Philippa Brant is a Lowy Institute Research Associate.

Yesterday the transparency advocacy organisation Publish What You Fund released its 2013 Aid Transparency Index. Now in its third year, the index scores and ranks aid providers on the aid information they publish. The index and website feature lots of interactive data and analysis, allowing users to delve deeply into different categories, donors, and indices. It's worth a play around. You can also follow the Twitter conversation by using the #2013ATI hashtag.

This year donors were assessed not only on the quantity of their published data but also on the quality, including ease of use. The results are not positive. More than one-third achieved a score of less than 20% (the index uses 39 categories to arrive at this overall weighting; see the website for details on methodology).

Leading the pack are the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, the UK Government's aid agency DFID, the global health fund Gavi and the UN Development Program. Unsurprisingly, China brings up the rear.

How does Australia fare? Fair. AusAID gets an overall score of 43% and is ranked 24th out of 67, ahead of France, Japan and the IMF but behind Canada and New Zealand. While Australia was an original signatory to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), its efforts to improve the quantity and quality of its data remain mixed. The report offers three recommendations to Australia:

  • AusAID should improve its publication to IATI so it is comprehensive and uses all fields. It should update its implementation schedule by early 2014 so it is more ambitious, aiming for full implementation of the IATI standard and monthly publication by the end of 2015.
  • AusAID should work with other Australian aid-spending departments to publish to IATI and to promote access and use of Australian aid information via an open data portal.
  • Australia should produce an Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to include stretching commitments on implementing IATI. ('Stretching commitments' means going beyond baseline commitments to include transparency on other activities. For example, civil society is pressing for the Open Government Partnership to include commitments toward greater openness on issues such as lobbying, ownership of companies and trusts, disclosure on procurement contracts for aid projects etc.)

With the changes to Australia’s aid program, including the AusAID-DFAT merger, it will be worth keeping an eye on where the new government stands on transparency.

Why does aid transparency matter? Access to relevant, timely, and useable information is crucial for citizens in developing countries to hold donors and their own governments to account, as well as for citizens in donor countries to understand their country’s aid priorities and check agencies are spending aid dollars appropriately and effectively.

Photo by Flickr user UNDP in Europe and Central Asia.