Information drives choices, supports decisions and enables people to act. However, lack of information can exclude. There is a strong link between lack of information and powerlessness, which is key to keeping people in poverty. For this reason Christian Aid places a strong emphasis on transparency and open information.
Within our programmes we work to strengthen people’s ability to access information relevant to them and their decision making. Globally and nationally around the world, we campaign for policy makers, governments and companies to be more open and transparent with their information, so that they can be held accountable.
Different stakeholders have different information interests, and are able to access information in different ways. This Open Information Policy governs our approach to sharing information with external stakeholders; it provides the standards and principles that guide how we operate and the types of mechanisms that exist to access information. It also explains why there is some information that we will not share.
Christian Aid’s essential purpose is to expose the scandal of poverty, to help in practical ways to root it out from the world and to challenge and change the systems that favour the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalised.
This essential purpose informs how we respond to requests for information and what types of information we actively prioritise to make available. Key in this process of prioritisation is for us to ask: will making this information available help us to ensure that our programmes, policy and support engagement work are having the maximum impact on poverty possible? And, is this information that we would expect powerful bodies to make available to us? Responses to these questions underlie our broader approach to information sharing.
Sharing information with people we work with
Our primary accountability is to the poor and marginalised groups that we work with. To reach these groups we work in partnership with local organisations, which share our values and have deep contextual knowledge and understanding of the realities the local communities face.
We encourage our partners to make information about their activities available to the communities they affect in local languages and appropriate formats and media. We offer training and guidance to strengthen partner’s ability to communicate information about their projects, such as the project background, objectives and key contact details, and to enable community participation and feedback through, community events, comments processes and complaint-handling mechanisms. These strategies have an impact.
For example, a recent evaluation of our work in Bangladesh identified how the wider availability of project staff mobile phone numbers and the use of groups to encourage women to speak out have increased the dialogue and information shared between communities, partners and our country programme offices.
We also engage directly with many supporters, churches, peers and funders. In these conversations we share relevant information about our activities, our finances and the impact our work is having, and answer directly any questions these stakeholders have. However, we know that other stakeholders mainly engage with us online, and therefore we are committed to making sure key information is available on our website.
We aim to keep our website up to date with a range of easily available and clearly presented information – about our organisation, programmes and campaigns – and each year we publish our annual report. Through the annual report we review our achievements, reflecting on the progress we have made to achieve our mission of eradicating poverty as well as fulfilling our obligations to review our finances and risk management processes.
Codes of practice
In addition to reporting on our website, we participate in industry initiatives to improve how we meet our stakeholders’ information needs. We have committed to two standards that we believe enable us to best provide information to different stakeholder groups – the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS).
International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)
This initiative aims to make information about aid spending easier to understand, access and use. More than 400 organisations worldwide publish their data to this initiative. We currently only share information on programmes funded by the Department for International Development but we are planning to increase the amount of data available through IATI to reflect the data that will be made available through a new tool that is currently under development.
Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS)
We joined the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) in 2006 and have been regularly audited to ensure that we have kept the standards. In 2015 HAP merged with People in Aid and evolved to become the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS).
The CHS sets out nine commitments, including access to information, which seek to improve the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian response provided by organisations such as Christian Aid. While these standards were designed with a specific focus on humanitarian response, we are adapting them to develop a set of accountability principles that work across the whole organisation.
Being open and transparent
As outlined above, our commitment to transparency draws mainly from our understanding of the role of information in exposing the scandal of, and eradicating, poverty. Our Open Information Policy is therefore framed by a commitment to be as open and transparent as possible – only withholding information when there is a valid reason for doing so.
There are certain pieces of information that we are not able to make publicly available. If information is requested and is unavailable, it will be for one of the following reasons:
- The information compromises the security of Christian Aid staff or other stakeholders related to Christian Aid. For example, it might be unsafe to provide access to the details of some partner organisations, particularly in conflict-affected and/or politically sensitive contexts.
- Making the information publically available would constrain the ability of Christian Aid members of staff and stakeholders to openly exchange ideas and information when making decisions.
For example, we would not share internal briefings to senior management on policy areas because we believe members of staff should be free to include any information that they feel is important to the decision-making process.
- Making the information publically available would violate the privacy of beneficiaries, staff or stakeholders. For example, this would include information that allows the beneficiaries of gender-based violence programmes to be identified. This could also include information that results in disruption for stakeholders. For example, publishing certain details about partners could result in them having to field an unsustainable number of enquiries from the media and members of the public.
- There is no discernible public benefit to making the information available, or the financial or staff resource costs of responding to the enquiry are disproportionate to the expected public benefit. For example, this would include information that is not readily available in the format requested, and providing it in that format would take an amount of staff time that outweighs the expected benefit of the information. With this in mind, due to limited resources we may have to prioritise some open information requests over others, especially during busy times.
- Making the information publically available would contravene Christian Aid’s legal obligations and/or confidentiality agreements. Also, when the request includes information that has been provided by external stakeholders for a different purpose, we may have to consult with that stakeholder to obtain consent to release that information.
As well as information that is permanently unavailable, some information will also be embargoed for a limited period, meaning that it will not be immediately available. This will be for one of the following reasons:
- Information is requested that is due to change significantly, where it makes more sense to withhold publication until the updated and/or confirmed information is available. For example, most financial information is subject to change until the accounts for the period have been closed and audited.
- Requested information threatens a specific objective that is currently being worked towards. In these cases it might be decided that the information should not be made available until that work has progressed further. For example, if a project involves supporting a community to engage in sensitive negotiations with local government, publicising the status of those negotiations could threaten the successful outcome.
If we do have to withhold information for any of the reasons listed, we will always explain our decision. We may also offer to provide other information that, although not being the specific information requested, is relevant to the issue in question. For example, if requested to send internal emails relating to the development of a policy decision then we would decline the request, under exclusion 2 above, but may instead offer a summary of the reasons why that decision was made.
We hope that you are able to find all the information you need published on our website, in our annual reports or through our IATI data. If you need additional information, you can contact us in the following ways:
- call the Supporter Enquiries Unit on +44 (0)20 7523 2493
- send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- write to Supporter Enquiries Unit, Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London, SE1 7RT
- via facebook.com/christianaid or twitter.com/christian_aid
We acknowledge email and social media requests within two working days. If we can’t respond in full at that time, we will let you know when to expect an answer. If you send us a letter, we will be in touch within five working days. Finally, we constantly seek to improve the quality and presentation of the information we produce. If you have any feedback, either positive or negative, on your experience of finding information, please get in touch with us.