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Open process, open data

Written by Rachel Rank, Research and Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund.

The end of last month saw the third meeting of the UN high-level panel (HLP), which has until May to come up with a vision to shape the post-2015 development agenda. The HLP co-chairs have been tasked with figuring out how to renew or replace the MDGs. This is no small task, with concerns focusing on how to deliver on the current goals as well as agreeing a new agenda with specific, measurable targets.

According to HLP advisors, transparency and accountability have been hot topics for the Panel. This came as welcome news to Publish What You Fund and the 12 other transparency organisations who signed a ONE-led lobby letter and report, Open For Development, prepared in advance of the meeting in Monrovia.

Together, this coalition is asking for three things:

  1. openness in the design of the post-2015 framework to ensure that the post-2015 goals reflect people’s needs and priorities;
  2. openness in the monitoring of investments and outcomes so that governments collect information about what they spend and what they achieve in pursuit of the goals; and
  3. openness in terms of making that information widely available and accessible so that citizens, parliaments and the media can use it to hold governments to account for the use of public resources.

The accompanying report made five core recommendations for the HLP to include in its submission to the UN Secretary General:

1) That the report of the UN Secretary General to Member States includes a quantitative overview of survey-based consultations with citizens, with specific proposals to ensure that this input from citizens in developing countries forms the core of the new framework.

2) That UN Member States (both developing and developed nations) report both on investments deployed in pursuit of the new development goals and the results achieved. This reporting should be done on a regular, methodologically consistent and timely basis.

3) That UN Member States commit to provide significant investments in developing countries’ statistical capacity, so that investments and results can be tracked.

4) That UN Member States commit to identifying, creating and publicising opportunities for their citizens to engage in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of efforts related to achieving the new goals and targets.

5) That the UN, the World Bank or other appropriate actors establish, on either a national or a harmonised global basis, user-friendly ways of making relevant data accessible to citizens and accountability institutions, in line with emerging standards for open data.

I suspect most readers of this website would happily endorse this list; but dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that these recommendations are not standalone. Here at Publish What You Fund, we would argue that for recommendations 1, 2, 3 and 4 to be achieved, recommendation 5 – making relevant data accessible to citizens and accountability institutions – is a pre-requisite for achieving the others. Without openly licensed data published in a common, comparable format that can be accessed, used and re-used by others, how can we hope to fully track investments aimed at reducing poverty? And why invest heavily in the statistical capacity of developing countries without also ensuring that they get the data they need in the format they need it in, i.e. mapped against their own budgets, so they can see the full picture? Current, comparable data may not be the answer to achieving any post-2015 targets, but I challenge anyone looking for meaningful information on funding for primary education or the training of midwives to obtain data that can be compared across countries, donors and implementing partners. Unfortunately this isn’t possible at the moment, although a group of like-minded donors are leading the way by engaging with open data initiatives such as IATI.

But some countries, including some of the largest bilateral donors, remain outside of these initiatives. Without their engagement it’s not possible to get a full picture of the flows being targeted at poverty reduction and making sure they’re being used effectively. The actions for delivering on recommendation 5 are perhaps more achievable than other issues to be addressed by the HLP; so why not make a start and hopefully by 2015 we can make progress on some of the trickier issues because we’ve got the information needed to take informed decisions. And it will be available to all stakeholders so they can use, share and re-use it for their own work – now that really  would be open development.

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January 1st, 2016
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