Our Perspectives

IATI and the UN System: Leading by example on open data


The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) represents a chance for the UN family to lead the movement toward greater openness, transparency, accountability and effectiveness in development cooperation.

The IATI Standard, a common, open format for publishing data, makes it possible for anyone – a government official, an NGO project manager, a journalist, an ordinary citizen – to see clearly what is being funded where, by whom, and by how much. At the time of writing, eleven of the 32 members and observers of the UN Development Group are publishing to IATI. They are OCHA, UN Women, UNCDF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, UNOPS, WFP and the World Bank. This is a strong start – but it is by no means enough.

Discussions around the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals highlight that greater access to information enables individuals to hold leaders and development actors accountable. One step towards mobilizing  resources for a common purpose is to publish information about them in a common way.

In this critical year of transition for the global development discourse, the UN must be at the forefront of making development activity as open, transparent and traceable as current technology and resources will allow. The UN System must embrace openness and transparency as core operating principles.

Open data allows for questions to be answered before they are asked. It improves traceability of resources, promotes agency among development actors, and empowers beneficiaries to hold them accountable. It also spurs innovation, as ‘data-crunchers’ find ways to aggregate, analyze and present data for more nuanced and detailed information that benefits everyone along the development financing chain.

UNDP, in its coordinating role at the IATI Secretariat, has the opportunity to influence the entire UN System in this regard – and is already leading by example. It uses IATI data to power its open data platform, which presents detailed information on 6,000-plus development projects in 177 countries and territories worldwide. Such a system not only makes for greater transparency and accountability, but also for more efficient management, with less duplication of effort and seamless sharing of project-level information – improvements that are recognized and increasingly appreciated by donors.

Indeed, the UNDP commitment to open data has placed it at the top of the most recent Aid Transparency Index, an annual ranking of aid transparency among leading development organisations, issued by the UK-based NGO Publish What You Fund. Placing great emphasis upon the need for transparency, UNDP’s Associate Administrator has requested even greater efforts across headquarters, regional and country offices to maintain its impressive lead in the ranking.

All members of the UN family can get there. The UN must seize the opportunity to avail itself of the benefits of greater accountability, increased engagement and improved efficiency. By December 2015, the entire UN family should be publishing to IATI.

More information on IATI is available here.
Information on publishing to IATI is available here.

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