A year of progress on data use

  • Dec. 7, 2021

Data use working group.png

This post has been written by Mark Brough, Chair of the IATI Data Use Working Group.

Over the last ten years, a range of actors have begun publishing data on their development and humanitarian activities in line with the IATI Standard. This data has the potential to improve the way the development and humanitarian system functions, by enabling actors to make better decisions. However, without the increased use of this data, this potential will not be realised.

In 2021, many different actors have contributed to an increased use of IATI data. This includes the IATI Secretariat, the Data Use Working Group (DUWG), and a number of IATI community members. Below, we highlight progress made against the Data Use Action Plan, jointly developed by the Secretariat and DUWG earlier this year. The progress made is a result of the collective efforts from all actors, and we’re grateful to everyone who’s played a part in these efforts this year. In each section, we’ve outlined some recommendations for the Secretariat, DUWG and community in 2022.

Improving our understanding of barriers to data use

We have greater knowledge of barriers to data use thanks to a number of activities undertaken this year. The Secretariat’s work on identifying user requirements and researching the user experience for the forthcoming data portal makes an important contribution to a strategy for reducing barriers in the near future. Feedback from engagement with the Country Development Finance Data (CDFD) tool was used to further improve the tool and make it more usable, for example by including data in different currencies and different languages.

The IATI community also made some major contributions. Publish What You Fund’s research on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Making Gender Financing More Transparent identified challenges with using existing data and tools. UN OCHA’s Centre for Humanitarian Data shared lessons from their project on Visualising COVID-19 Data.

The DUWG would recommend additional focus on the following areas in 2022:

  • integrate the above lessons learned into the Secretariat’s forthcoming work on a prioritised list of data issues;
  • consistently use the lessons learned on challenges with tools to inform improvements of Secretariat and community-supported tools;
  • develop a better understanding of challenges with systems integrations e.g. AIMS - or consider alternative solutions to integration;
  • provide a simpler learning curve for beginning to use the data, and then build awareness on that basis;
  • encourage publishers’ country offices to use their own data (following the recommendations of the feedback mechanisms research); and encourage publishers to use the data of those they are collaborating with.

Ensuring all users can access the data they need

A substantial amount of work was undertaken to improve access to IATI data. The Secretariat launched and updated the Country Development Finance Data (CDFD) tool. Datastore Classic was made available through community efforts and then subsequently funded by the Data Use Working Group.

A key recommendation from an Open Data Watch report earlier this year was to make IATI data available in more languages. CDFD makes the interface and the underlying data available in French, Spanish and Portuguese -- this is the first time that IATI data is easily and completely accessible in these languages. The interface of Datastore Classic is now available in English, French and Portuguese, thanks to community contributions. Code for IATI also experimented with translation through Transifex.

A range of other contributions from the community also improved accessibility of IATI data. IATI.cloud now processes all IATI XML data in less than 2 hours, and AIDA makes all IATI data available and searchable. Finally, D-Preview makes it possible for publishers to upload their own data and see what it would look like, before publishing.

The Secretariat continues to work on development of the IATI Datastore API, and plans to release it in mid January 2022.

We’d recommend additional focus on the following areas in 2022:

  • propose a translation policy and think through how to allow community contributions from other languages in future, and how we maintain these. We also need to consider the extent to which this is resourced and how it’s implemented, e.g. via the Secretariat, language institutes, or reliant on voluntary contributions;
  • new and existing tools should respond to the issues identified by research in the first objective above (Improving our understanding of barriers to data use), in order to reduce barriers to use;
  • providers of various tools should give a clear commitment on how long the tool will continue to be made available. Users should be aware of the capacity of any tool, who is providing services, and under what level of (expected) service.

Strengthening data literacy and capacity for use

There was an increase in the direct support provided to users in the last year, and improvements in guidance materials on how to use IATI data and IATI tools. The Secretariat provided direct support to data users from all stakeholder groups. There was a specific series of training provided to partner countries on using CDFD. The Secretariat also established a Data Use Query Corner on IATI Connect as well as regular Data Use Drop-In Sessions.

The Data Use Working Group is currently working on developing a CSO Training Course and guidance videos on using CDFD and Datastore Classic.

We’d recommend additional focus on the following areas in the coming year:

  • thinking through how to increase attendance in the Data Use Drop-In sessions, as well as engagement with Data Use Query Corner;
  • considering the value of in-person training vs online training (with particular regard to the needs of partner countries);
  • ensuring that new and existing efforts around tools and guidance respond to the issues identified by the research on barriers to data use.

Documenting real use cases

We gained a broader understanding of use cases of IATI data this year, thanks to a range of organisations sharing their experiences, including in presentations to the Data Use Working Group and the IATI Virtual Community Exchanges. Analytics developed for the Open Data Watch report provides real-time insights into use of IATI Secretariat tools. Analytics for CDFD and Datastore Classic demonstrated the latent demand for this data (data has been downloaded in over 90 countries for each tool).

The lightning sessions at the Virtual Community Exchange 2 and the session on partner country data use provided insights into how different users are using the data. Separate pieces of work by Development Initiatives and Save the Children to understand the impact of UK aid cuts developed new methodologies for using IATI data. Finally, this interview with Plan International provides an example of a CSO using their own and their direct partners’ data for alliance dashboards and internal dashboards.

We’d recommend additional focus on the following areas in the coming year:

  • picking up lessons from use cases and applying them to other areas of work, including improving data quality and the functionality of tools;
  • developing a clearer understanding of how information on use cases should be collated and shared.

Thanks to all colleagues from the Data Use Working Group who contributed inputs to this blog.