Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Following the Money: Owen Barder On Why Aid Transparency Matters


Owen BarderMy guest this week is Owen Barder, a visiting fellow here at the Center for the Global Development and the director of the AidInfo project at Development Initiatives, a UK-based NGO. Owen's current work focuses on improving the transparency of the international aid system—making it easier to know where and how aid is being spent.

Owen explains that more easily available aid data would benefit a number of audiences. Researchers and policymakers need the data to study what aid interventions work best. Developed country taxpayers have a right to information on how government is spending their money. Developing country governments need information on donor spending in order to budget their own resources effectively. However, according to Owen, the most important audience for aid data are the citizens of developing countries-the intended beneficiaries of the spending.

"They need to hold their government to account, they need to hold service delivery organizations to account," he says. "And to do that, they need to know what services they should be expecting, what money is being allocated, what's being spent, so they can make sure they're getting the services they need."

In our conversation, Owen and I discuss the weak links on making aid transparent. Even donors who make an attempt to publish data on their activities, Owen explains, aren't generally very good at making that data useful. "They don't do it from the perspective of 'how would a citizen in Ethiopia find out about all those activities and pull it together in a format that's relevant to them?'," he says.

For that to happen, donors would have to share data in a standard format that could be compiled and remixed by interested third parties, opening the doors to a whole new world of new applications. We discuss a few of these, including consumer ratings for development projects and augmented reality tools that could display data on nearby aid projects on the screen of your mobile phone.

Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the interview. Owen is also quite a prolific blogger and podcaster in his own right—you'll find more of his work on development and foreign aid on his personal website.

Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

Related Topics: