Had a great chat with @Wendy just now about secondary publishers and at her suggestion, I wanted to open up the dialog to others.
There has of course been several conversations about secondary publishers and related attributes (see: Modify definition of secondary publishers or Add an OrganisationRole Code for “Responsible” organisation) but we wanted to take a step back and approach the issue from a less technical, more philosophical perspective.
(From here on out, while I may reference other secondary publishers, I’m speaking only on behalf of InterAction/NGO Aid Map. I’ll let AidData, Foundation Center, Global Giving, OCHA FTS, etc. speak for themselves )
#The Case for Secondary Publishers
InterAction, which publishers second-hand data via NGO Aid Map, has perceived that secondary publishers are not exactly embraced with open arms by the IATI community, given its well-established principles related to data ownership, organizational accountability, and commitment to transparency. These points are well taken, and we are aware of and own the fact that NGO Aid Map data does muddy the waters a bit where it is duplicative, ill-suited to existing data use tools, and published with fuzzy provenance. However, we believe that secondary publishers do and should continue to play an important role in the IATI community and data ecosystem.
How you might ask?
While great efforts have and are being taken to distill the complexities of IATI and its tools to various audiences, there are simply segments of that audience that are still being missed. This is where platforms like NGO Aid Map and InterAction as an organization can act as intermediaries. Not only does the platform simplify the interface and data publication process, but it removes some of the burden from the IATI Secretariat to provide user friendly tools and assistance to niche groups of publishers, such as small to medium CSO/NGOs, especially those in the US that are not as far along as their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere. NGO Aid Map and InterAction staff can provide personalized guidance and simplified publishing processes to ensure that more NGOs are able to publish their data and with a shorter turnaround time. In the case of small NGOs with limited capacity, we consider it fitting that the Secretariat and even the broader IATI community focus on “bigger fish” and allow organizations like InterAction, Bond, and others to act as interlocutors, trainers, and advocates on their behalf. (Of course, Bond and others have played this role to a greater extent than InterAction has historically, as the US government has not yet implemented reporting requirements based on IATI for its recipients nor funded any kind of broad capacity development support focused on IATI.)
NGO Aid Map was originally designed to showcase members’ project data. Mapping our own data model to the standard was in part an acknowledgement that many US-based NGOs are unlikely to publish data to the IATI registry without an explicit mandate from one of their funders. By providing a mechanism for NGOs to achieve compliance (albeit limited) with the IATI standard, we can support the IATI community in making the case for transparency and in broadening participation. We also have several additional benefits that we can offer as incentives to pull our members in, namely immediate mapping and visualization tools and a well-known platform for promoting activities. Indeed, many of our members report finding partners or having funders find them using this platform.
InterAction has demonstrated a firm commitment to transparency, open data, and technological innovation, both within its membership and in the wider world. Whether through the Initiative for Open Ag Funding, NGO Aid Map, or some future collaboration, we intend to continue support for the mission and purpose of IATI in time, money, word, and deed. The same is true for many other similar organizations around the world. We welcome any opportunity to work with the Secretariat on any other initiative such as the Grand Bargain to bring new organizations in and to engage new markets. Given the limitations of the Secretariat and Grand Bargain monitoring initiative, the underrepresentation of some types of organizations in the Technical Advisory Group, and the scale of the challenges ahead, we would like to deepen our partnership rather than operate a competing, parallel, or duplicative service.
#HOWEVER, we can do better ourselves…
While we maintain that platforms like NGO Aid Map serve an important purpose, we do recognize that we have work to do:
Continue adapting NGO Aid Map to new changes in the standard, as well as any recommended changes in the IATI guidelines specific to secondary publishers. We are in the process of adding humanitarian fields as part of the v2.02 upgrade effort, and will revisit once v2.03 is live.
Work with InterAction members to establish individual IATI accounts so that they can either publish data on their own or explicitly grant NGO Aid Map/InterAction the right to do so on their behalf, provided they agree to the same commitments and duties required of every publisher.
Ensure that there is no duplication between members that publish on their own and via NGO Aid Map (in theory, we have an opt-out checkbox, but in practice there may be a very small number of organizations that are represented twice).
Encourage and support our members in adapting and improving their internal data systems to remove the burdensome aspects of publishing quarterly IATI data.
And now, some honest questions
For those organizations that choose not to open their own IATI accounts and publish on their own, does the addition of their data–via NGO Aid Map–add value to the data corpus, or do users find it confusing?
Again, for those that choose not to publish on their own, while it is technically possible for us to remove and replace “NGO Aid Map” as the reporting-org and replace it with the name of the accountable organization, we do not feel that this solution is A) transparent about who is actually doing the publishing, B) a positive incentive for them to take ownership of their data publication, C) an accurate representation of the primary purpose of NGO Aid Map (a database that publishes to IATI rather than an IATI publication tool). Thoughts? What would be the preference of this community?
For initiatives like the Grand Bargain, the InterAction-shepherded NGO Commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit in support of the Grand Bargain, and IATI in general, we strongly believe that NGO Aid Map, while not intended as a robust and comprehensive IATI publication tool, can serve a useful purpose as a stepping stone and on-ramp to the world of open data and IATI. Perhaps this need is most keenly felt in the US, where IATI has been a bit more of a rude awakening for many organizations in the past year. Are there strong opinions from this community about secondary-publishers-as-a-stepping-stone? How would you suggest we use our available assets (a data corpus and visualization platform, namely NGO Aid Map) to bridge the gap between an ideal world (everyone publishes brilliant data on a timely basis without issue) and reality (siloed data systems, significant manual effort, reluctance to invest in HQ data systems, accelerated pace of IATI and other data publication requirements, lack of funding for capacity building in most countries, etc.)?
Thanks for considering these questions in advance. Really looking forward to hearing what you have to say