Arguments for Aid Transparency Equally Apply to Think Tanks

Guest blogger Nicole Valentinuzzi of Publish What You Fund explores common space shared by the aid transparency movement and efforts to make think tank funding more transparent. Transparify does not edit the content of guest blogs; the views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and may not reflect the views of Transparify.

Every year, Publish What You Fund produces an Aid Transparency Index (ATI) to rank the world’s biggest donors according to how transparent they are about the aid they give. The ATI has become the industry standard, assessing the state of aid transparency among the world’s major donors, while encouraging progress and holding them to account.

It is a fantastically useful tool for monitoring the progress made by donors with implementing their own commitments to make aid transparent. The ATI can work as both a carrot and a stick.

For example, in many cases, donors working to improve their aid transparency are keen to have their efforts reflected in the ATI. The deadline for collecting data for last year’s Index was 31st July, so donors had until the end of that month to make one final attempt at improving their ATI ranking – and several of them did, with a flurry of activity and phone calls in the final days of July.

Year-on-year, donors can improve either by making the information they already publish comprehensive for all their activities, or by publishing information items for the first time. This is fundamentally what makes for a good index - incentivizing those being measured to change their behaviour.

The good news in our field is that all the world’s largest donors have signed up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the only internationally-agreed standard for publishing aid data. As part of this commitment, they have said they will publish all their aid information to IATI by the end of 2015. (Our Aid Transparency Index also measures this commitment.)

This and other lessons learned by the aid transparency movement can also be applied to think tank transparency.

 So why do we bother?

Well, put simply, there is too little readily available information about aid, and this undermines the efforts of both sides, those who give and those who receive it. Knowing what is being spent where, by whom, and with what results is the basic foundation for increasing aid effectiveness.

Once all of the world’s largest donors are publishing to IATI, we’ll be able to track the money right down the development chain. Being able to follow the money from a donor all the way to the specific project it funds will make it possible to also track donor funds to individual think tanks in developing countries.

 Aid transparency is important because without it:

  • Donor governments don’t know what other donors are spending or planning to spend, leading to the duplication of efforts in some areas and under-funding in others. Without aid transparency, donors cannot coordinate to achieve the maximum impact with their scarce resources.        
  • Recipient governments struggle to know how much aid is invested in their country, let alone where and how it is spent.
  • Civil society, including NGOs, legislators and citizens, who have the right to know what aid is coming into the country and what it’s being spent on, remain in the dark.

These arguments for aid transparency can equally be applied to think tank transparency, where it is just as important to be able to follow the money.

Nicole Valentinuzzi is the communications manager of Publish What You Fund, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for aid transparency. The campaign was originally launched in 2008 by a coalition of governance, aid effectiveness and access to information organisations.