After the cake and candles what next for IATI publishers?

Joint blog post by aidinfo Team Lead Simon Parrish and Director of Publish What You Fund, David Hall-Matthews.

This week sees the IATI Secretariat announcing the milestone of 100 IATI publishers. This is a fantastic achievement and one which we should celebrate.

While some prominent transparency champions – including the UK, World Bank, and the Hewlett Foundation – and many UK NGOs have led the way, there are many notable exceptions. The development community rightly gives itself a collective pat on the back but we need to remember that there is much to do.

There are three areas that need continued attention:

1.    Continued push for new publishers and greater transparency

  • Several significant  donors signed IATI in 2008/9 and have yet to begin publishing to the standard
  • There must be continued pressure on IATI signatories to take action within the deadlines set at Busan
  • Further outreach to key development actors outside IATI is needed. These actors include donors, NGOs, and private sector contractors, as well as South-South Cooperation providers.
What can you do?Lobby governments and key development actors, urging commitment to, and implementation of, IATI.

2.    Stronger focus on data quality

We will be pushing this coming year for an improvement in the quality of the data that donors are publishing, particularly as more donors develop what we hope will be ambitious implementation schedules that address the following issues:

  • Publication in a timely manner (at least quarterly, preferably monthly)
  • Inclusion of meaningful information, such as project titles, descriptions, dates, participating organisations, sectors and budget commitments
  • Data that is fit for purpose at country level in order to enable effective recipient government budgeting and automatic data exchange with AIMS (as has recently been done in DRC with DFID, GAVI and Global Fund). This requires data that is disaggregated and forward looking.
  • Data that has been specifically requested by partner countries: at least 3 years of indicative country budgets, sub-national geo-coded data (as we see with UNOPS), results data (like Global Fund is making available), project documents and conditions, and completing the right elements to enable traceability of funds down the aid delivery chain, from origin to point of spend.
What can you do?Monitor the data being published and the implementation schedules listing each publisher’s future publishing commitments. Are they working toward answering partner country demands for information? The IATI Annual Report due early 2013 will help with this.

 3.    Improved access and use of data

There is much to do in this area, and it is early days, but the foundations of a diverse ecosystem of intermediaries are emerging. In the past year a community of technical experts has started to look at ways to make IATI data more accessible to both the technical intermediaries and end users, and sharing ideas, experiences and code.

Examples of tools that have been developed include:

  • Country AIMS are becoming ‘IATI compliant’, meaning IATI‐compliant data can be directly imported.
  • Aggregator tools that bring all the data together in one place and make it accessible, such as aidview.net (soon to be launched), iatiexplorer.net, and beta.openaidsearch.org.
  • Publisher‐specific views of the data e.g. for The Netherlands (openaid.nl), UNOPS, UN Habitat. DfID are also redeveloping their project website to create a new aid information platform, which will be open source and using IATI data.
  • Data Functions: Tools that perform specific functions, such as the IATI‐to‐CSV conversion tool currently used on the IATI Registry
  • Data Entry and publication tools: There are tools available that allow organisations on to use a web entry platform to capture and publish data e.g. Open Aid Register and Young Innovations’ AidStream and the CSV Conversion tool
  • Software developers have come together at a range of events, including Development Data Challenges in different locations such as London and Helsinki, with several government and media organisations running competitions to inspire development of visualisation tools.

However, there is much to do in order to improve the accessibility of data, and that the barrier to entry to still too high. This has highlighted several development needs for IATI for 2013, the most significant of which is development of the IATI Registry and Data Store to enable easier access to the data. Work is being done in partnership with the Open Knowledge Foundation to provide download of a bespoke extract of data (e.g. all health projects in Ghana) in a format selected by the user.

The IATI Technical Advisory Group and wider development technical community have made some great visualisations and uses of IATI data. aidinfolabs.org gathers together most these initiatives and provides access to the technical code so it can be reused. It currently has over 20 packages of code. During 2013, we are hoping to develop this further to provide an ‘open aid toolkit’, which will be a suite of tools and functions – building on the work others are doing – as well and guidance materials to help close the gap between availability of data and ability to access and use it. Watch this space.

What can you do?Let us know if you are looking to use IATI data, are developing or looking for technical solutions for working with IATI data, or if you have any ideas for how to improve accessibility and use of data. 

Going forward

The last 18 months has seen an enormous amount of political progress on IATI – from the agreement of the Standard in February 2011, to the first publications, to the signatory of the United States at HLF-4 and the agreement to incorporate IATI into the common standard.

It’s now time for donors to up the level of ambition and begin to implement. Over the next month, we will be encouraging all organisations to make sure they meet the December 2012 deadline by supplying ambitious IATI implementation schedules.

Even at the 100 publisher milestone, we are a long way from answering partner country demands for accessible, meaningful and useful data. For aid to be fully transparent, all donors must publish information to IATI. Only then can aid and related development activities be made truly effective, efficient and accountable.

 

David Hall-Matthews

David is the Managing Director at Publish What You Fund. You can reach him at david.hall-matthews@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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