The Digital Agency for International Development

Supporting Aid transparency data collection effort by NGOs

By George Flatters on 15 November 2012

Making aid spending more transparent is an excellent aim but it requires better data collection and more of it. At Aptivate we are considering the burden this places on small NGOs and what IT can do to help.

In this time of austerity DFID has maintained its commitment to spend 0.7% of UK gross national income on aid. The resulting attention on international development spending has been relentless.

There are two things about DFID's reaction to this scrutiny that are of interest to anyone who thinks about IT and international development: 

  1. DFID's engagement with transparency initiatives – the latest evidence of which was the announcement of the Open Aid Information Platform (OAIP) at the Open Up! Conference and...
  2. the resulting pressure on NGOs and companies that receive DFID funding to provide data and detailed reports on their activities and to account for spending against results. 

The renewed commitment to transparency is laudable and is a signal that DFID will continue to promote the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard - "that makes information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand."

DFID's goal with OAIP is to "allow anyone to trace spending from Whitehall down to specific aid projects on the ground across the developing world." There are already a number of software tools for exploring IATI data (including Publish What You Fund, recently redesigned by Aptivate), at least one of which is open source. I hope that DFID will examine these and possibly build on the work of the open source community before embarking on an expensive application development. 

For any of these tools to work, someone has to collect the data in the first place. This responsibility ultimately filters down to the NGOs and companies working directly with beneficiaries in developing countries.

Often, the requirement for data collection and reporting is overwhelming and I have worked with many organisations where people resent the need to "feed the beast" with data, preferring instead to focus on delivery. An outfit with a lack of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) knowledge and IT skills will find it very difficult to comply with donors' demands. 

So what can we do to alleviate this stress at the bottom of the funding food-chain? Here are two projects that Aptivate is involved in that attempt to address the issue. 

Firstly, we have been working with the lovely people at the Bond Effectiveness Programme to implement a web-based version of their Improve It Framework (currently in testing). This application provides a simple pathway for NGOs who aren't M&E experts to decide which indicators and data collection tools are appropriate for the their sector and approach.  

All the tools in the framework have been developed, tried and tested by larger organisations like ActionAid and CARE. We hope this will allow smaller groups to benefit from the experience and resources of the big players. 

Secondly, in the user research work we are doing with WaterAid, people working on the ground tell us what they want to see from the organisation's Global Performance Management Information System (GPMIS).

This is a user story from one WaterAid field-worker:

"When I am required to enter data into a computer system it would be a big motivator if I could see how that data was used in the future.
"For example, if I could see on the system that my contribution was used in the big report to the donor that helped secure funding for next year, I wouldn't feel like I was thanklessly feeding the beast. If that was put in place, it would motivate people to provide accurate data on time and it would help morale."