Why development aid transparency matters

At a time when economies are under pressure and government spending is under scrutiny, transparency and accountability within the development sector is more important than ever.

  • 24 June 2020
  • 5 min read
  • by Alister Bignell
Gavi/2018/Hervé Lequeux
Gavi/2018/Hervé Lequeux


The devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are threatening to reverse decades of development progress, hitting the most vulnerable people hardest. For the first time since 1998 global poverty rates are on the rise, acute hunger cases could double and life-saving immunisation services are being disrupted, putting millions of children at risk from preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio. 

Development aid is a significant driver of previously positive gains made towards poverty reduction and improved health outcomes in poorer countries. Hundreds of billions of dollars flow annually from bilateral, multilateral and philanthropic donors, and the private sector, either directly to recipient countries or through development organisations like Gavi and its Vaccine Alliance partners.

The effectiveness of this aid relies on knowing what is being spent, where, by whom and with what results. It is also the basic foundation for increasing accountability, which ultimately can lead to better development outcomes, as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Making every dollar count

What are donors and organisations doing? How much money is available? Do we know where it is going? And are we sure that it is targeted to those most in need? The Aid Transparency Index – still the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies – aims to answer questions such as these, so that the end result has the most powerful and positive impact as possible on real people’s lives.

Publish What You Fund, a global campaign for aid transparency and the creator of the Aid Transparency Index, outlines how aid transparency helps:

  • Donor governments – by facilitating information sharing and reducing duplication to achieve maximum impact while making the most efficient use of resources.
  • Recipient governments – clarifies what aid is invested and how it is spent, so that their national budgets and long-term planning can be aligned.
  • Civil society (including NGOs, legislators and citizens) – have the right to know details about what their taxes fund, and what resources are coming into their country, both of which improves trust and encourages more support for aid transparency.

Today’s release of the 2020 Aid Transparency Index reveals encouraging trends among the 47 assessed donors in how they report on their activities. As Gary Foster, Publish What You Fund CEO, notes in the report, “…it is promising to see an increase in the quantity, quality and timeliness of aid data now being shared by a broad cross section of the world’s major aid agencies. The Index provides an illustration of what’s possible when transparency is valued and institutionalised.”

The Aid Transparency Index

Since 2011, Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index has been assessing the transparency of major aid donors. The 2020 Index is the seventh full Index report to monitor and encourage progress towards aid transparency, using a methodology which has evolved over time.

Data collection was carried out from December 2019 to April 2020, and focussed on 35 indicators, grouped into five components: finance and budgets; joining up development data; organisational planning and commitments; project attributes; and performance. The Index groups donors into five categories based on their overall scores (out of 100: ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘fair’, ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’).

Overall scores and rankings from the 2020 Aid Transparency Index. View full report.

As a donor-funded organisation, Gavi is committed to aid transparency and has made significant efforts to continually improve both the quality, quantity and timeliness of what it reports. Working in conjunction with Publish What You Fund, key areas were addressed from the previous 2018 index resulting in a rise from ‘good’ to the top-level ranking of ‘very good’.

Pascal Barollier, Gavi Managing Director of Public Engagement and Information Services, highlighted the investment made in data management and the commitment of Gavi staff to this result: "Gavi is proud to be among the top performers in the 2020 Aid Transparency Index ensuring donors, implementing countries and the public are able to access information about how funding is being allocated with maximum impact to protect children in low-income countries with life-saving vaccines."

According to the 2020 Index, 11 donors are now in the ‘very good’ category, an increase of 4 from 2018. The number in ‘good’ increased by 2, to 15, which means that over half of the 47 assessed donors are now ranked as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Why it matters more than ever

If the gains of the Millennium Development Goals are to be protected and the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is to be accelerated, aid transparency is more important than ever.

As billions of aid dollars are re-directed to the COVID-19 emergency, it provides a timely reminder of the importance of aid transparency and what can be achieved when it is valued and institutionalised.

Helping low- and lower middle-income countries cope with the deadly impact of the pandemic is paramount, but should not come at the expense of transparency. While much has been sacrificed as countries have reacted to contain the virus, the provision of humanitarian aid should remain open, accountable and as efficient as possible.

While mechanisms such as the Aid Transparency Index cannot ensure complete transparency and that all funds are well spent, it does make it increasingly more likely to become the norm. This is especially the case if organisations such as Gavi, along with its donors and Alliance partners, continue to improve on how they report on their activities.  

As Foster notes, “The transparency of international aid is more important than ever. As large quantities of aid are quickly reallocated to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, the decisions and actions taken should be open to public scrutiny. Aid transparency is a key way to improve the efficiency of resource allocation, coordination of the response and for donors to learn from one another’s interventions.”