The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. IATI has the potential to be a powerful and unique source of aid and development data, and the initiative has come a long way over those ten years; establishing a global reporting standard and encouraging hundreds of donor organisations, development finance institutions (DFIs) and international and local NGOs to publish. But as we reflected in our own 10th Anniversary blog – there is still much to do.
So it is timely for IATI to start work on a new strategy, and consult on its future direction. At Publish What You Fund, we are passionate about making all aid and development data transparent and available, usable and used. We believe that this kind of data has the potential to be transformative and contribute to better development outcomes and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is in this spirit that we are contributing to IATI’s consultation and sharing our views in this blog. We want IATI to be the best that it can be and facilitate lasting change for all citizens.
Our key message to IATI for now is to focus on the fundamentals – to ensure that it can offer accurate, timely, accessible data. Until the majority of data published in the Standard fulfils this criteria, IATI should focus on doing a few things well rather than spreading itself too thinly. This could mean deprioritising new tech investments, or delaying expansion of the IATI stakeholder base for the time being in recognition that IATI will likely only become relevant when the basic data is sufficient. The initiative should focus on quality and accessibility for the coming period, with aspirations to innovate and broaden its scope later.
There is an urgent need to provide a fully functioning user tool with enhanced search capability to enable access to all of the data – be that D-portal or an alternative. Not only is this critical as a means for most users to access the data, but also as an essential feedback and accountability mechanism to help improve the quality of publishers’ data.
We recognise that while individual recipient country Aid Information Management Systems (AIMS) and donor countries own data portals (see the US, Belgian or UK examples) are increasingly sophisticated, they aren’t necessarily based on open source principles, infrequently provide a global perspective, and fundamentally reside beyond the control of the IATI Members. We’re far enough along this journey to know that it is unlikely any third party will now enter the arena to develop a global portal that meets these criteria, and likewise, we know that the “value” of doing so for external parties is limited until such a time as the data is of better quality.
We see a functioning portal as key to the improvement of data quality and use. Thus, echoing the wishes of the members at the 2018 IATI Members’ Assembly, see it as core to the forthcoming strategy. Without a way to meaningfully access the data, the data use discussion becomes redundant as it cannot then be widely used to contribute to monitoring and achieving the SDGs. In the long-term we should be aiming to move towards a situation where we talk more about the portal and the data, and how it can help organisations improve their effectiveness, than the requirements of publishing and the intricacies of the Standard.
Investing in a more accessible and intuitive platform for accessing all the data, be that D-Portal or an alternative is arguably more sustainable and scalable and would help respond to partner country needs.
Data Quality and Completeness
IATI aims to combine organisational (strategic) data alongside financial data, project data and project-level documentation. However, it is important to note that it is not quite there yet. Currently, at best, it is offering an incomplete “keyhole” into what is broadly happening in a country, a snapshot of some of the ongoing activities with mixed levels of reporting on lessons learned and evaluations. To remedy this we applaud the forthcoming introduction of feedback mechanisms which will allow users to alert publishers to errors in their data, but we remain convinced that we also need further investment in a functioning portal and a push to encourage publishers to review and use their own IATI data if we want to see data quality improved across the board.
We have a lot of experience of working with IATI data, over many years and for many research projects. A lack of reliable data and/or tools to make data accessible means that it is hard (sometimes impossible) to utilise data with confidence in meaningful ways. Basic aspects such as hierarchies, traceability and double counting need to be addressed. Complete and accurate data will help to build trust and foster use.
It is incumbent upon all actors within the aid transparency community to champion IATI and to highlight that if used correctly the Standard can add significant value to publishers; it can act as a knowledge management platform to improve internal information sharing, it can be a source of information for communications teams to report on their organisation’s activities – the possibilities are endless. In time, when ready, it will be essential for IATI to move with the times, and therefore broaden its publisher base to include more detailed publishing by DFIs and to incorporate less traditional donors. Likewise, we agree that there is a fundamental requirement to shift from a top down to bottom up emphasis– engaging with national CSO platforms, partner country governments and other stakeholders, addressing user needs (mostly widely known).
Despite being ten years in, IATI still has some foundation building to do. Only when this is done can we drive future success and fulfil the promise of IATI and aid transparency.