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The long road to open aid data!

July 8, 2011 in External, WG Development

The following guest post is by Claudia Schwegmann from OpenAid, a member of the OKF’s Working Group on Open Knowledge in Development.

The road to open data in development cooperation has been a long one! 10 years ago, transparency, let alone open data, in development cooperation wasn’t an issue. In 2001 the Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty had just been formulated and there was considerable optimism that more of the same in development cooperation (more commitment, more money and more expertise) would help us to make tangible progress in health, education and other social sectors around the world.

Since then this optimism has faded. More of the same will not do and some serious changes in the aid system are needed. The need for accountability in development cooperation came into focus. At the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Paris in 2005 mutual accountability was highlighted as one of five prerequisites to effective aid. In 2006 key international non-government organisations launched the Accountability Charter for NGOs.

How can organisations and decision makers be accountable without being transparent about their activities and decisions? Accountability was very soon linked to the need for more transparency. Not surprisingly in 2008 donors, government representatives of aid recipient countries and civil society representatives declared at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra “We will make aid more transparent” and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) was launched. Around the same time German NGOs got together and developed a transparency standard, which comprises a list of information items to be published either online or upon request by surface mail.

Only in 2010 did the notion of open data appear in development cooperation. In March 2010 the World Bank launched its open data initiative. Other big players like the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the Multi Donor Trust Fund and the British Department for International Development followed and at the beginning of 2011 the International Aid Transparency (IATI) agreed an international information standard largely in accordance with the open data definition of the OKF.

The good news is that a few powerful pioneers have adopted the concept open data in development cooperation. The bad news is that most donor staff, development workers, politicians and journalists working on development, even researchers have never heard of open data. And should you start to talk about databases, standardised formats, machine-readable data, APIs and data mash-ups you are very likely to instil fear and terror.

That is a shame. And it is time to reach out to people who are strongly committed to improving development cooperation and to reduce global poverty, but who do not see the potential of open data for their work. The Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, OpenAid e.V., the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Transparency International Germany are planning a large open aid data event in Berlin on the 28th and 29th of September to do just that. Other open aid data events are planned in Prague on the 4th of October, in Paris and in Stockholm.

At the Open Aid Data Event in Berlin the main day will be the conference on the 29th of September. Jörg Faust from the German Development Institute, Ronald Siebes from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a representative of the Worldbank will make the case for open data for better aid. AKVO, Development Gateway, Transparency International and other organisations will present examples of successful open data projects to explain the concept and the added value of open data. The specific examples will also allow to discuss concerns and challenges to open data.

The conference will be preceded by a more practical open aid data event on the 28th of September. The British NGO aidinfo, which is part of the IATI secretariat and one of the main driver of aid transparency internationally, will hold a data analysis workshop for NGO policy staff. Parallel to this will be a hackday with IATI data organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany. Registration for the event is now open here.

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