Transparency and performance

Question

What effects, if any, does greater organisational transparency produce e.g. on performance, commercial outcomes etc.? What knowledge gaps exist for future research?

Summary

This report presents and discusses the evidence on impact from greater donor transparency, particularly in terms of accountability. In this report we distinguish between two types of aid information: information collected and disseminated by donor agencies about the results of their activities (looking closer at results based management), and information open to the public about aid flows (what normally goes under the definition of aid transparency).

Key findings

With regard to the impact from efforts by donors to collect and disseminate results, the little evidence that exists suggests that:

  • Information about results has not been widely used for organisational learning or to improve policy making within donor agencies.
  • Whilst donors’ increased focus on results has been primarily about appeasing aid critics and justifying donor policy to tax payers at home, there is little evidence that these stakeholders have made use of available results information. There is some evidence that the mere attempt to collect information about results can generate popular support for donors.
  • Donors’ increased focus on results has been criticised for not resulting in useable enough information, for having a damaging influence on aid effectiveness, and for adversely affecting organisational effectiveness.
  • Future research should focus more on assessing the impact – both positive and negative, foreseen and unforeseen, including the associated costs – of donors’ results agendas. Future research should also focus more attention on the political economy aspects affecting learning within donor organisations.

Concerning the impact from making data on aid flows available to the public the little evidence that exists shows that:

  • On the part of donor agencies and donor governments, greater aid transparency can contribute to lower levels of corruption, be more cost-effective than responding to multiple information requests, and be a way for donors to boost their external profile.
  • For citizens in donor countries, increased information about aid flows can help them hold donors and their actions to account, although little evidence exists that Northern stakeholders use aid data for this purpose.
  • In terms of aid recipient governments, increased information about aid flows has been used to feed into some countries’ national aid management systems, although we still know relatively little about whether aid transparency has led to improved budgeting and planning in recipient countries.
  • Lastly, in terms of recipient country citizens and civil society, there is similarly very little evidence that these stakeholders are effectively using available aid data to hold their governments and donors to account. The literature discusses a number of factors that might hinder the available aid data from becoming useful aid information for recipient country audiences, including a lack of access to the data and the way in which the data is presented.
  • Future research should provide a thorough impact analysis of aid transparency initiatives. Future research should also look closer at aid data uptake in both donor and recipient countries.

Enquirer:

Suggested citation

Mills, L. (2017). Transparency and performance. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.