Development depends on how well resources are spent. So, how can we truly follow the money from the moment that it is delivered all the way through how it is spent? How can we gather the data necessary to make informed decisions about the resources that drive development?
Connecting data from revenue generation through spending is key to tracking resources. If we have open data about development assistance, as well as open data about public contracting, and we can connect that data, we will be better able to have the information necessary to ensure that resources are spent more effectively and efficiently.
The efforts of the Open Aid Partnership (OAP) to collect and disclose aid data, and the recent release of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) provide an unprecedented opportunity to "follow the money".
The Open Contracting Data Standard is the product of a year-long collaborative effort between the Open Contracting Partnertship and users of contracting data in more than 15 countries worldwide. The OCDS seeks to serve as a practice guide for governments to publish contracting data in a consistent, visible, and accessible way. The primary objective of increasing disclosure and participation in contracting is to shine light on how governments spend more than $ 9.5 trillion USD per year through contracts financed by different sources, including on-budget aid.
By creating a fairer and more transparent contracting system, the Standard offers governments more reliable and robust contract outcomes, resulting in greater goods and service delivery efficiency. Access to contracting data also helps civil society monitor government spending to ensure that governments are using public resources in an effective manner. Additionally, contracting data disclosure gives the general public access to information on government contracts. Such transparency strengthens citizens' capacity to partake in the decision-making process as informed, engaged partners.
The OCDS also directly benefits those in the development assistance community, and particularly aid transparency platforms, such as the Open Aid Partnership. With adoption of the Standard, contracts using on-budget external funding will be published in the same manner, via OCDS documents and data. Linking contracting and aid data in this manner helps trace resources along a longer chain of services and goods delivery.
Such information will help development partners coordinate between themselves and with lender countries on resource allocation and development activity strategies. It will provide partner governments a more comprehensive picture of how both internal and external resources are used, thus improving their ability to deliver services to their constituents in an efficient and effective way. Finally, it will also inform civil society actors on the use and destination of development assistance, facilitating their ability to exercise vertical accountability.
Together with its partners, the OAP has already begun to undertake efforts to connect information on the use of internal and external resources through a pilot project in Nepal. Along with AidData, the OAP is supporting Nepal’s Public Procurement Monitoring Office to extract data on government contracts, improve the structure of the data, and add geographic information in an effort to make procurement data more open, accessible, and useful. These efforts are helping to demonstrate how better data on contracts could be used to provide a clearer picture of how development resources are spent and how development projects are implemented at the local level. Based on the findings from the pilot, OAP and its partners are now planning to explore ways to scale up and institutionalize the collection, publication, and visualization process for procurement data.
Open data standards, such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s (IATI) Common Standard and the OCDS, matter for development. They provide a common language and build connections around information that otherwise would remain siloed, thus allowing us to understand better the challenges faced and to encounter their solutions.
In the case of the OCDS, allowing more people to follow the money is a win-win situation. Bringing transparency into government contracting allows more stakeholders to participate in policy discussions on development. It helps increase competition for publically contracted goods and services, thus helping governments stretch limited resources further. By simplifying the ability of actors to scrutinize procurement data, it helps detect potential fraud and thus combat corruption, reducing waste and increasing the amount of funds spent on development. Finally, by publishing contracting data, citizens can monitor the quality and timeliness of goods and services delivery. Taken together, open data enhances development outcomes by allowing for meaningful citizen engagement.