donor agencies provide data that is complete, of a common standard and in a timely manner. At present developing countries are having to set budgets and develop plans with lots of the information they need missing, incomplete or just available too late to be of valuable use. As more and better quality data becomes available, the gains demonstrated in DRC will become more apparent.

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