Ever since the Haiti earthquake in January, I have been a member of a LinkedIn group Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief (HEDR) that has been very effective in sharing a lot of information about the progress ... or lack of ... of the various rescue, relief and development initiatives.
Through this group and others, I have been trying to get some attention to the matter of transparency and accountability. I have been more than a little disappointed, and it is clear that without independent metrics of performance, all organizations are going to work on their own agenda without paying very much attention to what would be of the most value to society.
Early in August I wrote the following short comment in one of the many HEDR discussions:
The problems are many ... and the knowledge about these problems totally hidden from view. There are solutions, but it is impossible to implement useful solutions when the root cause of the problem is carefully hidden from view. Transparency would help. Accounting and accountability would help.I am not sure whether any of the organizations involved with the rescue, relief and development in Haiti are going to eventually come through with some sort of public accountability. Immediately after the earthquake I was quite optimistic, but not any more. Much of the NGO behavior has followed a familiar pattern where fund raising and "stories for donors" is the only contact point for the public.
What is depressing and frustrating is that organizations that ought to know better have bought into the "no information" mode of operations including a lot of well known names in international relief and development.
While I have been quiet in the HEDR space recently ... I have been exploring data sources and not impressed with what I have been able to find ... but will keep trying.
Four organizations should be named as important data possibilities, but poor in practice: United Nations especially OCHA; the Clinton group of initiatives; the Red Cross community; and USAID/US government.
The health sector is interesting ... lots of money ... lots of volunteers ... lots of need ... some amazing stories ... and absolutely nothing to help with the accountability dimension. I had hoped that Partners in Health might be a good accountability leader but am very disappointed.
My impression is that many ... if not most ... of the people working on the ground still do very good work to help satisfy huge emergency needs with rather modest resources. Having said that, it also seems to be a reality that in the aggregate the delivery of needed assistance is rather modest relative to the resources that seem to have been mobilized.
Attempts to "follow the money" do not result in clear explanations of resource use. The available information does not give much comfort to the researcher ... rather it becomes fairly clear that most of the organizations are doing rather little to mainstream public accounting and accountability in their activities.
I am more than a little frustrated by this ... but not surprised. Nothing is going to change unless there is a system of dataflow and accountability that is independent of the implementing organizations. This is, of course, the data architecture that has been emerging within Community Analytics (CA) for some considerable time.