One of the pitfalls of IATI is that it is often perceived as just another convention an organization has to comply to because it wants to become more transparent and accountable through publishing to the IATI registry. This is in itself an entire issue to discuss, but we will leave this for a later post. What organizations, however, often do not realize, is that IATI actually makes a pretty good communication tool. Like many data standards, and especially xml files which are easy to convert, an IATI file is an easy and great way to reuse data already created for communication purposes. This really adds value to becoming IATI compliant as an organization. After all, why would you go through the entire process of publishing your information to the IATI registry and not doing anything with this information yourself?
How does IATI change the state of play?
But why and how does IATI lend itself to being such a good communication tool you may ask? A slide taken from the IATI Speakers Kit will help us dive into the key features of IATI and explain why its so well suited to being a rich source of project information for a website.
Looking at the slide taken from the Speakers Kit, there are six key features of IATI that should be explored further. The reason it lends itself to be such a great communication standard is that IATI enables organizations to publish data that is…
- In a Standardized Format: Because IATI consists of set number and type of XML elements, it standardizes the way project information is stored, making it consistent and coherent within an organization. This means that staff all fill in the same fields with the same type of content. This of course has to be agreed upon on the organizational level first and data quality needs to be monitored.
- Updated Regularly: Because most IATI compliant organizations publish quarterly, new projects and existing projects are updated regularly. With IATI, projects are entered into the project management system as soon as the first transaction is committed, meaning that project information is usually online within three months of the start of a project.
- From a Range of Actors: Projects always consist of a range of different stakeholders including funding, reporting and implementing organizations. IATI creates the framework for these organizations to produce, consume and disseminate information together or independently depending on their needs. It also creates a framework in which each organizations role can be clearly defined within a project.
- All in one place: Traditionally, asking someone for project information involves them searching the depths of the server, their local desktop, their sent email folder or their desk drawer for a printed copy. IATI removes this process, because all project information is stored in one file, in one location, for everyone to access. This means that the information can easily be reused and redistributed for various purposes because the information is easily accessible and retrievable.
- Forward Looking: Because projects are added to IATI as soon as a financial commitment is made, and projects are typically two to three years in duration, it creates forward looking project information which can be used by a range of different stakeholders. This creates several opportunities for different stakeholders. For example, internally you can better plan your staffing levels over the coming years by looking at your implementing projects, line ministries in the recipient country can better coordinate and manage their multi-year strategies based on an organization’s projects and citizens can see what is going on in their communities and provide feedback on these projects.
- Comparable: Using IATI not only makes your own projects comparable with each other, but also makes project information comparable across organizations. This means that different stakeholders can use the IATI information to get a better insight into the efficiency and effectiveness different intervention strategies. This could ultimately lead to international development organizations transforming into service on demand institutes that deliver their specialized intervention.
* All of these benefits can of course only be realized if the quality of the information in the file itself is of a high standard and that the XML elements filled in are consistent across organizations.
The IATI framework allows project information to be stored and presented in one standardized manner with quarterly updates coming from a range of different actors. The information can always be found in one place, is forward looking because it is published within three months of the first financial transaction and you can compare the information with other projects across organizations.
Having this basic programmatic information up-to-date in one place creates a basic information platform which can be used both internally and externally to provide a better insight into what an organization is doing, where is it doing it, why it is doing it and with who it is doing it.
Creating an Information Platform
Having such a platform of course depends on the resources and capacity of your organization to create such a tool. Some organizations, such as Cordaid and Rain Foundation build and seamlessly integrate the tooling straight into the website with help from Akvo. For other organizations, a low-cost WordPress plugin such as WP All Import that reads xml files might be the right choice and there are also several existing external platforms such as the d-portal which reads files from the IATI registry and creates basic visualizations and project pages. As mentioned, there are several options to chose from and choosing the right one depends very much on the needs of organization itself. What is clear, however, is that there are tooling options available for all different types of organizations and there is no reason why an organization should not be using IATI as a communication tool.
Whichever option is chosen, however, it is essential to remember that garbage in equals garbage out. As with any dataset, the quality of the information is key to being able to reuse and redistribute the data. It does not mean that everything has to be perfect straight away, but just make sure that there are data quality mechanisms and reviews built into the process IATI publishing process. Once the information is in place and the quality is acceptable you can take advantage of the single entry, multiple use principle. Once you have the information in place, it can be used for a variety of purposes, for a range of different actors with a selection of different applications and platforms.