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Time to ‘join’ the revolution: a call to action for transparency initiatives

Andrew Palmer|

It’s a well known fact that summer brings out the revolutionaries. As the temperature rises, so does the level of rhetoric demanding social change:

  • “We need a transparency revolution, so citizens can see exactly where and how taxes, aid and revenues from extractive industries are spent.”
  • “We call for a data revolution for sustainable development.”
  • “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts.”

What is less usual is for the above statements to come from Presidents, Prime Ministers and other dignitaries serving on the G8 and a UN High Level Panel (See Point 10 of the G8 Declaration 2013 and p.9 and 21 of High Level Panel Report on Post-2015 Development Agenda).

Now, I’m not one to turn down an open invitation; if world leaders want a transparency revolution, then the least we can do is join it. Literally.

Let me explain…. 

In a recent article Jamie Drummond of the ONE campaign outlined a need to join up the dots on transparency or risk duplication of effort and missed opportunities. We agree. Not only should we join the dots, but we must ensure that the resulting picture is detailed enough to reflect the reality of people’s lives. This means being able to combine information on financial resources with accurate service information, census data, poverty statistics, broader human development indicators, population demographics, administrative infrastructures, policy information and feedback from citizens. This will ensure that limited finances are targeted where they are needed most.

The good news is that more data sets are being published. However, as this trend accelerates we risk building silos around different initiatives and sectors. Turning ‘more data’ into ‘better information’ requires collaboration between multiple partners to make sure data can be connected together and converted into accessible, relevant information as easily as possible. This push for joined-up data means together we need to (the technical bit…):

  • Find the intersections: Financial data, demographics, social and economic indicators contain intersections that allow disparate datasets to be combined and for one to enrich the understanding of another;
  • Use the same description: If the intersecting fields are commonly defined and categorised across datasets (i.e. global standards creating common reporting codes and protocols for time, money, geography, organisation identifiers and functional classifications) joins between datasets become possible.
  • Do it the same way: If the authors of standards and reporting languages adopt interoperable protocols it will become possible for these joins to be executed automatically.

What happens next?

Drawing on our experience of statistical analysis and our work as part of the International Aid Transparency Initiative, Development Initiatives is keen to start a conversation with other sector-specific transparency initiatives (official statistics and open data) to identify priority areas for action in joining-up the data.

In particular, we’re keen to host an open workshop with other transparency initiatives alongside the Open Government Partnership meeting in London in November 2013 which we hope can be a first step towards the formation of the post-2015 ‘Global Partnership on Development Data’.

The rallying-cry has sounded. It’s time to ‘join’ the revolution.

Read our full briefing paper: Joined Up Transparency: Turning more data into better information to end poverty- available on the DI website

 Contact us: Andrew Palmer is Senior Engagement and Advocacy Adviser for Development Initiatives @andrewepalmer @devinitorg

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