USAID Continues to Deliver on Aid Transparency and Open Data

What’s the issue?

Transparency in the form of data and information sharing is a cornerstone of democracy.  USAID is committed to leveraging transparent platforms and initiatives while working to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity. USAID is one of the leaders of the U.S. Government’s effort to enhance international aid transparency, and foster increased development efficacy and accountability.  Through the provision of quality and timely information about development cooperation, governments, civil society organizations, private citizens, and donors can more effectively manage and monitor aid resources, ensuring mutual accountability.

Not only are we using the data that USAID is gathering internally to monitor its programs, we are enhancing access to data that our partnering organizations generate during their projects and in the field. While open data may not immediately come to mind as a fundamental element in trying to end global poverty, at USAID we are finding that it may just be so. In the development world, it’s a powerful thing when you can pair your resource allocations with the situation on the ground, especially when you can make those decisions based on current, or even real-time data. We are using mobile applications to connect farmers with markets and to help them select crop varieties likely to yield the greatest income. Mobile applications are also providing real-time health data to and from community health workers; ensuring critical supplies and medicine reach the areas of impact as quickly as possible. We’re also looking at ways we can leverage open data, including the use of satellite imagery, to monitor the progress of our projects. At USAID, we’re just starting to scratch the surface of open data potential.

What was the intervention?

In 2011, the U.S. Government became a signatory to International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) — a voluntary program that encourages governments, NGOs, and other international aid organizations to make information about foreign aid spending easier to access, use, and understand. IATI data have the potential to serve as a tool for citizens to hold their governments accountable and compare and contrast aid flows.  Anyone around the world can explore the United States’ foreign aid investments by county, sector, and year on and in the IATI Registry.  In July 2015, USAID published an IATI Cost Management Plan that provided a detailed roadmap of how USAID will share more data about the work we do. Since then, USAID has made 18 new data fields available for public use. 


Scientists and program officers at USAID have a much larger array of data collection and processing tools at their disposal. Technology is becoming increasingly affordable with cheap mobile devices, plummeting computing costs, and simple open-source tools. These resources give access to real-time data systems and enable the development community to readily capture performance metrics and dialogue with citizens. As a result of these advances, we are inspiring a new class of USAID innovators who are turning data into action. The Development Data Library (DDL) is USAID’s public repository of Agency-funded, machine-readable data. The DDL is part of USAID’s commitment to evidence-based programming and rigorous evaluation, while supporting the principles of the President’s Open Government Initiative. Currently housing over 200 data sets, the DDL has been used by the Brookings Institute, and the Institute for Food Policy Research, among others.

How was performance management useful?

In an era when information is disseminated instantaneously worldwide, USAID must engage quickly and effectively with its multitude of stakeholders, customers, and audiences. USAID’s transparency and open data efforts promote stakeholder collaboration and audience engagement, contributing to its strategic objective to enable diplomats and development professionals to influence and operate more efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively. 


To promote stakeholder engagement, USAID began publishing transaction-level information on in FY 2013.  Since then, USAID has continuously monitored and assessed its internal processes and instituted changes to improve efficiency and data quality.  For instance, as part of its IATI Cost Management Plan, USAID developed an internal tool to institutionalize and streamline the quarterly data review process. 


What was the impact?

As a result of its transparency efforts, USAID has seen substantial improvements in Publish What You Fund’s (PWYF) Aid Transparency Index (Index), jumping nearly 20 percentage points between the 2014 and 2016 Indices. Organizations are using USAID’s data to understand where and with whom the Agency spends its foreign assistance dollars. The Agency will continue to explore ways to promote and increase data accessibility and the dissemination of data to stakeholders, and raise awareness for aid transparency efforts to contribute to increased data use by the U.S. Government, civil society, and the international community.


In Senegal, USAID is using cloud-based systems to help smallholder farmers and local farmer associations get data they can turn into action. Farmers in Senegal face a number of challenges that result from a simple lack of information and coordination such as how much seed to buy, or how to ensure fertilizer is delivered on time, or how to be sure new farming techniques will work locally. These questions can all be addressed by collecting, aggregating, and most importantly, sharing and coordinating farm data. USAID’s enabling role in this work is not complex. The program has set up basic internet connections, and accessible databases using off-the-shelf software. At the local level, members of farmer groups with basic information technology skills manage the system. It is no more complicated than coupling spreadsheets with basic geographic information system software. And yet, the impact is dramatic. The project has reached more than 25,000 small farmers. By coordinating bulk purchases of fertilizer, farmers negotiated prices that were 10-20 percent lower, and were able to get higher-quality fertilizer by purchasing directly a from large, reputable vendor. Data sharing and open discussion allows farmers to compare notes on their farming techniques and propose best practices.