The importance of open aid data to open governance

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Open governance is about ensuring that citizens are able to engage with their governments and that those governments are then willing and able to respond to citizen demands. This, in turn, should lead to socially-inclusive economic development and more effective and efficient service delivery, improving the lives of citizens. But how can citizens fully hold their governments accountable without access to—and comprehension of—government data?

The real challenge for fostering open governance lies in promoting transparency among the various sources of funding that make up a country’s public investment portfolio. Without a clear breakdown of their governments’ resources, citizens cannot engage in informed policy or decision-making discussions.

As foreign aid plays an outsized role in the budgets of many developing countries (see below), a crucial component to open governance is the opening up of international development assistance data to public scrutiny. Given the multiple sources and types of foreign aid—e.g., bilateral vs. multilateral, on-budget vs. off-budget—it is this category of funding that is most elusive to greater transparency. It is also the most important.

 

                                            


Since aid constitutes such a significant portion of the budget in many countries around the world, the Open Aid Partnership (OAP) has been working with governments and development partners to ensure that aid is spent effectively and efficiently. To achieve this objective, OAP supports aid-recipient countries in publishing and making available development assistance data. Opening up this data fosters a more active dialogue between governments and their citizens , allowing citizens to become active stakeholders in development strategies.

A poignant example of the importance of open aid data to open governance can be seen in Kenya.  Over the past several years, the OAP has worked closely with the National Treasury to spatially enable the country’s aid information management system, e-ProMIS. The system publishes detailed information on Kenya’s development projects and provides tools for users to track, update, and analyze project inputs, outputs, and outcomes at the sub-national level. The OAP has also helped support publication of this data through the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI). One benefit of this is that aid resources can go further as development partners start to coordinate their efforts.

But open governance does not stop at transparency . It also involves ensuring that citizens not only have access to, but know how to, utilize government data. Another benefit is that citizens can trace these resources down to the municipal level. Alongside building the government’s capacity to manage, coordinate, and publish detailed information on its development activities, the OAP, working with CodeforAfrica, simultaneously has helped strengthen the ability of citizen and media groups to find, extract, and analyze public development data. By leveraging data and analytics in this way, citizen and media groups are then better positioned to use the data to hold their government to account on their use of development resources.

Fostering open governance requires a multi-faceted approach.  For example, besides improving the capacity of citizens to hold their governments accountable, governments are also searching to develop better ways to encourage citizen engagement, aggregate and then channel demands into relevant institutions, and adapt accordingly based on the needs and wants of the citizenry. Nonetheless, a critical link in this chain is the empowering of citizens through open information. In foreign aid-dependent countries, the power lies in aid. 

Join the Conversation

Anonymous
January 29, 2015

What about making more open the terms of government (foreign and domestic) borrowing? Aid is increasingly becoming less important in fast growing low income countries, who as they grow and discover minerals, regain their credit ratings. Future debt service payments are a function of present borrowing terms... and by far the least equitable item in any public budget is typically interest payments on domestic debts, which carry exhorbitant real interest rates in too many countries, and seldom result in income gains for the bottom 40 percent. In some countries, some loans are presented to Parliaments and in IDA borrowing countries they are reported to the WBG under OP14.10

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