The Department for International Development (DFID) has launched a new website – Development Tracker – in beta form. The site provides a window on British aid spending, presenting users with detailed information on international development projects funded by the UK government. It draws on data published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by DFID, other UK government departments, and some of DFID’s delivery partners (NGOs that receive and spend UK aid funds).
You can see how much UK aid spending goes to each recipient country (see here for Tanzania, for example), and how much is spent on health, water or education. You can view details of specific projects or aggregated data through a series of interactive charts and maps. Or if you prefer, you can download the raw data.
This is all good stuff, but there are two areas where the site really stands out as offering something extra – or at least the potential of something extra.
First, the site has used the geocoding facility in the IATI standard, where possible, to map the locations of specific projects to a surprisingly fine level of detail. See this map of metropolitan Dhaka, for example – showing numbers of projects in different parts of the city.
Second, the site goes further than any other towards the holy grail of aid transparency: traceability (tracking funding flows from one organisation to another down to the point of spend). To do this, the site draws on DFID’s insistence that organisations receiving funding from the Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) must also publish their spending to IATI.
Details of the GPAF are on the site, of course, as is a list of partners (the organisations receiving GPAF funds from DFID) and details of transactions under the programme. Click on a partner’s project, and you go through to see details of what that organisation has published to IATI – such as Tearfund’s Water, Sanitation and HIV/sexual violence support in DRC, for example.
The site is very much still in beta, and these two features are still very limited. The geocoding has only been applied to projects in Bangladesh, and the traceability only really applies to a handful of projects under the GPAF (not even to all GPAF partners at this stage). DFID have only included data on the site where it meets certain quality standards. But the site shows what is possible when good data is available.
The key limiting factor at the moment is the quality of data published to IATI – does it clearly link back to funding sources, are the correct codes used, etc? So as publishing organisations become more familiar with the IATI standard and the quality and detail of their data improves, traceability will improve as well.
“Traceability is a three to five year journey,” said John Adams of DFID. ”We’ve taken data from people we trust and have been published to the IATI standard. The next stage is to write to these organisations publishing to that standard saying this is what you have to do technically, then they can be linked.”
The point on data quality even applies to some of the DFID data on IATI. Look at the overall sector allocations, for example: at the time of writing the biggest single amount (£2.8bn) is listed as “unallocated”, equivalent to 44% of the total. That sounds worrying, but click through to see the details of these projects and it’s clear that this is simply because the data on these projects lacks information on sectors.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that this site is about using IATI to increase transparency and accountability of UK aid spending to UK citizens. That’s a good thing, but we mustn’t forget an even more important constituency – the citizens of developing countries, the intended beneficiaries of aid spending. It would be great to see a similar site that turned the equation around: to trace aid funds (from all sources) flowing into a particular country – say Nepal. That’s what would be most useful to citizens of developing countries. Perhaps, when DFID makes the source code for the Development Tracker available (as they have promised to do), there’s an opportunity here to re-purpose the code to create a site for users in aid recipient countries.
But that doesn’t take anything away from this site, which is a big step forward for UK aid transparency, and for IATI in particular. The site is expected to remain in beta until later this summer.
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Wired magazine’s article on the site’s beta launch.
Eating our own dog food, from John Adams of DFID.
Dogfood and disruption, from Owen Barder of CGD.