“Sharing our data will make us better at what we do” Leo Stolk, ATLAS Project Leader
ATLAS is Oxfam Novib’s online gateway to information about their projects and partners around the world. For an organisation with hundreds of partners and thousands of supporters and volunteers, ATLAS is an essential tool to share information and knowledge with this large constituency. As an interactive world map, users can search for projects and programmes by keyword, country and theme, and find information including project names, budgets, expenditures, descriptions and partners.
We discussed the ATLAS tool and open data with Leo Stolk, Oxfam Novib’s ATLAS Project Leader.
IATI data is used to drive ATLAS, combined with other data coming from Oxfam Novib’s internal systems, to ensure users have a detailed and context-based understanding of their projects. This includes images, documents and contact details for the projects. Data is refreshed every evening to ensure users have access to the most up to date information about projects.
There are currently over 2,400 programmes and projects being reported. Following widely recognised open data best practices, Oxfam Novib publish as many projects as possible but, as noted in their Open Information Policy, exclude any information that would put staff security at risk or cause potential harm to their operations.
Significantly, for Leo Stolk at Oxfam Novib, ATLAS is important because it makes raw data accessible and easy to use. While you can access Oxfam Novib’s data from the IATI registry, this raw, open data can be difficult to read and use. With ATLAS, the raw information is placed into context, making it more attractive and useful. This allows sponsors, journalists, partners and others to see how the money is being spent, and even compare Oxfam Novib’s work with that of other development organisations through tools such as openaid.nl, which are also driven by IATI data.
Internally, and among partners, the data in ATLAS is an essential learning and knowledge sharing tool. ATLAS doesn’t only show Oxfam’s successes, but also those projects that may not have gone as planned. “This is what open data means, everything is public,” says Leo. “That is scary in the beginning, but eventually it will make us better at what we do. It forces us to be critical and improve things that don’t work.” Furthermore, it can enable essential knowledge sharing between partners working on the same issues and projects in and across countries. Searching ATLAS to find comparable projects means partner organisations can join forces and share knowledge proactively.
Leo also notes that publishing to IATI and developing ATLAS has encouraged the organisation to think more about the data they are entering into their project administration systems: poor data in, poor data out; “Hopefully, Atlas inspires project teams to register their projects properly.” The Oxfam Novib website also encourages users to provide feedback on the datasets they access, so that they can be improved.
This isn’t the final step for Oxfam Novib: the ATLAS team are already working on a new version that will be accessible on mobile devices, which will enable users to access data anywhere, at any time. Other Oxfam affiliates will also be including their data in ATLAS in the coming months, with Oxfam GB and Oxfam India following in the steps of their Dutch colleagues in making their IATI data more accessible, and easy to use. According to Leo, “ATLAS will be most effective as it is used by as many affiliates as possible. Then you get a clear overview of Oxfam’s work around the world.”