Publish What You Fund (PWYF) released its annual Aid Transparency Index and advanced the claim that transparent aid information is a “necessary condition to enable…social change”. However, earlier this week, Duncan Edwards of the Institute of Development Studies argued that the rosy prescription of “openness + ICTs = development outcomes” is fundamentally flawed.
The apparent dissonance between these two views is, in our view, reconcilable. Open data is certainly not sufficient to provoke positive change, but it is also not inconsequential. Open data can be catalytic when complementary efforts are in place to address several other important conditions: incentives are in place for donors to supply useful information; the intended beneficiaries of aid have an understanding of how the information supplied by donors is relevant to their interests; and local stakeholders in the developing world have the ability to put such data to effective use.