IATI and Open Data - the return on investment for international development
Making international development data open: what is the return on investment for organizations?
On Friday, June 14th, I had the
opportunity to attend a technology salon on the International Aid Transparency
Initiative and international development. Among the 30 participants were
representatives from Interaction, PACT, Development Gateway, World Bank, and
others who design and implement international development projects.
For a review of Sonjara's experience migrating an existing USAID project database to IATI, check out our blog series ICT Inventory.
Oh dear, another development acronym.
Most of us in the room were already familiar with IATI, but it is useful to outline what it is and why should we - as international development professionals - care
IATI offers three major elements:
- A standard data structure
being supported by many international development donors (including USAID)
for project data and funding. Simply put, IATI is a standard structure for
lists of projects, including title, description, funding information,
location, etc. By having a common standard, it means
that data submitted by USAID and data submitted by DFiD follow the same
pattern, making it easier to aggregate and compare.
- A data base of data - IATI
also is a place where publishers of IATI structured data can put links to
their systems or files.
- A community to discuss questions, challenges, emerging opportunities around the IATI standard.
Ooookay... So why should I care?
I think most people would agree that being able to find easily all the projects going on in a particular sector or country would be incredibly valuable, especially if this data is captured over time. Right now the development sector is particularly poor at capturing historical data about its projects, and IATI is one step in helping correct that issue.
Secondly, IATI at its core is about transparency, which everyone in the development community I have spoken too are pretty passionate about. We all want to share our work and make sure that we are using resources wisely.
But the final point I think is the most important. Open interoperability data will soon no longer be a nice to have but a requirement for any organization or business to run its operations effectively. Open data and IATI can force your organization to get serious about knowledge management as a tool for performance improvement.
Woah, we were talking about IATI and now you are talking about KM???
Yep, KM - which is at the heart of open data.
Good KM systems tells you easily (aggregated, accurate, quickly)
- what do we do?
- where and when and who and
why (and how much)?
Great KM systems tell you just as easily
- how did we do?
- where is room for improvement?
- where is there room for expansion?
The HOW in designing these KM systems revolves around your data - what format, structure, validity, completeness, accessibility, etc - all of which are also key open data questions.
For international development organizations, IATI gives a structure to your data to answer one. It also gives you an exercise to focus on the wrangling of your existing systems with a defined outcome- publishing your IATI data. The benefits to your organization - if you approach this exercise as one intended to help you improve performance across your entire firm - will be outweighed by the expense in making your data IATI compliant.
If you open it, the data will flow, mingle and expand with other data, giving you back more than you gave.
Wait, what do I have to give? Sounds expensive.
During the discussions on IATI, we talked a lot about some of the challenges in implementing it, and cost is always an issue. Many specific issues included:
- Multiple legacy systems that have competing, incomplete or even contradictory data
- Political discussions around what to publish, and how
- Confusion about how IATI applies to NGOs who are both implementers AND donors AND work with many different governments and multi-lateral organizations
- Confusion about the classifications that IATI uses for Sector and Project
- Concerns around cost for consulting, database development, and technology infrastructure, especially with tightening overhead budgets
The group experience was that the technology component of the exercise was actually pretty straight forward; the other elements listed above were the vast majority of the delays and challenges.
So what do I do now?Great question! I have another blog post that will follow with a full list of tips and tricks for moving your organization to be open data ready, but in the mean time, the top three pieces of advice I can offer are:
- Get senior level support to build a learning organization, and place open data as an element in that process. Without that support, open data won't reap the benefits for your organization that will equal the effort.
- Stop the bleeding. You are currently capturing, storing and processing information in non-open formats - identify one or more key data capture workflows and transition them to an open data format.
- Planning for open data when you are designing new systems or updating/migrating systems is considerably easier and less costly than organizing it as a separate project. If you have a project to replace your website or financial accounting system, this is the time to ensure that open data is included as a requirement of the new system. Fakoli, our rapid prototyping CMS and web application framework, comes open data ready, meaning any application and website built in Fakoli can easily transition to open data without lots of effort.
And of course, feel free to give us a call (571-297-6383 ext 503) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to talk through your needs and your questions. As you can tell, we love this stuff and love working with companies on how to make their transition to open data effective, efficient, and not (very) painful.