Posted on October 25, 2013 by Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
Yesterday I was part of a panel discussion to launch the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. The Index, published each year by Publish What You Fund, is the only independent assessment that rates aid organizations on how transparently they do business. And this year, the rankings show great progress across the U.S. Government in terms of aid transparency, with five of the six U.S. organizations evaluated improving their rankings.
The quantity and the quality of information being made available by U.S. foreign aid agencies increase every single quarter of reporting. This year’s Index shows the United States making considerable progress in balancing the need for coherence across government agencies, as well as progress with the timeliness and accuracy of data.
This year, MCC is being recognized as the top-ranked organization among the 67 assessed. We are all very honored by the ranking and continue in our commitment to making transparency a core business practice. And, truth be told, we are also humbled as we see agencies and organizations that have and will continue to inspire in this space now lower in the rankings despite their truly transformational efforts.
There is so much to learn from one another as we all seek to advance transparency and open data in order to find greater efficiencies in our business models, enhance citizen accountability over aid investments and maximize development impact. Just a few examples are here and here.
I thought it might be useful to share some of my reflections on the journey that got us to the top this year:
- Commit unequivocally and be persistent. Forging internal consensus is a critical first step. On the path to securing that consensus, be prepared to work through a “psychology of fear” that is perfectly understandable but must be overcome. It means believing firmly that the risks of more information in the public domain are worth taking in the pursuit of greater business efficiency and greater impact on the ground. And it means taking a leap of faith that your stakeholders will appreciate the risk and join you in a spirit of partnership.
- If you thought step one was hard, wait ’til you see what comes next. It is extremely important to make a strong business case for opening data to clearly show how the investment is going to bring a return to your organization, as well as to have the patience required to reach proof of concept on that business case. Tremendous hard work is required to deliver quality data. Be prepared to invest a lot of time and energy—largely manually—to organize disparate data and get it to a place where you can have a single authoritative source with multiple end-uses. The process requires a heavy lift on the front end—but as the data production becomes increasingly automated over time, costs will decrease dramatically while the benefits steadily rise.
- Put together a crack team that partners policy and technology. Part of doing it well requires a task-oriented team with a mix of policy-minded and technology-minded people. The technology-minded types need to learn not to roll their eyes at perceived bureaucratic hurdles and process/structure issues thrown up by the policy types, and the policy types need to acknowledge that there is room to loosen some controls and crowd-source the effort.
- Stay ambitious. Complacency in this space should not be tolerated. Continue to examine the demand side of the equation to make sure you are producing the right data in the right format for your various stakeholders. Continue to stay in touch with other organizations that are also driving forward in the field to learn and share and leapfrog each other’s efforts.
And to give folks a preview of what’s on the horizon at MCC as we seek to maintain that top spot:
- Revamp of data.mcc.gov: A revamp of our open data hosted at data.mcc.gov will include building a high-quality API file to allow a whole new world of stakeholders to access our data. We will continue to publish data in a range of formats, and the new interface of data.mcc.gov aims to make our data more easily discoverable and accessible.
- Release of 10-20 evaluation survey data sets: By June 2014, MCC has committed to publishing 10-20 of the survey data sets that have been collected as a result of our independent evaluations. We are in the process of preparing the data for release and presenting it for clearance to our internal Disclosure Review Board, which has been formed to ensure that MCC upholds high legal and ethical standards throughout the release process. In the future, we expect a steady stream of data sets to be made available because we are also reengineering our evaluation process with the end goal of data release in mind. This should speed up the process considerably.
- A new disclosure policy: We are putting the finishing touches on our new disclosure policy, which will guide staff in implementing transparent practices around the release of information collected in the course of MCC business. The policy aims to empower staff to release more information, consistent with the presumption of disclosure.
- Elevate our Open Government Plan: While the disclosure policy will serve as internal guidance to our staff, MCC is also planning to revise our Open Government Plan by June of next year. This plan will serve as the public-facing MCC document on access to information. In the process of revising this plan, MCC will seek active participation of stakeholders throughout the policy making process.
- Enhance and evolve the Dashboard: MCC continues to work with the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to continue to improve our own data on the Dashboard and to begin submitting data in XML format. We will make our XML code open code so any agency that wants to publish to XML can use what we’ve already produced.
- Pilot IATI XML generators in some MCAs: MCC will begin to explore how we can support our Millennium Challenge Accounts—the implementing organizations in partner countries—in reporting to IATI. As we build out new business systems for MCAs to use for financial, procurement and reporting functions, we will explore how to build IATI file generators into these systems to facilitate the process of including this information in the IATI Registry.
Trust that MCC will always seek to push the boundaries on transparency and open data because we believe so firmly that it leads to better programs, better understanding of what we do and better results. We take our No. 1 spot in the Aid Transparency Index with great pride, humility and a sense of sincere responsibility to keep evolving our efforts in this space for ourselves and others.
Posted on October 11, 2013 by Cassandra Butts, Senior Advisor
In Burkina Faso, girls will celebrate the second annual International Day of the Girl Child by attending school thanks to a groundbreaking investment by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the BRIGHT (Burkinabe Response to Improve Girls’ Chances to Succeed) program. The United Nations determined that this year’s day will focus on “Innovating for Girls Education,” and innovation is at the heart of the BRIGHT program.
To improve educational outcomes for all children in rural villages with low school enrollments, particularly girls, the BRIGHT program was implemented in 132 rural villages throughout Burkina Faso. Each village received primary school construction and an innovative suite of complementary interventions for students, parents and teachers to encourage school attendance and enhance educational environments.
For students, the interventions included school meals, take-home rations for girls, school kits, and textbooks. Parental and community interventions included adult literacy training for mothers, community information campaigns on the benefits of education, especially the education of girls, and community capacity building on the importance of sustaining educational assets. Teachers also benefited through better school facilities including teacher housing, the recruitment of additional female teachers and gender sensitivity training.
The evidence shows that the BRIGHT program’s innovation is producing results. A recent analysis of the program published by economists Harounan Kazianga, Dan Levy, Leigh L. Linden, and Matt Sloan in the July 2013 issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found that the BRIGHT program increased enrollment by 19 percentage points and increased test scores by 0.41 after 2.5 years. The findings also identified BRIGHT success in targeting girls for enrollment, with an increase of 5 percentage points more than boys. And when comparing the BRIGHT “girl friendly” interventions to a regular school, the findings identified an increase in enrollment of 13 percentage points above a regular school’s effect.
Achieving results is at the core of MCC’s model, and the results of this independent analysis are consistent with what we see on the ground. The BRIGHT program is changing the lives of communities, families and girl children throughout Burkina Faso.
Aisattou Hamidou Diallo and Fatimata Yanta (pictured) are two such girl children who participated in the BRIGHT program and came to Washington, DC in 2011 to share their stories of challenge and achievement. The many memories of their visit include meeting First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Aisattou and Fatimata have gone on to secondary school, where they continue to achieve and build on their BRIGHT experience.
Results like these should be celebrated every day and particularly on the International Day of the Girl Child.
Posted on October 10, 2013 by Vidya Spandana, White House Presidential Innovation Fellow
What do Africa, open data and the private sector have in common? MCC continues to champion the intersection among the three, and this month we’re excited to engage businesses in an interactive dialogue on their needs in Africa and how our data can help meet them.
Open data is information available for the public to use for any purpose, without licensing or copyright restrictions and at no cost. President Barack Obama made open data a priority in an executive order earlier this year, and MCC already leads the way in fulfilling the President’s vision for open and transparent data.
One way MCC is unlocking the potential of its data is by making it publicly available to private companies interested in doing business in Africa. Supporting private sector investment as the engine of growth is, after all, a fundamental part of MCC’s model. With the development and use of open data, we can further encourage companies to invest in our partner countries by using the publicly available data to identify business opportunities for growth and profit-making, mitigate risks or better understand market and consumer dynamics. Open data is the practical way to make business processes efficient and effective, which gives companies an incentive—and a greater degree of confidence—to invest in MCC’s partner countries.
However, availability and access to open data from developing countries—like those in Africa—is still limited. This makes it frustrating for MCC, African partner countries and businesses to realize the benefits of open data, which can drive the decisions that put communities and companies on the win-win path to growth.
In response, MCC will partner with the Initiative for Global Development (IGD), a nonprofit that understands how accelerating business growth and investment in the developing world is a key solution for reducing poverty. MCC and IGD will survey business leaders investing in Africa to figure out how they could best benefit from access to open data.
In addition to the open data survey, IGD and MCC will lead a Twitter campaign to help spread the word about open data, its benefits and uses. MCC encourages the public and private sector to participate in this initiative and learn more about how open data can benefit both business development as well as economic development in Africa.
Join MCC and IGD in the conversation on open data by following @MCCtweets and @IGDleaders on Twitter. Share your comments and questions about open data, using hashtags #Data4Africa and #OpenData.
Posted on October 3, 2013 by Paul Weinberger, Vice President of Congressional and Public Affairs
After six months at MCC, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to visit a partner country and see for myself the results of the work we are doing. With one of our larger, more ambitious compacts coming to a close in Morocco, the opportunity presented itself—and it turned out to be a memorable trip.
Travelling with former Ambassador Mark Green, one of our private-sector Board members and the President of the Initiative for Global Development (Read his blog on the trip here: http://bit.ly/1aL0YEm), I met a range of beneficiaries and saw a number of successful projects. Our first day there, we took part in a ceremony marking the completion of our microfinance project. Thanks to MCC, mobile banking vehicles will help microfinance institutions reach those Moroccans who currently lack access to financial services because they live in remote, sparsely populated areas. Meeting with beneficiaries and handing out keys to the vehicles were great experiences.
We also visited a new fish landing site at Salé, just across the Bouregreg River from Rabat, where grateful Moroccan fishers will have the facilities and infrastructure they currently lack to unload, store and sell their catches. We toured gleaming new wholesale fish markets in Marrakesh and Rabat with ice-making and storage facilities, and auction halls where fish prices are electronically recorded and displayed, providing the transparency and price discovery that are key to a well-functioning market. And we saw some of the improved irrigation systems and an olive oil processing plant under construction outside Marrakesh that were built as part of Moroccan efforts to boost fruit tree productivity. It was particularly gratifying to see the large sign at every site that reminds beneficiaries that projects result from the generosity of the “peuple américain.”
That same gratitude was apparent in our meetings with Moroccan government officials. What struck me, however, was that while they were very appreciative of the tangible benefits of the compact, they were even more excited about the methodology and know-how that MCC had shared with them. As one official put it, it wasn’t just the work that was done – how it was done was key. Now the Moroccans have the tools they need to make similar progress in other areas. That kind of knowledge sharing is core to MCC’s mission–and experiencing it firsthand was the best part of my trip to Morocco.