About 'Open Multilaterals'
Countries participate in many multilateral organisations, for example the United Nations, World Bank or NATO. These organisations are (partially) funded via contributions from each member country. To fulfil their duties, these organisations buy services and products from companies all over the world. On this website we show which countries and companies reap the benefits of these transactions. We also publish the data we collected for free to be reused by others, see the data page.
Where did we get the data?
On the data page we link to the original sources and provide the data as CSV files. As you can see the original sources were often PDFs. This makes easy reuse of the data impossible so we had to retrieve it partially by hand using tools like Tabula. We describe our experience with each of the three multilateral organizations below:
- The United Nations does publish its contract awards on the UNGM website, but it contains only roughly 4,000 contracts, doesn't list the country of the vendor and the data can't be easily downloaded in a reusable format. So we had to look for other sources for the UN data. UNOPS publishes its own contracts as open data (more than 150,000!), but there are currently some issues with the quality of the data and it doesn't represent all UN departments. In the end we found the Annual Statistical Reports on United Nations Procurement PDFs which are hundreds of pages long and half of those pages contain one big table with the awarded contracts containing more than 200,000 contracts. It would be so much easier if they published this table as actual data using a spreadsheet or CSV file. *update*: since 2019, the data is not published in the annual report anymore, but made available as XLSX at the bottom of this page. They retroactively published the data till 2015 as spreadsheets as well. Sadly the data before 2015 contained a specific description about the contracts, while the data from 2015 and later is only described using one of roughly 60 categories.
- NATO at least doesn't hide its data in 'reports', but it still publishes them as PDFs. Again it would be much easier if they publish their data using file formats that are suitable for data like spreadsheets of CSV files.
- The World Bank provides a great example of how to publish open data! They publish their data on a data portal with a description of each dataset, you can download the data in different useful file formats (CSV, JSON) and even allow for retrieval of the data using an API! This makes reuse real easy!
Still, much of the information is incomplete as both the UN and NATO only publish awarded contracts costing more than a certain threshold (e.g. $30,000).
Why are Open Data from multilateral organisations important?
More and more countries are publishing information about their budgets, spending and procurement as society expects this information to be transparent. Multilateral organisations haven't been put up to much scrutiny in this aspect, but as they are government funded they should be transparent as well. This has several benefits. For example, the way we present the data on this website will stimulate countries and organizations to look at the share of contracts that are awarded to them and potentially act on that. But it can also be used by journalists and researchers to hold the multilateral organizations accountable. Besides opening up the awarded contracts for the 3 multilateral organizations on this website you can also check out our quickscan on the financial transparency of 24 multilateral organizations and read the accompanying article.
Who made this website?
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.