This post has been written by Wendy Thomas, IATI Technical Lead at Development Initiatives.
To enable development and humanitarian organisations all over the world to publish and access IATI data, our initiative provides a system of digital tools and products. This year, a key piece of work for the Secretariat has been to carry out a comprehensive Stocktake exercise to help ensure IATI’s technical services are fit for the future.
Tech driving strategic change
IATI’s Technical Stocktake is a key component of IATI’s 2020 workplan and it progresses a major objective in IATI’s ambitious Strategic Plan 2020-25 (EN, ES, FR): “strengthening the IATI Standard by consolidating its technical core, maintaining its infrastructure and reinvigorating its community of publishers and members”. Strengthening IATI’s technical offering is key to driving a significant improvement in the quality of data published to IATI which is a necessary step for promoting its systematic use.
Delivering the stocktake
At the February 2020 IATI Governing Board meeting, the Board agreed a proposal to hire an external system design consultant to undertake a Stocktake of IATI’s technical estate, taking into account progress since the 2018 technical audit and enabling the Secretariat to develop a roadmap for technical work over the coming years. Dan Hughes of Wittij Consulting began working with the Secretariat in April. Dan’s work on the Stocktake involved:
- Conducting desk research: reviewing IATI’s Strategic Plan 2020-25, reports from the 2018 Technical Audit and 20 mission and technical background documents;
- Interviewing 40 IATI stakeholders across publisher, data user and developer communities;
- Developing detailed diagrams for each of IATI’s core systems (Registry, website (including the SSOT), new Datastore, new Validator, IATI Publishing Statistics/Dashboard, d-portal), illustrating the ‘as is’ architectures;
- Analysing findings and drafting future state views for discussion;
- Presenting the draft proposals to IATI community participants: leading three facilitated workshops, consolidating feedback and producing a recommended proposed design.
Following this process, the IATI Governing Board received the Stocktake’s findings in July and agreed these core recommendations arising from the Stocktake:
1.Move to an integrated system architecture
IATI should transition from a siloed set of technical tools and products to a single, integrated system architecture. This will help stakeholders have a more unified experience when publishing and accessing IATI data. The integration will also help improve efficiency, bringing consistency and eliminating redundancies that currently exist within the system.
2. Store a copy of published IATI data files (raw XML) and provide public access
This recommendation will enable IATI users to access publisher XML files if the publisher’s website goes down. Currently IATI already stores XML files in several tools, but does not make this cached data publicly available for users.
The Board agreed with this recommendation, emphasising that it needs to be accompanied by a clear set of policies and rules on data storage, removal and operational processes. The Secretariat will develop policies for consideration by the Board as the first step towards implementing this change.
3. Semantic data layer
Recognising the urgent need for IATI to provide accessibility to IATI data for users unfamiliar with XML, the Board approved the proposal to develop a new curated dataset. The dataset will be determined through extensive user research on the data needs of those not expert in the IATI Standard. The Board agreed there needs to be full transparency on what transformations are made and how they are applied to the data. The IATI Secretariat will create a clear approach for this work as part of the broader implementation plan for the Stocktake recommendations.
4. Consult on storing historical data
The Board agreed on the value of IATI retaining a historical record of all published data to be able to see changes over time. However, given the implications of shifting away from the current approach, in which publishers have full responsibility for their own data, the Board agreed that a wider consultation is required. The Secretariat will articulate the added value of storing historical data and take this additional information forward for consultation with the IATI community, publishers and the Data Use Task Force.
5. Produce an ’options analysis’ for a publishing tool
The Board approved the conduct of a detailed options analysis to assess potential approaches to a publishing tool that would take into account options for small as well as large publishers. The Board recommended that this analysis should consider an IATI-owned publishing tool among other options. The Secretariat will in the first instance provide an implementation plan for carrying out a full options analysis.
The Secretariat is producing a plan for carrying out a full options analysis on publishing tools, which will be shared with Board technical focal points in September. Detailed implementation plans for the overall integrated system design approach and the other Stocktake recommendations will be shared with the Board technical focal points by mid-October.
The full implementation plans and roadmaps for taking forward the Stocktake actions will be presented to IATI’s annual Members’ Assembly in December, as part of the Board’s presentation of annual plans and budgets for 2021.