29 January, 2015

Who is Funding What, Where and to What Effect? Uganda’s AidData Center maps out the story

By Global Partnership

Open data can dramatically improve development outcomes, yet aid information is often fragmented and inaccessible. Government and civil society partners in Uganda need better information to help decide how to best use development resources and to offer accountability to citizens.

This is why AidData and USAID’s Global Development Lab are working with Ugandan Government, donor and civil society partners to better analyze the distribution and impact of aid investments. The AidData Center for Development Policy aims to sustainably produce, use and manage more detailed aid information.

Together, the Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and AidData have already geocoded 569 projects from 38 different donors identifying more than 2,500 project locations. They have created an information infrastructure that will help the to government to make more informed decisions to target future aid. In August 2014, the AidData Center partnered with the Resilient Africa Network Higher Education Solutions Network lab at Makerere University to host a hackathon  in Kampala to geocode the information.

As well as policymakers, scholars and citizens will also be able to use this information more easily track domestic aid flows and produce customised reports to help them make data-driven decisions.

The Aid Management Program was created by AidData partner Development Gateway along with the OECD, World Bank, UNDP, and governments of Ethiopia and India. Anchored in the principles of the global aid effectiveness agenda, the Program contributes to aid co-ordination and harmonisation, helping governments and their donor partners manage for results.

Formed in 2012, the AidData Center aims to ensure that data is transparent and  useful for informing advocacy, research and decision-making. Offering geospatial data, tools, and research, the Center enables development actors to make sense of vast stores of project information and socio-economic indicators that can improve decision-making and resource allocation within the global development community.

The partnership includes the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Makerere University the Agency for Transformation, the Economic Policy Research Center, UNICEF Uganda, Development Research Training, CIPESA, and Uganda Debt Network Governance.

“There has been a tendency of concentrating resources in one area in one sector… [using geocoded data] we will be able to better target the interventions,” Aid Management Platform Focal Point for the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development Ferdinand Tumwebaze said.

“You will be able to see what is already on the ground before allocating more resources to the area.”

AidData has trained donor and government staff to report geocoded aid information directly into the government’s Aid Management Platform. To make sure that usage extended to citizens and civil society, the AidData Center embedded 14 AidData Summer Fellows from U.S. universities and Makerere University in Kampala with Ugandan organisations in 2014.

Civil Society groups such as Agency for Transformation (AfT) worked with the fellows to geocode budget commitments and disbursements in the agriculture sector in target districts of Mubende and Mityana. These maps helped smallholder farmers at a district dialogue visualize the data and engage actively in discussions about resource allocation and accountability. A finance officer at AfT said this powerful advocacy tool “triggers the thinking of the politicians … it makes the politician ask more questions.”

This data has found an enthusiastic community of users among donors in Uganda who want a better understanding of how their agency’s resources are being allocated. USAID/ Uganda GIS Specialist Richard Okello noted: “It’s very useful to have all of our activities on one map so that we can see what we are doing.”

Better data has also broken down information silos between donors to enable better co-ordination and more efficient use of development resources. The Ugandan Government will launch a public portal in October 2015, developed in partnership with AidData to enable citizens to access new geocoded aid information as it is reported into the system.

UNICEF Uganda is also collaborating to investigate development of a first of its kind portal to connect top-down official aid records from the Aid Management Platform with bottom-up field reports collected via UNICEF’s DevTrac system. This would create a more complete picture of the project lifecycle, tracking financial inputs to development outcomes.

A key lesson learned so far is the importance of expanding awareness and skills for a broad group of government and donor officials to use the Aid Management Platform.

While interest in using geocoded aid information is universally high, many organisations did not have the skills and confidence to independently use the geocoded aid information at the end of the AidData summer fellowships. Key barriers to engagement were low baseline data literacy, a steep learning curve to learn the software to visualize and analyze geocoded aid information, and a disconnect between technologists and civil society

AidData therefor plans to develop trainings to strengthen the skills of government, donor and civil society staff to effectively use the Aid Management Platform and geocoded data, as well as to continue refining the data mapping tool itself to make it easier for people to find and use the data they need for their work.  ”

“Recently, we have had challenges where our decisions are not informed decisions, but you find with the projects coming on board, and with the distribution of projects, you find that it is concentrated in one region, leaving out other regions,” Ugandan Ministry of Finance representative said.

“A given example is that you find a given development partner is supporting the Western region, and another partner is supporting the same region with the same interventions. But with geocoding … you should be able to see the concentration of projects, and be able to see what it is supporting.”

Better data on aid can boost the Busan Building Blocks of transparency and accountability in development assistance, as well as providing information vital for a host of other effective development practices such as giving donors the information they need to manage for diversity and reduce fragmentation in the way they assist developing countries.

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