The Addis Ababa Voluntary Action Agenda

The United Nations Financing for Development conference has ended and over 5,000 officials and activists are leaving Addis Ababa. The banners and flags are being packed away and the city’s hotels are returning to their usual role as a hub for aid workers, diplomats and tourists. Meanwhile the UN circus rolls on to its next stop – New York in September.

You can read the outcome of the conference here. In general, we agree with those who say the document is quite weak: it recognises everything and commits to nothing. As a framework or a statement of principles, it is fine. As an Agenda for Action, it is not. There are many general statements in the document, and little that can be implemented.

Before the conference, over 50 organisations wrote to governments asking them to make strong commitments on transparency, accountability and participation for development finance flows. At Publish What You Fund, we asked them to publish all their data on development; to join up the data in different standards; and to promote the use of data for decision-making and accountability. We are pleased to see that request reflected in the final document, along with a mention of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). For now it’s just a recognition, not a commitment. Our job is now to turn that recognition into action. As a first step, we are launching a new project on joined-up data standards with Development Initiatives and the Omidyar Network.

Outside the negotiating chamber, there was more welcome news. We spoke at several packed events dedicated to open data and transparency. We saw existing champions of IATI, such as Bangladesh, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation and UNDP, joined by new members including Belgium and Nigeria.

We also attended the launch of a new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which was set up by governments including the USA, Mexico, Kenya and Senegal, as well as UN agencies and campaigners. We will be watching this partnership closely and hope that it will help liberate data from the closed systems where it languishes today. It is critical, though, that the champions of the partnership practise what they preach. If governments tell others to use data but don’t publish their own, the data revolution will look more like a data disappointment.

We believe that ability of open data and transparency can shape the world for the better. But as our most recent aid transparency reviews showed, there is a long way to go until all development data is open and accessible. We have the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – or more accurately, a Voluntary Action Agenda. Now let’s get to work.

By Rupert Simons, CEO of Publish What You Fund, and Jeannet Lingan, Head of Policy and Advocacy.