Aid data use at country level: The example of Nepal
by Conrad Zellmann
In recent years there have been increasing efforts, both locally in Nepal and internationally, to improve the availability of data on international aid. The Government of Nepal has made important efforts to establish the Aid Management Platform (AMP), including its public website. Various other actors have developed platforms and initiatives to provide access to specific aid-related and humanitarian information, especially following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Internationally, the growth of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) has drastically increased availability of open aid data to more than 600 bilateral, multilateral, non-government and private sector development partners. In the context of the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, it is critical that this data supports decision-making and accountability.
As part of our DFID-supported work under the Data for Development in Nepal programme with the Asia Foundation on the supply, sharing and use of open development data, we wanted to explore how aid data is currently used in Nepal. We were also interested to see how our findings could complement current efforts by the government to re-design the national aid management platform.
Our research explored the concerns that drive the aid information needs of selected government, donor and civil society organisation actors, how they currently access the information they need, and how data sharing and user support could be structured to better meet their needs. In doing so we built on, and hope that we’ve added to, the work of others’ in this area, such as earlier studies on government and donor data use in Nepal, and USAID’s aid transparency pilot assessments in other country contexts.
So, what did we learn?
While we found clear interest in better aid information, there was little evidence for regular use of existing data platforms. Despite the reasonable accessibility of aid data through Nepal’s AMP, the primary use of its data appears to be for the government’s (fairly comprehensive) annual Development Cooperation Report. Actors outside of government in particular reported strong reliance on interpersonal networks to get access to the aid-related information they needed.
Changing information needs
In the context of Nepal’s federalisation process and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework in national planning and accountability frameworks, stakeholders articulated strong interest in evidence that connected aid flow data with activities and results at local levels and to the SDGs. In particular, a clear need for actionable analysis (rather than just data access) was articulated.
The importance of openness and interoperability
Not surprisingly, most of the people we spoke to are using, or require, information on aid flows in conjunction with other types of information. This includes official socio-economic statistics and other financial data. Also of importance is data taken from internal and external administrative records, for example from monitoring and evaluation reports. To be useful in producing relevant analysis, it is therefore critical that aid data can be joined up with data from other sources. This highlights the importance of openness and interoperability.
IATI as a data source
Although significant amounts of aid data, including on Nepal, are now published to the IATI standard, IATI itself is largely unknown and therefore the data is underused by those we interviewed. This is despite the fact that it could help illuminate key aspects that users say they are especially interested in, such as forward-looking information on aid allocations and data on funding by donors who do not have a local presence. Stakeholders could therefore benefit from IATI data, but are not yet sufficiently aware and familiar with it to realise this potential.
Our overall analysis of these findings is that:
Available aid information platforms and tools can be improved to better address key shared needs. This could be done for example by including visualisations on key aspects such as aid by SDGs and geographic allocations; trialling IATI integration (as already planned in the AMP redesign); as well as ensuring and further increasing openness of aid and other data.
However, beyond these and other technical measures, proactive outreach by aid data providers to different user groups is important to ensure that key data sources are known and used. Ideally, efforts such as Nepal’s AMP redesign would be accompanied by a deliberate and inclusive data use strategy. This would provide for targeted promotion, and regular interaction and learning between information users, data providers and intermediaries.
For national and international aid information initiatives like IATI, realising the value of data requires robust, open data systems and a vibrant user community. The systems and tools developed over the last few years are now delivering significant amounts of financial data on aid. Web platforms, preset reports and visualisations can address a number of shared, topline information needs. However, to meet the specific analytical needs of diverse stakeholders from planning allocations to monitoring impact, better connections between data providers, users and intermediaries are needed. A good starting point for developing these connections would be existing communities of interest and communication, such as aid coordination fora and sector meetings. Such communities could regularly bring together different user groups, development researchers, and open data enthusiasts to articulate specific needs and match them with analytical and data expertise. Open data as a technology is a key enabler for this, but increased uptake of data will happen through people-to-people exchange.