Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Please make data about resources mobilized credible!

Dear Colleagues

I don't know about you ... but for me the following is self-serving and not very informative. The information is from the InterAction website and purports to inform how members of the InterAction network have performed in the Haiti crisis. The example is from Lutheran World Relief, but there were 40 odd other organizations in the InterAction list that could be have been used as an example instead.
Lutheran World Relief's Response to the Earthquake in Haiti

Donation Phone #: 800-597-5972
Donation Address:
700 Light St
Baltimore, MD, 21230, United States
LWR has committed $2.25 million for relief and development efforts, and is working with partners on the ground to provide food, water, sanitation and shelter both in the capital of Port-au-Prince and in rural communities affected by mass migration. In addition to significant financial support, LWR has committed 1,600 health kits, 11,500 quilts and 1,500 layettes, material resources valued at nearly $500,000. LWR is also implementing a long term response with a focus on agricultural rehabilitation and rural livelihoods, and has dispatched a team to coordinate with our partners on the ground. For more information or to donate please see
The description sounds like it is telling you something with several "numbers" quoted:
  1. $2.25 million committed for food, water, sanitation and shelter.
  2. 1,600 health kits, 11,500 quilts, 1,500 layettes ... a total of 14,600 items that apparently have a value of $500,000 ... that is a little more than $34 each.
In addition to food, water, sanitation and shelter, the organization is also going to be working on agricultural rehabilitation and rural livelihoods. That's a lot.

And to add further information and confusion, there are "partners on the ground".

How on earth does anyone get a comfort level about the accounting and accountability with dataflows like this. I am impressed, but thoroughly confused ... and as a former auditor, awfully suspicious that there is much more of puffery than of substance.

I am reminded of some work I did many years ago when an international organization delivered some 50,000 metric tons of rice ... valuing it at $700/MT or a total of $35 million. The problem was that the world price of rice at the time was only $200/MT and it would have been more appropriate to value the donation at $10 million. For many mis-information like this does not matter much ... for me, and many serious minded analysts this is important.

I believe we can do a whole lot better reporting critical information, and making information more credible and more verifiable.

There should be summary information that is clear about the various elements of cost ... salaries, food, non-food items, equipment, travel, field expenses, etc.

There should be clarity about the time period ... is it a month, is it cumulative since the start, etc.

There should be clarity about what the money numbers mean ... what has been mobilized, what has been disbursed, what has been committed, what is still in the bank!

There should be spatial information ... where have the activities funded taken place. This ties into a community centric analysis that is central to Community Analytics (CA)

There should be organization information and multi-level fund flow analysis. High level organizations lose track quickly as funds flow down through multiple levels of subsidiary organization.

In the end, it should be possible to relate how much resource has been consumed with how much impact has been achieved. At the moment the "accountability" process seems to go no further than simply to justify further donations from a quite dumb public!

Peter Burgess

1 comment:

  1. While your concerns are valid Peter, The listings on the website to which you are referring are not meant to give all the details of the different organizations projects in Haiti. Rather, the listings are meant to provide a quick overview of what organizations are doing in Haiti, so individuals can go the the organizations' websites to learn more specific information about the work they are doing in Haiti.

    Perhaps you should take a look at InterAction's Haiti mapping project: (Click "continue" on the right to look at specific organization's work in Haiti, then click on the dots for project info). This mapping project was created specifically with the goal of enhancing transparency of NGO's work. Note: this is a new project that is still in the pilot phase. More specific project details will likely be added later on, but this gives a good start.