Tracking the funding response to COVID-19 (Devex)
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 30 Mar 2020
Credit: Lisa Cornish, Raquel Alcega
In March 2020, global funding in response to COVID-19 was increasing at a rapid rate. But there was understanding of who the different funders, where funding was being directed, and where it was being prioritised. Supporting the needs of the development sector, Devex collates information on funding announcements, new programs, tenders, contracts and more. COVID-19 funding information was extracted from this database and presented in a publicly available Tableau interactive. For over a year, this database has continued to be updated. And each week, weekly funding insights and other funding articles drawing attention to the changing funding trends for more
The Devex funding database does not provide complete information on COVID-19 funding responses globally, and due to the way funders announce and report on their activities there is the chance of some duplication. However this database has been critical in providing information on who the funders are, how they fund responses, where they fund responses, the funding mechanisms they are using to create impact, and how priorities are changing along with the impacts of the pandemic. Organizations are using the Tableau funding interactive and reported analytical insights to understand who they can partner with, and identify gaps in responses targeting particular development issues and regions.
As of 2 Feb 2021, the Tableau interactive has had more than 104,000 views and Devex have been requested to present insights to a range of development and humanitarian agencies to improve their own analytical capabilities.
The COVID-19 funding database and the Tableau interactive has also highlighted the massive issues surrounding transparency in funding. While funders are keen to make a big splash in announcing new money, seeing how this translates into programs, tenders, grants, contracts and more is a challenge. Government and private sector announcements in particular are very difficult to track through a funding and spending cycle. Funders are also keen to tag funding as being in response to COVID-19. This may be new funding, pivoted funding, or existing funding with a COVID re-brand, but announcements and systems do not clearly distinguish this. These transparency challenges identified through the database have been used by the OECD in their 2020 Development Co-operation Report which aims to encourage better funding information for future crises.
Devex continues to update the database weekly, with the intention of providing a source of information that can be of value to researchers now and into the future.
Funding data collected by Devex comes from a wide variety of funders and sources — with their own ways of delivering that data. The sources and methods used to extract data can depending on the funding type. Funding announcements are commonly made through media releases and speeches requiring manual entry while tenders, grants and reported contracts are often are advertised through reporting systems which allow enabling data to be scraped or extracted through an API. This is colleted into a Metabase database and published throught he Devex Funding platform. From the database, funding activities specific to COVID-19 are extracted and analysed to determine if they can be classes as funding in response to the global pandemic — some announcements are for programs that would have occurred regardless of the pandemic and are excluded. Airtable, Google Sheets and even Excel have been used to support data cleaning over the past year.
The processed data is then added to a Tableau workbook that has been designed to allow users to drill down by donor, region, and focus area. But they can also seen how data is moving beyond the initial funding announcements into action on the ground. Programs, grants, tenders, open opportunities and contracts awarded by the donors can viewed and demonstrates large gaps in funding transparency that exists.
The Tableau interactive is available as a desktop tool, as well as a version that can be embedded into Devex articles and supports mobile view.
This Tableau tool also supports a weekly analysis of funding data to identify new trends, as well as analysis for articles looking at a year of funding, vaccine funding, and disinformation.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Pulling together funding data on COVID-19 is a challenge. There are a range of funders, funding mechanisms and ways of reporting on that funding. Collating this information is a difficult and gaps exists. However the health and social impacts of the pandemic meant that it was important to provide as much information as possible to support better responses. Devex has aimed to be transparent about the data challenges through articles, presentations and in supporting contributions to the 2020 Development Co-operation Report. Development of the Tableau interactive has also focused on this, providing access to individual records as well as dividing funding into different categories which shows how funding may move from announcements to action through tenders, grants and contracts.
But this was not a one-off project. Each week since March 2020 the funding database has continued to be updated with new insights being reported. It has been able to show an overwhelming focus on economic responses. It has been able to show shifts in vaccine funding — from research and development to securing vaccines and vaccine campaigns targeting disinformation. It has been able to show that the private sector has been a minor contributor. And it has been able to show that globally transparency surrounding funding needs to improve.
This Devex work will be an import resource for a long time to come.
What can others learn from this project?
Through this long-term project, journalists can learn about the importance of developing data projects that have more than one goal. The COVID-19 funding database has supported multiple articles, and a range of angles to investigate changing priorities in pandemic funding. It has been and continues to be a massive investment in time and resources, however the work is supporting improved insights into funding as well as building awareness about the gaps.
As pandemic funding has changed, the Tableau interactive has also been able to evolve and incorporate new categories of priority for funders.
Throughout 2021, more insights will continue to emerge. And the database will continue to be updated to support longer term objectives of Devex as well as researchers that can use the database to support their own work.