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Evaluating aid transparency

We evaluated current and future directions of the transparency agenda to help inforn Hewlett Foundation's grant making decisions in the sector.

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Stephen Akroyd

Aid Effectiveness Cluster Evaulation,

The last twenty years has witnessed an unprecedented drive for aid transparency as a key dimension of aid effectiveness, based on the hypothesis that more transparent aid leads to better aid outcomes. In recent years, questions have been asked about progress on transparency with regard to traditional Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors, the emerging cohort of South-South co-operations, and recipient countries themselves.

We assessed current and future directions of the transparency agenda to help inform Hewlett Foundation’s grant making decisions in the sector. The evaluation found that, while some aid information is significantly more transparent than it was a decade ago and aid transparency remains high on the agenda of the aid community, it is hard to demonstrate the real-life impacts of efforts to make aid transparent.

Additionally, substantial blockages in some other aspects of transparency remain. As such, it is time to think deeply about what major changes are required to keep aid transparency work relevant, as well as to find and test avenues for effectiveness and impact.

The Challenge

The evaluation had two main objectives:

  1. to assess the current and possible future directions of the aid transparency movement, focusing on current Hewlett Foundation grantees and their partners;
  2.  to understand how aid data is used by developing country governments, civil society and citizen/watchdog groups, and donor country offices.

Our Approach

The evaluation addressed these objectives using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data obtained from multiple stakeholders involved with the aid transparency movement. The team produced two country case studies - Ghana and Tanzania. A variety of research methods were used:

  • Key informant interviews: Global respondents included data providers (governments and multilaterals), aid transparency implementers (such as IATI); and external scrutinising organisations. For the country case studies we spoke with government respondents and data users.
  • Literature and document review. We reviewed academic and grey literature on aid transparency, the links to effectiveness, future directions, and examples of the use of aid data.
  • Comparative review of aid data systems. Data from among the main ‘aid transparency’ databases, including IATI, OECD–DAC, and the World Bank.
  • Automated media tracking. Media tracking was used to automatically track references to aid transparency and aid data in news sources. The analysis was done using Media Cloud, a machine learning-powered open source platform for studying media ecosystems.
  • Evidence uptake analysis. Evidence uptake analysis was to be used help answer evaluation questions about data use at the recipient country level.

Outcomes and wider impacts

The evaluation provided insights to inform future Hewlett Foundation support to the aid transparency sector. The evaluation confirmed that transparency remains important in the aid sector, especially at the global level, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) continues to play an important role. The evaluation also confirmed and reinforced the relevance of donor (and government) transparency in decisions about how public resources are allocated and spent.

However, by itself, transparency does not deliver improved accountability and improved aid spending. Other factors are also needed, including broader governance reforms and strengthening the demand side