Using the Data Theme

(Leigh Mitchell) #21

One example of a system using a blend of local and IATI data can be seen in Myanmar’s Mohinga AIMS here. The system has a simple, user-friendly interface along with a series of dashboards (sector, donor, location and government partner) that are designed to make data use and understanding as simple as possible.

A recent import of DFID data from the IATI registry went very well and work is currently underway to roll out further imports direct from the IATI registry.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

(danmihaila) #22

I think this is a great example for using IATI Data. Did you do any validation of the data or tried it in some reports?
Also, how are you dealing with updates of the data?

(SJohns) #23

Hi all, we (Bond) would be interested in running a session at the TAG looking at this issue.We currently support NGOs to share information using IATI, and we have just started a new phase of work that has two aims - to increase the quality, consistency, frequency and amount of data shared by working directly with the largest NGOs on their internal processes and systems, and to research and model uses of the IATI data within the NGO community. NGOs are an essential part of the ‘aid value chain’ in that they reach directly into communities and also in many cases support communities to engage in advocacy on local and national government transparency. It would be great to bring together all those looking at the same issues so that we can collaborate and share knowledge, issues and ideas. What do you think?

(Herman van Loon) #24

That would be very worthwhile. For some time now, we are investigating the possibility to use IATI as an instrument for monitoring and reporting of the development activities we finance. The correct application of the IATI standard could
provide huge benefits in terms more insight, better decision making and reduction of the administrative work load. From the IATI technical point of view, the issue we struggle with is how to ‘close the links’ in the aid chain. From a pilot we did with Cordaid, it became clear that this is (in principle) feasible, but that there are challenges which need to be addressed in a consistent manner to make IATI data usable for all stakeholders. In my opinion these challenges exist for all connections in the aid network. I would be glad to contribute to this discussion in the TAG meeting.

(Jamie) #25

I would echo the sentiments above, I think there has been good progress made. A tool that weaves together all the IATI data to make the information and insights more discoverable is important, despite the present data gaps. I think D-Portal and Open Aid Search are great steps in this direction which can continue to be refined. I particularly agreed with Yohanna’s suggestions for future improvements needed and Bibhsan’s point that stakeholders will be looking to derive different insights. Greater discoverability will fuel a feedback loop to spur greater data quality.

(Michael Medley) #26

An important use of the data is to expose the still appalling sparseness of the data, and the poor quality of much of what has been submitted. Saying this could be taken as a kick in the teeth of the hundreds of people who have worked hard on marshalling and improving the data, but it shouldn’t be. Technical facilitation can only do its honourable best in the absence of strong political will to produce good-quality data.

There are strong structural reasons why so many governments and aid agencies have not produced data in respectable quantity, quality and format. Aid projects are difficult; they produce actions and results which have many potentially controversial and embarrassing aspects. As an aidworker I often habitually glossed things over in my reports; this was the natural thing to do. However, the quality and contents of results-reporting is near the thick end of the wedge. The participation, if any, of most donors and other aid-agencies is still nearer the thin end, merely disclosing things like dates and financial numbers. One can understand why they are nervous about letting the wedge go in much further.

This is not a counsel of despair. Politically, a lot has been achieved in Accra, Busan and elsewhere, and more political will can be created. What I am arguing is to avoid needlessly de-politicizing the challenge.

One important form of de-politicization is serving the illusion that current and upcoming information systems are producing a consistent registry and map of what aid is doing. At best they are likely to hold a trove of nuggets, and afford a means of exposing transparency deficits. At worst, they make people think that transparency and efficient governance are (almost) in place: that the matter is being taken care of. I suspect that Mohinga (see Leigh_Mitchell’s post, above) is a case in point. Yes, the clarity and smooth functioning of the interface and dashboards are impressive. But that’s part of the problem. For all its ease, how many people go beyond that, and login, and get past the interesting charts (based on aggregations of incomplete and questionable numbers), and find the list of projects, and go down clicking the projects and then the ‘results’ tabs? If you do, you’ll not find many precise accounts of activities or results, even pertaining to projects well past their ‘end’ date. And I don’t thing that’s just because it’s work in progress. I think you’ve reached an invisible wall.

So what do we do as data-technicians? We take a realistic view of the limitations of the data for purposes of techno-governance. We caution against projects based on this premise. We don’t persist in acting as if the data is smooth, but improve our maps of where it is good, bad and non-existent. (The recently increased IATI focus on data-quality is a good move in this direction, but we need to go much further.) We should see ourselves more often as making maps of the data for guerrilla fighters (including many practising aidworkers and government workers as well as pro-democracy activists) rather than as using the inadequate data in a vain attempt to map something real for the state-planning bureaucrats.

I’ve started trying to help the guerrillas through, and am grateful for the friendly and effective assistance given by the IATI Support team.

(SJohns) #27

Hi Michael, thank you for sharing - I’ve been having a play with it, and it’s a good way of seeing the data. I think it helps also that I have an understanding of what type of data is in the different elements. Just wondered - is there a way of extending the row width so that you can see the narrative within the project description? And also seeing what currency a transaction is being reported in?

(Michael Medley) #28

Hi SJohns. Many thanks for experimenting with the Tabulator at and reporting your experience.

I could make the ‘description’ column wider. But given the great variation in the length of descriptions, that could result in inefficient use of space in the table. Did you notice that if you hover the cursor over that cell, the full description comes up in a little box overlay? Does that help you?

On the currency, it should appear in the transactionspent and transactioncommitted columns, which are columns deduced from the original data. When the columns of original data do not include a currency column, it is usually because the currency is the same in all cases. If a column has exactly the same entry all the way down, the program does not show it in the table, but you will be able to see the currency if you click one of the ‘+’ buttons in the control panel. Perhaps this is not the clearest way of doing it.

I’ll think about how to make both these features/behaviours clearer. You’ll notice there are a lot of other bugs too. But it is encouraging to hear that you found this a good way of seeing the data, and I’ll try to improve it.

I’m not sure if this IATI forum is an appropriate place to discuss AidOpener as such. Feel free to continue the conversation by emailing me at


(Claudia Schwegmann) #29

Sorry for getting into this discussion very late. I very much agree with Yohanna, that there is a need for a tool to better use IATI data. And I agree with Bihbusan that the needs for endusers need to be taken into account. Even in my own work I have often tried to find specific information form IATI data and D-portal could not help me because of the lack of filters. is much more helpful in this respect, though I would like to export the data and also have a functions that allows me e.g. what the overall budget of all my selected projects is - in my experience this is a crucial question that is often asked by “Northern” advocacy organisations wanting to monitor the commitments of their governments in the field of e.g. food security following G7 commitments.
Another point by Bibhusan I want to take up is awareness, that IATI and IATI tools exist. The preliminary findings from the USAID study that I presented at the IATI steering committee is very clear on this point: In the 3 countries visited there was a need for aid information, but hardly anybody was aware of the existence of IATI, let alone the existence of d-portal, or specific donor portals.

(Herman van Loon) #30

With all due respect, I do not really think we are dealing with a tooling problem. The root problem is, based on my experience with visualizing and connecting IATI datasets, data quality, timeliness and coverage. Tooling can really help to make these kind of problems visible but we are far from using the IATI data for real decision making. So I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Medley that " We take a realistic view of the limitations of the data for purposes of techno-governance."

We should take into account that we are dealing with a complex network of interrelating actors and that there is no best practice yet how to use IATI to make these relations visible, so that we can act upon the information we can produce with this data. The IATI standard has the potential to fulfill the role for improved decision making because it encompasses all actors in the field. But the existance of standard in itself is not enough.So I would urge to focus our attention to the data quality, timeliness and coverage issues. If the data quality is ok, tooling will follow because tooling is relatively simple when your data is ok.

And, again agreeing with Michael, the current lack of data quality is not an technical accident. It has in my opinion also to do with how we look to the transparency agenda. Do we want to be transparent as a goal in itself, or do we want to use transparency as a means to make better decisions? This is really a political and not a technical/instrumental question.

(Yohanna Loucheur) #31

From the perspective of a donor/publisher, I believe we’ve gone as far as we can on the inside/stick side to improve data quality. Unless our project officers SEE the data they’re putting out, see that field x or y is missing or erroneous or out-of-date, no amount of poking or cajoling will make them fix it. On the other hand, as soon as they see the data, they want to start using it themselves and have a vested interest in its quality. That’s the carrot.

If tools are so simple to do, why not give it a try? I’m convinced it would go a long way in improving the data from those already publishing, and help convince others to start publishing.

(Herman van Loon) #32

There are quite a lot of websites and IATI visualisations already out in the field. Almost all of them focus on the efforts of a single publisher. Almost a year ago we did a visualisation ouselves together with Cordaid:

IATI visualisation Cordaid

Our experience was that as long as we limited ourselves to visualizing the data of one publisher, everything is quite straightforward. The data mongering could be done within a few days. Making the visualisation itself can be done in a day. The problems arise when you want to combine the data of multiple publishers. The amount of data mongering explodes and every new addition of a publisher leads to new problems. Each publisher uses IATI in a different way. For almost all publishers it is not possible to link data with others because of the lack of good activity and organisation references! So when it boils down to getting insight in the network, we still have an enormous challenge. In my opinion just making more visualisations or having more tooling, will be insufficient to accomplish this.

Shouldn’t we move as a community from just being transparent about your own activities, to being transparent as a network? Shouldn’t we use IATI data to support better decision making about how to achieve development goals? The key question is: how we want IATI to evolve? Are we content with the current status quo or not? What gets measured gets done, so how should our transparency efforts be measured? When is IATI succesfull? If we do it right, chances are that IATI will be known and valued by all stakeholders because you can get insights which would not be attainable in any other way. IATI will ‘sell’ itself.

I don not have the answers on all these questions, but I think they are worth considering.

(Michael Medley) #33

Herman, your observation that each publisher uses IATI in a different way seems true and important. But that does not necessarily mean the most urgent challenge is to align the ways in which publishers fit their information into the IATI standard. I think you are stepping over the most fundamental challenge. We can’t yet “move as a community from just being transparent about your own activities, to being transparent as a network” because we haven’t reached the starting-point of that proposition. Most agencies are still not providing enough interesting information about their own activities.

I think there is a lot of truth in the dictum that ‘what gets measured gets done’, and do agree that the measurement of our transparency efforts is a key challenge. It seems to me that most of the indicators used at present are too broad and superficial. In my view there should be much more focus on the reporting of results (planned and actual), and the coverage/quality of document-links.

An ultimate aim may be to enable new insights in high-level decision-making. But I don’t think we can solve that before first cracking the problem of achieving a higher minimum level of transparency among aid agencies.