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Aid transparency: a call to action

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 28 Aug 2012 07:18 PM
Author: Ned Breslin & Jae So
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ned Breslin is CEO of Water for People and Jae So is manager of the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Programme. The opinions expressed are their own.

A shift is underway with the potential to significantly impact billions of people worldwide that do not have reliable supplies of clean water and sanitation services.

As the demand for transparency in the international development community has increased, so have efforts to enact practices that make organizations more transparent. Indeed, many governments and organizations are willingly making critical data available to the larger public.

Slowly yet surely, however, another shift in momentum is taking place, in which the development community is beginning to question whether publishing information is an end in and of itself.

We would argue that it is not; rather, being transparent serves as means to an end, and with this knowledge, we have been called to action.

In fact, the end goal for governments and the larger development community is to transform lives around the world by providing water and sanitation services that last a lifetime.  We want to end the global water and sanitation crisis!

Those who have taken transparency to the next level – using it as a guideline and tool for progressing toward their long-term goals, rather than simply reporting on short-term success – will be more likely to succeed in the end.  Undeniably, their focus has changed, in recognizing that the road to ending this global crisis is complex and problematic in nature.

Governments and organizations willing to change focus and embrace the need for transparency as a call to action should:

  • Go beyond simply showing success in terms of the number of interventions and people served and realistically communicate the challenges and failures faced.
  • Know that when we don’t succeed, the right environment is in place that allows us to learn and reflect on what went wrong, so we can respond, innovate, and improve our programming to get it right.
  • Track progress using indicators that measure the success and durability of interventions. These new metrics put a critical focus on real results, allowing us to make decisions with coherent and reliable data, and offer more knowledge for use in guiding and scaling up interventions that work.  
  • Unleash the power of existing and emerging technologies, geographic information systems, and visualization tools as a way to help us learn so we can enhance the quality of our work while being open about the results of our programmatic efforts.


Moreover, open and visualized data presents a compelling opportunity for the water and sanitation sector, as it drives the development community to focus on results over time and on identifying real solutions to the global water and sanitation crisis.

As the outcomes we produce are put up for public consumption, local agencies and leaders will be motivated to improve the quality of their work.

Communities will be empowered to question decisions made by donors and local agencies, increasing accountability, and enhancing conditions for water and sanitation services to last forever as intended.

We have seen evidence of success in using these tools and technologies:

  • We are responding to crises with crowd-sourced maps by Ushahidi in places like Syria, Haiti, and Japan.  
  • Plan International deployed SMS services through Frontline SMS to track and create the conditions for a response to child violence in Benin.
  • The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), in partnership with the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone, has mapped and visualized every water point in these countries using the mobile phone tool Akvo Flow.  
  • In India, WSP also successfully piloted the 'Outcome Tracker' mobile phone application, to monitor rural sanitation behavior outcomes in 25,000 households within a span of three months. The results were shared with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, leading to buy-in from the Government of India to scale this up to a national level pilot.
  • A Child's Right tracks the number of people who are drinking clean water from systems they have supported throughout Asia.
  • Water For People has a new initiative to re-imagine reporting with an online, interactive reporting platform that produces strong visuals that bring together field, financial and customer feedback data to tell a compelling story focused on long-term results.

These examples provide good practices on how to embrace transparency as a means to an end so we can constantly improve and innovate to achieve our missions.

Tools and technologies are available today that foster our ability to be transparent and to learn from the information we are collecting.

Truly, the development community is now being called to action to show the real impact we are having in the lives of those who do not have reliable, safe, affordable, and economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable water and sanitation services.

This week, the international water sector has come together for the annual World Water Week conference in Stockholm.

The World Water Week has been the annual focal point for the globe's water issues since 1991, working to ensure that each year builds upon the previous years' outcomes and findings.   In Stockholm and beyond, if we embrace this call to action and hold ourselves accountable, together we can end the water and sanitation crisis.  

More stories about World Water Week

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For more stories on water, visit AlertNet special package The Battle for Water

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