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New tool facilitates greater transparency and coordination in COVID-19 financing

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LOBNA HADJI & BJÖRN HOFMANN

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have made aid transparency more critical than ever. As Co-Conveners of the Grand Bargain (GB) Transparency Workstream, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Government of the Netherlands are working towards data-driven transparency to improve visibility and accountability of donors and organizations. Greater transparency can demonstrate how funding moves from donors down the transaction chain until it reaches the final responders and, where feasible, affected people.

Greater transparency is critical at the national level for accountability and for public trust in government, but also at the international level to enable a more coordinated and effective response by development and humanitarian actors. A greater level of data-driven transparency would enable the international community to better understand where assistance is being provided to ultimately take better-informed decisions about unmet needs.

At the height of COVID-19, international appeals were launched and contributions made. The World Bank Group quickly moved to provide fast, flexible support to help countries strengthen their pandemic response, including in health care systems. Over the next 15 months, the World Bank Group is expected to provide up to $160 billion in financing to address the health, economic, and social shocks countries are facing, including over $50 billion of IDA resources on grant and highly concessional terms. Similarly, the Netherlands responded by providing around 111 million EUR in response to the crisis. The pandemic has made it clear that tracking and aggregating this collective information is key to enabling a more coordinated and effective response.

To try to provide an overview of the collective response to COVID-19, the World Bank Group and the Government of the Netherlands, as Co-Conveners of the Workstream on Greater Transparency, initiated the development of a COVID-19 funding tracking prototype (financed by the Dutch Government). The prototype visualizes data on funding from international humanitarian, development, and philanthropic actors to help connect the dots.

The tool, designed by Development Initiatives (DI), visualizes data published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard and reported to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)’s Financial Tracking Service. How exactly? The COVID-19 tracking prototype uses publicly available data and is automatically updated every night. It combines curated data reported to UNOCHA's Financial Tracking Service with detailed project-level data published to IATI. This automated approach means that as organizations publish new data (sometimes daily, but monthly updates are more common), the prototype is quickly updated, making information gradually more useful for timely decision-making. The tool also displays data from different levels of the transaction chain—so one can see financial flows from different organizations to their implementing partners.

The prototype’s development has surfaced critical issues, such as the importance of organizations publishing information as quickly as possible and updating it regularly with progress on implementation for this data to be useful for rapid and effective decision-making. Partnerships and investment opportunities are being explored with other major humanitarian and development actors to scale up the prototype in order to get a more comprehensive picture of the global COVID-19 response—the first such effort to aggregate different data sources.

The tool has already been an important step forward for improving the transparency of humanitarian and development financing, incentivizing organizations to publish more timely and detailed data, and identifying data gaps where publication could provide more meaningful and inclusive representation. The prototype provides a detailed breakdown of funding at the project-level data and illustrates how funding is being spent in affected countries, across sectors, and by key implementing partners. Ultimately, the COVID-19 tracking prototype is making information more useful for decision-making.

The Word Bank Group and the Netherlands have continuously pushed the boundaries for greater data-driven transparency as active members of various external transparency initiatives and partnerships, including IATI. As part of the Grand Bargain Transparency Workstream, the World Bank Group and the Dutch Government work together to further data-driven transparency, improve visibility and accountability of donors and enable a more coordinated and effective response for affected populations. This new tool continues this work in service to the international community. It provides insight into the availability and usefulness of COVID-19 funding data.

The Dutch Government and the World Bank Group are working together with various other actors, including OCHA’s Centre for Humanitarian Data and FTS, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), IATI, DI, and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) to continue to improve the prototype.