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The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Africa’s Dramatic Development Story

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at Brookings and MFAN Co-Chair. This post originally appeared on the Brookings blog on July 28th.

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With the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place on August 4, now is a good time to reexamine the storyline around Africa. The continent has made progress in economic and social development well beyond expectations, but still has obstacles to overcome. It is time we approach the Africa narrative with enthusiasm, maybe cautious enthusiasm, but enthusiasm nonetheless.

Poverty and Development: The Pessimist’s Narrative

The two maps below reveal the story of the locus of extreme poverty shifting in a generation (1990 – 2010) from Asia and Africa to principally Africa. While there remain millions of people in Asia living in extreme poverty, the vast number of countries with extreme poverty affecting over 40 percent of the population are in Africa.

These maps reflect disturbing statistics. Africa is home to over 400 million people living in extreme poverty and three-quarters of the world’s poorest countries. One African in three is malnourished and over 500 million suffer from waterborne diseases. Twenty-four million Africans, nearly 70 percent of the global burden, are afflicted with HIV. Thirty million (one in four) primary-school-age African children and 20 million adolescents, are not in school.

According to the 2014 Fragile States Index the five countries in the highest category of fragility are all in Africa (South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan), and 10 of the 16 in the top-two most fragile categories are in Africa.

Turning the Page on the Past

But that is only part of the story. It would be easy to focus on these statistics and see Africa as hopeless, as has been all too common. But a more holistic picture reveals trends that are cause for considerable optimism. That picture is drawn by the maps presenting the level of absolute poverty in countries in Africa over the same period.

 What is striking is that the space representing poverty above 40 percent has shrunk, from 31 countries in 1990 to 22 countries in 2010. Delving deeper reveals a host of encouraging data.

Seventeen countries in Africa, accounting for over 40 percent of the population of the continent, have experienced a level of economic growth over 3 percent per capita since 1996. From 2000 to 2010, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa. Africa was the fastest-growing continent at 5.6 percent in 2013, and that momentum is expected to be sustained this year.

The poverty rate in Africa, estimated at 56.5 percent in 1990, is projected to fall to 42.3 percent in 2015. Most countries have achieved universal primary enrollment rates of 90 percent or higher. The primary school completion rate has risen from 53 percent in 1993 to 70 percent in 2011.

Almost half the countries of Africa have achieved gender parity in school. The proportion of women in national parliaments has reached nearly 20 percent, a milestone that only developed countries and Latin America have achieved.

Improvements in health have been dramatic. The under-five mortality rate declined by 47 percent, from 146 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 91 deaths in 2011. Maternal mortality fell by 42 percent, from 745 deaths per 100,000 live births to 429 deaths over the same period. The once seemingly unstoppable HIV/AIDS rate has, in fact, been reversed, with prevalence rates dropping from 5.9 percent in 2001 to 4.9 percent in 2011. Tuberculosis and malaria remain serious problems, but their spread has been largely stopped.

U.S. Assistance to Africa: Writing the Next Chapter

While external private investment flows have been a growing source of capital for Africa—a fivefold increase from major partners in the past decade as explained in a recent blog by my Brookings colleagues—for many countries in Africa foreign assistance remains an important source of development finance. One way to get a crude indication of the relative importance of foreign assistance is to compare it to the size of government revenues. The map below shows 20 countries in Africa for which total foreign assistance is equivalent to more than 40 percent of the national budget.

If one wonders whether Africa is a priority for U.S. assistance policy, just look at the numbers. At the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, the G-8 committed to increase assistance by $50 billion, half for Africa. The U.S. subsequently more than doubled its aid to Africa. Today, the U.S. and World Bank IDA (International Development Agency) vie as the largest donor to Africa, with shares at 17 percent of total assistance flows to Africa each. The next biggest donor is the European Union at 10 percent, followed by France, the United Kingdom and Germany, in that order.  In fact, aid to Africa from European nations has declined the last several years while the U.S. has maintained its Gleneagles commitment.

The U.S. priority for Africa has grown over the past decade. In 2002 U.S. economic development assistance (not counting humanitarian assistance) to Africa was 17 percent of total U.S. economic assistance. That percentage has steadily grown over the past decade to 40 percent for both FY2014 (estimated) and the budget request for FY2015. The priority given to Africa is even more impressive when you consider that U.S. budget levels for foreign assistance peaked in 2010, in which year 32 percent of U.S. economic development assistance was devoted to Africa. Despite a decline of approximately 20 percent of budget levels for all development assistance from 2010 to 2014, the magnitude of assistance for Africa has remained above $6 billion per year, accounting for Africa’s continued rise in percentage of total U.S. economic development assistance.

As with the U.S., Africa is a rising priority for China As reported by Yun Sun in a companion blog, Africa represented 46 percent of Chinese aid in 2009 but 52 percent in 2010-2012. The major difference between U.S. and Chinese assistance to Africa is that Chinese assistance is principally for infrastructure and economic activities, with negligible amounts for humanitarian purposes, and is mostly loans. In contrast, U.S. assistance is concentrated in the social sectors and is almost all grants. In addition, the U.S. is the major provider of humanitarian assistance to Africa.

For the past decade, health has been the main focus of U.S. assistance to Africa, accounting for approximately 80 percent of total U.S. economic assistance in recent years. But after a decade of growth, that focus may be begin to change to reflect the 2012 White House strategy statement on U.S. policy toward Africa. That policy document emphasizes governance, economic growth and trade, and peace and security. The accompanying chart shows the proposed shift in funding into those accounts in the FY2015 budget request. Whether Congress will go along with that shift remains to be seen.

Power Africa

One particularly recent innovative U.S. program is Power Africa, announced by President Obama in June 2012. Some 600 million Africans live without electricity. The goal of the program is to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa by adding 10,000 megawatts to output. The innovations in the program are multifold. Rather than the typical sequence of designing the program and then inviting in the private sector, the design started with canvassing the needs of private sector energy investors. Furthermore, the program joins together a focus on both governance and finance and operates across the U.S. government.

The initiative, led by USAID, involves 12 U.S. government agencies, some 40 private companies, and six African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania). The U.S. government has committed $7 billion in financing over five years, and private companies have committed another $ 14 billion. Development of the program involved identifying specific private sector investments that have not moved beyond the planning phase because of inhospitable host government regulations and policies, or inaction, and/or insufficient financing. In addition to providing financing, the equally important part of the program is the effort to help remove restrictive host country policies and regulations, and institute policies that more rationally regulate and encourage private investment.

Interest in Power Africa has grown in the U.S. Congress since it was announced. Congress may even up the ante on the president. HR 2548 (Electrify Africa Act) passed the House on May 5, and the companion Senate bill S 2014 (Energize Africa Act), would double the goal of Power Africa to 20,000 megawatts.

The development story in Africa is still being written. The African leaders who come to Washington in early August will have a large voice in how that story plays out. There remain many causes for concern, but more reasons for optimism.

Let’s forget about pledging a host of deliverables and hope that the result of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is a frank exploration of the needs and potential for Africa, and a no-nonsense appraisal of how the U.S. can be most helpful. Let’s hope that the impact is to expand the priority that Africa holds for U.S. policy and show that this is a story in which the U.S. is determined to play its part.

Why Management Reform Is Sexy

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
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See below for a guest post by Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement and Policy at Mercy Corps and MFAN Executive Committee member.

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I have a confession to make.   I may have a serious day job fighting for better policies to help vulnerable people around the world, but after hours I’m an avid consumer of tabloids.   Grocery store check-out lines – the longer the better.  Hair salons – I don’t mind waiting. Airport kiosks are my preferred venue for binge reading.  I’d choose a salacious, rumor-mongering US magazine over the more serious, well-sourced Foreign Affairs any day of the week.

Even at the uber intellectual State Department it’s hard to compete against sexy. Take for example ongoing discussions around selecting overarching foreign policy and development objectives for the next four years – a document known as the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II).

Good luck making that short list.  With titillating topics such as climate change, which Secretary of State John Kerry calls “as big a threat as terrorism”, and exciting new ventures such as USAID’s Global Development Lab, “management reform” risks being ignored like a wonky wallflower.

But just as a wealthy older man believes he’ll attract a trophy wife, I’d like to believe that much needed “management reform” will still catch the eye of QDDR II’s head honcho Tom Perriello.  If you read beyond the headline to see just how valuable these reforms can be – both in terms of efficiencies and impact – there’s a lot to like.

Let’s face it – while global poverty has decreased over the last 25 years, the number of extremely poor people has stayed about the same in the most fragile and conflict-affected countries.   By 2018, roughly half of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states.  Many of these countries are of strategic importance to the U.S., yet they are also places where U.S. or international assistance has had little success in breaking cycles of conflict or poverty, despite two decades of concerted international development and humanitarian responses.   To try to figure out why that’s been the case, the Mercy Corps Policy and Advocacy team interviewed more than two dozen of our most experienced colleagues – many of whom live and work in these tough places.

Our conclusion is that if the Obama administration is to truly build momentum for its ambitious policy directive to eradicate extreme poverty in the world by 2030, it must address five distinct, yet interconnected problems:

1. U.S. conflict mitigation and management structures are disproportionately oriented towards crisis response, rather than crisis prevention or resilience building.

2. Few funding mechanisms address the underlying causes of extreme poverty or chronic insecurity.

3. Foreign assistance frameworks do not effectively target or reach the extreme poor.

4. Grant and contracting mechanisms discourage adaptive programming.

5. Assistance frameworks hinder, rather than cultivate new forms of partnerships and market-based solutions that can reach the extreme poor at scale in fragile states.

[Read Mercy Corps’ recommendations in our memo “Managing Chaos”.]

When I got home from work the other night, the latest issues of Rolling Stone and The Economist magazines had arrived in my mailbox.   Of course I picked up Rolling Stone first to read about Melissa McCarthy, the break-out star of “Bridesmaids.” And that got me thinking.

In “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy was the antithesis of a hot Hollywood babe. But her character was immune to what others thought of her.  She was supremely confident, and in the end, she landed the guy she wanted.  So maybe I shouldn’t worry that the packaging of “management reform” isn’t seductive enough, at first glance, to make the QDDR II short list.  Maybe it has a shot after all.  All joking aside, I really hope it does because the future of the world’s poorest people depends on it.

ForeignAssistance.gov Is Getting Bigger; Here’s How to Make It Better

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Sarah Rose, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Global Development. The piece originally appeared on CGD’s blog on June 23rd.

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We’re getting closer to knowing how the USG spends its foreign assistance dollars.  Recently, the State Department announced its first release of foreign assistance data on the ForeignAssistance.gov website (also known as “The Dashboard”).  This may not sound terribly glamorous, but it’s actually important news.  Since State’s spending makes up over a third of all US foreign assistance spending, the absence of its data has been a huge gap. With this recent State Department move, spending data for agencies responsible for 96 percent of US foreign assistance are now online. It’s great to see the Dashboard—now in its fourth year—slowly coming together. As it does, here are a few thoughts on why it’s still a good investment, the big challenges it faces, and how it can be improved.

Why We Should Cheer for the Dashboard

If well implemented, the Dashboard, an online resource of US foreign assistance spending (and potentially other) data, can:

  • Increase accountability and transparency: One of the Dashboard’s main goals is to enable easier access to information about US foreign assistance investments by US citizens, Congress, other US agencies, along with citizens and governments in recipient countries.
  • Ease agencies’ reporting burden (eventually): Behind the Dashboard lies a massive database that will eventually contain all of the underlying information necessary not just to populate the online interface but also to fulfill USG’s other regular reporting, like IATI, the Greenbook, and the OECD-DAC’s Creditor Reporting System.  Once the Dashboard/IATI process is automated within the agencies, complying with all this reporting should become much more streamlined and, importantly, more institutionalized.
  • Create incentives for improved data quality: Publishing data can change the dynamic around data quality.  The prospect of increased scrutiny can create an incentive for agencies to reinforce internal systems to produce cleaner, better organized data which can, in turn, bolster an agency’s own understanding of its internal operations.

Why It’s Taking So Long

The Dashboard was announced in 2010.  The effort is led by State’s F Bureau, which coordinates with the (over 20!) USG agencies that deliver some form of foreign assistance, and collects, codes, and publishes their data submissions. Some agencies, however, are far more capable of reporting to the Dashboard than others.  What’s so hard about data reporting, you may ask?  Quite a few things, it turns out, including:

  • Existing information systems’ incompatibility with Dashboard requirements.  Different agencies have different financial and project management information systems.  In fact, individual agencies often have multiple, separate systems.  Most of them long predate any notion of “open data” and are simply not designed to compile information in the way the Dashboard needs it.  Changing IT systems is a massive, costly undertaking.
  • Foreign assistance funds must be parsed out from a broader portfolio.  For agencies whose core mission isn’t foreign aid, internal systems weren’t set up to differentiate between foreign assistance and domestic spending. This makes it difficult to identify what’s right for the Dashboard and what’s not.  MCC has it easy in this respect (foreign aid only); the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, does not (mostly domestic).

At this point, the Dashboard team over at State is focused principally on providing data (i.e., getting more agencies on board) as well as pushing for improved data quality.  The team is pursuing a phased approach to populating the web portal, publishing agencies’ data as they have it ready.  It’s a courageous move for the USG to publicly release information knowing that it’s incomplete (and highly imperfect). Yet, they recognize that an incremental approach maintains pressure for continued implementation and fosters competition among agencies.  It may also help ease the culture shift towards transparency by gradually demonstrating that openness doesn’t have to be threatening.

Users Beware

This incremental approach also creates risks for users since:

  • A user can’t easily tell if data are complete—and often they’re not.  By illustration, this graphicshows agency-by-agency reporting to the Dashboard. You’ll see that not a single year contains information from all agencies (2006 to current), and that most agencies have reporting gaps.  It’s great that the Dashboard is frank about this, but the problem is that this is not clearly indicated where it needs to be.  For instance, if you wanted to find out about aid to Tanzania from 2008 to 2012, you would probably go directly to the Tanzania page and assume that what you pulled for “all agencies” means just that.  You’d be wrong. Only MCC and Treasury have 2008 data on the Dashboard, so “all agencies” means just those two for that year.  More broadly, it’s hard for a user to tell easily if data that don’t show up are absent because they don’t exist (e.g. DOD didn’t spend foreign assistance money in Country X in a given year) or because it’s missing (e.g. DOD did spend foreign assistance money in Country X that year but hasn’t reported it). The Dashboard does include caveats about data limitations but they’re unintuitively scattered in way too many locations that aren’t near where users are looking at data.  So they’re only helpful if a user thinks they should have a question about data quality or comprehensiveness and actively seeks this information.
  • Transaction-level data are incomplete (and sometimes unintelligible). Some important fields are missing from most agencies’ submissions.  For example, State is uniformly missing project title and description making it nearly impossible for a user to tell what he or she is looking at.  MCC has titles, but not descriptions.  USAID has descriptions for most of its transactions, but many of these merely replicate the title, are unintuitive to outsiders, refer to supporting documents that are unavailable, and/or cut off mid-description.  Start and end dates are also complicated.  For USDA they’re missing.  USAID provides only the year; MCC provides only the start date. State’s date reporting is spotty and contains apparently inconsistent information, like disbursements that happen before start dates.

Getting the data out there is important, and it’s the right thing to do.  But doing so while simultaneously improving coverage and quality gives me two related (though opposite) concerns.  I’m worried that:

1)      People Will Use the Data and draw incorrect conclusions due to missing or poor quality data; and/or

2)      People Won’t Use the Data because they are aware of its current limitations and will write off the Dashboard as an unreliable source, regardless of whether data coverage and quality improve later.  In a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum, lack of use could in turn slow Dashboard progress, since, to some extent, agencies need to know people will use the data before they invest scarce resources to provide it and improve its quality.

Ideas to Increase the Dashboard’s Potential

State’s Dashboard team and the 20+ agencies with foreign assistance spending are working hard to make the Dashboard a useful, relevant tool.  It’s a big undertaking.  Here are four things I hope they are considering:

1)      Help users better understand the data: The main risks to the Dashboard come from incomplete and thus unreliable data.  Breadth and reliability are key requirements for data to be truly useful. Therefore, the Dashboard should be abundantly clear when users are looking at complete versus partial information, or preliminary versus final data. Users should not have to dig through multiple, separate “additional information” pages to find this out.

2)      Improve transaction data:  Agencies should strive to fill the gaps in their transaction data (especially critical things like titles that facilitate rolling up transactions to the project level), as well as improve the comprehensibility of the information (for example, make descriptions descriptive).

3)      Don’t forget about usability: The current priority of the Dashboard is to publish as much data as possible in manipulable format and let users work with it as they wish.  However, a single user interface is never going to be able to meet the needs of all stakeholders, so the USG should reinforce its efforts to: (i) define who their priority audiences are; and (ii) understand how these different groups want to use the data and tailor the interface accordingly.  The Dashboard team is already taking steps in this direction with outreach to country missions and US-based stakeholders.

4)      Publish agency specific implementation schedules: The Dashboard website does explain where each agency is in the implementation process. But, it should also include agency-by-agency schedules for reporting compliance (and not just with Dashboard requirements, butwith IATI requirements, too).  This would not only provide an accountability structure that would help motivate continued momentum, it would also serve as an important signal of commitment.

More U.S. agencies publishing aid data to international standard

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Publish What You Fund about the recent release of data by the State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

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In the last few weeks the Foreign Assistance Dashboard added two new U.S. agencies to its list of publishers.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its aid information on May 28 and the State Department on June 1.

Publish What You Fund welcomes this progress, but initial analysis raises some very basic quality issues.

In summary, the Agriculture Department publication includes obligation and spending data from five of the nine USDA agencies implementing foreign assistance programs. The State Department’s data comes from the State’s centrally-managed financial system and includes both grants and contracts for domestic foreign assistance obligations and expenditures.

Both publications present significant data quality issues. For example, some activities lack a project name or project description. The start and end dates are equally problematic as in many cases they have the start and end date 01/01/0001 [State Department activities can be seen at the bottom of this file].

While Publish What You Fund encourages the publication of more foreign assistance from U.S. agencies, equally concerning is the quality of the data and what challenges it presents to the user of this information.

The Aid Transparency Index (ATI) data collection will close on June 30 and the data analysis will be conducted in July and August. Thorough analysis of this information, along with other U.S. agencies and programs’ data (including the Department of Defense, PEPFAR, MCC, Treasury and USAID) will be published in autumn.

Stay tuned for more developments as we near the launch of the ATI.

Dashboard-image1

Building aid transparency: more data, better data

Monday, June 16th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This post originally appeared on Publish What You Fund on June 13, 2014.

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There are two new agencies publishing information to the foreign assistance dashboard: the State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is good news.

But the question remains: Is more data always better, and for whom? Is the exercise of publishing volumes of data to the dashboard just a routine exercise, or a deliberate effort to improve the information available for more effective aid and better development outcomes?

A decade ago, data was the private domain of statisticians, economists, mathematicians, engineers, demographers, and others with a technical bent. The closest it got to policy was on the political side—pollsters advising candidates and politicians configuring legislative districts to their advantage.

Today data is discussed not just in academic and limited policy circles, but in high level international fora. The “data revolution” was highlighted in the U.N. Panel of Eminent Persons as part of the post 2015 agenda. Open government and aid transparency are widely discussed, a substantial shift from the days when discussing corruption in development meetings was taboo.

The U.S. government has been part of this change. It co-founded the Open Government Partnership in 2010, launched the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard to make public all U.S. foreign assistance data, and in 2011 committed to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Strong as the U.S. policy commitment on aid data transparency has been, implementation has been slow.

To be fair, it must be acknowledged that aid data transparency—putting data and information on assistance into the public realm—is a concept that is easy to understand but complicated to implement. What data? In what form? For what user? How best presented?  And the questions go on.

A central issue in aid transparency is whether the effort is worthwhile—whether the data is useful to users.  And usability is driven by the amount and quality of the data, how it can be accessed and viewed (visualization), and the needs of the particular user.

The Diversity of Aid Data Platforms

There are various platforms (websites) being built to house and visualize data on assistance. Two colleagues at Brookings and I have been looking at some of the principal aid data websites. What comes through is that no single site meets the needs of all users. And that is as it should be.

 aid data summary table

 [See full presentation, which is intended to start a conversation and encourage further analysis.]

Some platforms are global in presenting data for many or all donors, such as the OECD Creditor Reporting System (CRS) and AidData; others are donor specific (U.S. Foreign Assistance DashboardDFID Development Tracker, and the Dutch OpenAidNL); and some aid recipients are creating systems to track data into their countries.

Some platforms are strong in providing the non-technical, macro-perspective user with a quick overview of assistance statistics, while others allow downloading raw data for the technical person who knows how to work data and needs to perform detailed analysis. The data platforms should clearly indicate their core functions and intended audiences. Many of the sites use a single source for the data intake, the IATI Registry, which is where one can find the raw, structured data. IATI is the only place to find comparable aid information from all donors. IATI simply provides the data for different uses and users.

A second finding is that despite the global commitment in principle, there is a paucity of good, valuable data.  The CRS data is comprehensive but detailed information often is two years old, making it ideal for statistical studies and analysis but of little use for in-country planning or budget allocation. Several donors have put up their own sites, but they provide data only for that donor, such as the U.S. Dashboard.

Governments responsible for 86 percent of official development assistance have committed to IATI, but the data is only slowly entering the IATI registry.  A few donor agencies, such as the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID), have fully embraced IATI. DFID not only has published data to the registry but has adopted the IATI schema for its own Development Tracker and is using the data to manage its programs.

The U.S. record is mixed. The newest publication is from the State Department, which includes information from the bureaus and offices implementing foreign assistance funding. The data published is a step forward and State’s progress is welcomed, but the quality of the data remains a challenge to be addressed. Two weeks ago, five of the nine USDA agencies implementing foreign assistance programs published planning, obligated, spent, and transaction data to the Dashboard. Similarly, this is a positive development and USDA’s data is a useful addition to the foreign assistance full picture.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has published all of its data in IATI XML format and has led the way with comprehensive, high quality, disaggregated information. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance published its data in XML in 2013, but this file has not yet been updated. Other U.S. government agencies are far behind: USAID has loaded a lot of data but it is financial information that is not connected to specific projects; the Defense Department is missing its transaction data; and totally missing is data from PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and other agencies.

Balancing Aid Data vs. Visualization

There is a tension in the data arena on priorities—more data or better visualization?  It is not a chicken-and-egg issue, as either the chicken or the egg must come first, we just aren’t sure which. But data and visualization should evolve together—one cannot create visualizations without data, and most of us cannot analyze or understand reams of spreadsheets with numbers unless they are aggregated into nice “pictures.”

I learned a long time ago that demand for data does not exist in a vacuum. The demand for more and better data is created by demonstrating the knowledge that can be found in data through graphs and charts that are easy to interpret. Show a policymaker new knowledge through a graph, and she will begin to understand the value of data and want more. The visualization should be easily interpreted by the user, it should answer the users’ questions and concerns and it should be tailored to his needs.

That said, to determine the proper focus—the proper balance—for U.S. government data transparency efforts, it is necessary to ask what is the comparative advantage of government. In this arena, it clearly is providing the data and maintaining the high quality of the supply. U.S. government agencies have the data and only they can provide it to the Dashboard and the IATI registry.

In addition, I think we can all agree that it is the private sector (companies, NGOs, academia) that has proved its innovative ability in visualizing data. So, the principal U.S. government effort should be on providing comprehensive, high quality, timely data, along with basic visualization that presents the data in simple, understandable formats. The raw data must be accessible to those who can manipulate the data. The government should encourage others—third parties and infomediaries—to create the exciting and varied visualization, possibly even offering an “X prize” for particularly creative and usable visualizations that respond to the needs of users.

Ensuring Comprehensive & Quality Data

The data and the platforms that present it will be widely used only when the data is complete—comprehensive, timely, comparable, searchable, easy to access and also shared and promoted. Only then will data be useful for sophisticated analysis and in-depth research, or to answer simple questions such as how much is being spent in a specific village for education or health. For that to happen, agencies must fully comply with their commitment to IATI, the only databank that when fully invested with data will be truly global and timely.

U.S. agencies are facing two deadlines. Most immediately is the 2014 Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index, with June 30th as the closing date for collecting data for the assessment. MCC scored first overall in the 2013 ATI, an accomplishment that rewarded strong management leadership and technical capacity. That ranking in the new index is at risk as the MCC’s complete, XML IATI-formatted data has inextricably 10 months later not yet moved from the Dashboard to the IATI registry. The new and current data is due to be published sometime this month. We all would like to see other U.S. agencies do well and are hoping that USAID and the Department of State, which together are responsible for about 75 percent of U.S. assistance dollars, are working to meet that June 30th date by publishing data that is comprehensive and of high quality.

Why US Interests Include the IATI

More importantly, it is only 18 months before the due date on the U.S. commitment to be fully compliant with IATI. In over 3 years the U.S. has made only moderate progress toward that goal. What is needed is a clear path forward—a detailed, costed management plan to meet that commitment. To do that requires concerted political will and leadership, which will come only if there is an understanding that a robust IATI data registry is in the US interest.

There is no better demonstration of that interest than Haiti. Aid coordination is nice in theory and can work at the level of general policy, but it is impossible when there are 20 or 50 donor agencies, 10-20 international organizations, and hundreds of NGOs implementing projects in a country. How do you coordinate thousands of projects? You don’t! But what you can do is have a common registry so that when a donor or an NGO decides to undertake an activity it can see who else is putting what funds for what purpose in a particular region of the country. So the Ministry of Finance knows what aid money is coming into the country, in what sectors and regions, and therefore can better allocate its own resources and engage donors in an informed conversation on priorities and where to allocate resources.

The American government and the American people want our assistance to be effective: to be effective we must allocate aid smartly, which requires knowing the full range of resources and activities that are present in a sector and region. To end with a notion expressed by MCC Vice President Sheila Herrling at the recent launch of the new Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network policy paper, The Way Forward:“What $50 billion-a-year company would not want good data to inform its operations!”