Poverty Reduction Blog Tag: Transparency
Posted on January 31, 2014 by Leonard Rolfes Jr., senior property rights advisor, MCC, and Alfousseyni Niono, land issues and financial services coordinator, MCA-Mali
(This post is part of an ongoing series on food security and is adapted from the Winter/Spring 2012-13 issue of Knowledge and Innovation Network Journal, a technical publication featuring lessons, innovations, ideas, and thinking behind MCC’s poverty reduction investments around the world.)
How can newly irrigated land be allocated to farmers in a way that is fair and transparent and leads to efficient agricultural production while also providing an opportunity for the poor and vulnerable to climb out of poverty? This was one of the big questions that the Alatona Irrigation Project in central Mali set out to answer.
The project—part of MCC’s five-year, $435 million compact with Mali—converted more than 12,000 acres of dry scrub land into rich, productive irrigated land suitable for growing rice and vegetables. Once the irrigation infrastructure was built, the land needed to be allocated to people who would farm it.
MCA-Mali, the local organization implementing the compact, first allocated 12-acreunits if the land to the families who were displaced by the project and who could no longer use the land for grazing and other livelihood activities. For the remaining units, it was necessary that the people who received land had the knowledge and resources to make productive use of it—while trying to correct the deep-rooted inequalities in the region by encouraging the participation of women, the landless and other disadvantaged groups. Every proposed solution risked antagonizing some part of the population who believed they deserved more of the land than they were being allocated.
In the end, a two-step process was used to allocate the remaining land. First, each applicant was evaluated based on their current access to land (the landless received extra points), farming and irrigation experience (more experience equaled more points), proof of having paid water fees in the past (the land had to be purchased and water fees paid), membership in an association or cooperative, access to farming tools and adequate resources, and gender and age (women and youth received extra points). Each applicant was given a point score, and those who passed a minimum point threshold entered the second stage: a lottery.
The lottery was conducted publicly and transparently to ensure that the outcome was fair and accepted by all parties. To maximize women’s access to land, joint-titling was encouraged, allowing land owners to name their spouse as a co-owner of the land, which will prevent women from losing land access in the event of a husband’s death.
The effort required substantial community outreach to make sure residents fully understood the process and criteria for applying for irrigated land. The hope is that this successful model for land allocation and joint titling will be replicated throughout Mali and other countries in West Africa whenever land needs to be allocated.
Tell us what you think! Have you had experiences with land allocation or determining who gets access to land in other development projects? How were criteria determined, and how accepting was the community?
Click here to read the full article.
Posted on January 15, 2014 by Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Managing Director, Development Policy
The start of a new year seems to prompt an awful lot of writing about how the data revolution will change everything—especially in the developing world. It will be bigger than the industrial revolution. It is already disruptive. And the applications and devices that humans can design to use this data are projected to reduce poverty, liberate people, halt the spread of disease, and alter the state-centric nature of the international system. The more disruptive the better! Vive la Révolution!
It’s easy to get caught up in this, as (full disclosure) I am. The availability of machine-readable, comparable information is already changing people’s lives in very practical ways. Data has even become less nerdy and more exciting to talk about: We can refer to “a disruptive future,” and plenty of people think that future kind of looks like an iPhone. Using technical terms in everyday professional conversations is becoming the norm. But underneath the comfortable arm waving about this bright new future, there are some quiet places that have not seen this change.
At a time where people are waxing eloquent about the power of big data to make consumer goods and services ever more tailored and ever more rapid, the world still lacks reliable, comparable country statistics on basic economic, governance and human development outcomes across much of the developing world. UNICEF estimates that one in three children have not been registered and therefore simply do not exist in statistical terms. Education outcomes are often estimated by models based on five-to-10-year-old data. As a proxy for accountable governance, budget transparency data covers only about half of the more than 190 countries in the world.
And the closer you look, the more you find that even the data we have considered reliable has internal flaws that can make it hard to trust (see Mortan Jensen's controversial book Poor Numbers). Unlike “big data”—where the law of large numbers more or less evens out the errors of any individual data point—cross-country data comparisons are typically small enough that even a handful of inaccurate data points can alter the outcome.
The first challenge here is obvious. If we want to realize the potential of the data revolution in the world’s poorest countries, we need more and better data. Period. And people are already both demanding it and trying to create it.
But there is a second, less-visible challenge: ensuring that data is used responsibly. Foreign aid and foreign assistance are fields where much of the data we want to use is just beginning to be collected or fraught with challenges. But while development professionals grapple with how to work appropriately with some serious data gaps, we are surrounded by popular examples from other fields of how reliable big data can be: Nate Silver's 2012 election predictions, Target's marketing algorithms that can tell you are pregnant before you tell your friends and even a Brad Pitt movie about data—seriously! It can be tempting to think our world is the same—but it isn’t yet.
So if we are using development data, how do we know we are using it responsibly for policy making and aid allocation? That's not an often-asked question, but I think it should be. Are there cross checking metrics? What would that even look like?! Is transparency the answer? When someone corrects a data error, how should decision makers react (à la the Reinhart and Rogoff data controversy)?
Over this year, focusing on the responsible use of data is a theme I'll come back to again and again: things worth watching and learning from, characteristics of the responsible (and irresponsible!) use of development data and efforts to fill data gaps to enhance aid effectiveness. I hope others will too.
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 5, 2012 by By Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
On Monday, I joined U.S. Government colleagues—Gayle Smith of the White House, Don Steinberg of USAID and Rob Goldberg of State Department—at the launch of the 2012 Aid Transparency Index. The Transparency Index, published annually by Publish What You Fund, rates aid organizations on how transparently they do business. This year, MCC was named the ninth-most transparent organization out of 72 globally, and the most transparent U.S. Government agency.
Of course, we are proud of our individual ranking. But we are more proud of being part of an administration that is so firmly committed to transparency. We are proud to be part of an interagency team collectively striving to bring more sunlight to our foreign assistance. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard is a huge step forward for the U.S. Government—just a few years ago it was next to impossible to know what the United States was spending, where and on what. We are proud to be the first agency to publish obligation and expenditure data to the Dashboard. The release last week of the OMB Bulletin is another big step for the U.S. Government, as it brings other agencies into the Dashboard.
But we want to do so much more. MCC has our sights on two ways to push our transparency efforts beyond “show me the money” to “show me the evidence.” Two efforts are central to MCC’s evidence-based approach—putting more data in the public domain and bringing transparency to what we are learning.
First, more data. This week, we launched our Open Data Catalog, data.mcc.gov, which will over time become our one-stop shop for financial, performance and evaluation data. This is about exposing the data and evidence that MCC uses to make decisions and measure results and putting it in the hands of smart people to use it in new ways. Our first step was to put out MCC’s Fiscal Year 2012 selection data in XML format. Check back soon for FY13 selection data, financial data, program performance data, and a goldmine of household survey data that underlies our independent evaluation work.
Second, more transparent learning. MCC is pushing transparency beyond money and data to learning about what we are actually achieving. MCC has made a big commitment to independent evaluations to help us test assumptions about traditional approaches, and build better evidence for what works—and what doesn’t—in development. Our first impact evaluations will be final later this month, and we’ll make all the findings public. The learning distilled from these rigorous independent evaluations is enormous, for us and for others.
We look forward to you standing with MCC as we take transparency to the next level, even when the evidence points to things not going as we expected. That is often the greatest motivator for change. It is central to accountability and open government and is at the heart of MCC’s evidence-based approach.
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