Publish What You Fund launched their fourth annual Aid Transparency Index (ATI) today. The overall finding is that while many donors have made a number of international aid transparency commitments, the majority are falling short and not publishing useful information. Against this global landscape, however, MCC has been a shining exception. This year MCC ranks third (out of 68 global donors), down a couple of slots from last year’s chart-topping performance, but far ahead of other US government agencies, all of which are solidly middle-of-the-pack.
What Are MCC’s Recent Transparency Achievements?
In recent years, much of MCC’s transparency effort was directed at getting the data out there—to much success, as evidenced by last year’s top score. This past year, the focus was much more on data quality—ensuring good and consistent definitions, automating reporting systems, developing business processes to ensure regular reporting, etc. They’ve also added some new data fields related to results (MCC gets higher marks for performance data than any other donor), as well as information on conditions associated with MCC funds. MCC is even focusing on use, having come up with internal tools to make it easier for staff to use MCC’s data for internal management purposes.
Why the (Small) Drop in Rank?
Part of the story is other donors getting better. Another part of the story relates to a small change in how the Index measured countries this year. Last year, Publish What You Fund (PWYF) credited donors for posting IATI files (e.g., the global reporting standard) anywhere—even on their own websites. This year, data must be appear in the IATI registry to count. In addition, the State Department coordinates all of the US agency submissions (currently 10 agencies—will eventually be over 20!) to the registry using a single uniform standard. Because of the tiered way MCC currently organizes its data (compacts -> projects -> activities), a few IATI indicators get buried in the US overall reporting standard and are a bit harder to find. The takeaway is that MCC’s slight drop in global ranking doesn’t indicate a reduction in its commitment to transparency.
What’s Next on MCC’s Transparency Agenda?
MCC is continuing to push forward on its transparency agenda. Here are a few things to watch for:
New Website: The new face of www.mcc.gov should be coming out soon, probably early next year. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting it. As transparent as MCC is, the current website can be tricky to navigate and has some out-of-date content.
Sub-National Data: MCC has been working to improve its geo-coding, so we soon may be able to get a much more detailed picture of MCC’s spending and results.
Expanded Evaluation Catalogue: MCC’s evaluation catalogue has been up for several months now, but a number of completed evaluations (and accompanying datasets, where relevant) aren’t up yet. MCC is hoping to increase the efficiency of its approvals process, and several new studies should be up soon.
New Data Sets: MCC often funds data collection to inform its compact development processes (e.g., pricing data), and it is planning to make a number of these data sets publicly available.
Transparency Policy Paper: MCC has a long-running Principles Into Practice series that talks in detail about how the agency implements its core model and operational policies, including frank discussion of lessons learned. An edition on transparency is due out soon and could be a useful read for other donors and organizations pursuing their own transparency improvements.
MCC deserves recognition for repeated high performance on the ATI. And the fact that the agency’s transparency agenda focuses on broader open data practices—beyond what ATI measures—further demonstrates its leadership in this area.