Independent Consultant required: UX Researcher

  • March 8, 2021

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is seeking a consultant to lead a UX research project to help us provide users with a way to access, understand and use our data easily and directly, without needing technical knowledge. Apply by 18 March 2021.

About us

IATI is a global open data initiative to improve the transparency of development and humanitarian resources and their results for addressing poverty and crises. IATI brings together governments, multilateral institutions, private sector and civil society organisations, and others, to increase the transparency of resources flowing into developing countries. All organisations that distribute or spend resources are encouraged to publish information about their development and humanitarian activities using IATI’s XML-based data standard. This is a set of rules and guidance to ensure published information is easy to access, understand and use.



In 2020, IATI held a Technical Stocktake to examine its technical estate and work with its community to determine a roadmap for IATI’s technical future. One of the key points identified from the Stocktake was the need for better data access and data access tools.

The Stocktake recommended developing a new ‘semantic data layer’, a curated set of IATI data that provides users with a way to access, understand and use our data more easily, without needing to understand XML. Our current data visualisation tool, d-portal, offer this to some extent and semantic data decisions have also been made in the datastore query builder.

We now need a UX project to gain a fuller understanding of what information users need to answer their questions. Learnings from the project will then be applied to elements and attributes of the IATI Standard.

Later this year there will be another UX project which will build on the research from this one, as well as the success of our data use tool d-portal, to design a d-portal v2.

Current examples of semantic data within IATI


A user might want to understand what is happening with development assistance in Angola. That user would select the country in d-portal and be then be provided with some pre-defined visualisations. If they want to check how much money has been spent, they would click on ‘Where does the money go’, which will give them the spend that already has a pre-defined “transformations, showing what from the IATI XML is included in that spend. In that case, it picks up only disbursement and expenditure transaction types. The user can then download the data in CSV format. This is an example of the decisions that will need to be made and we need to consult on.

Datastore query builder

A user might want to try and build their own transformation from the datastore query builder. That user would be presented with the ability to filter on a variety of dimensions, e.g. selecting ‘Angola’ from ‘Recipient Country’. But the lack of semantic description in these filters means that users without expert knowledge are often not selecting everything they want to see. Previously, by default the ‘Recipient Country’ filter was linked to the element ‘iati-activity/recipient-country’ but missed countries linked to the data via the element ‘iati-activity/transaction/recipient-country’. The transaction-level recipient country link has now been added to the query builder later, but the relationship between activities, transactions, and countries is still not fully described to the user.

This project

Semantic data gives a basic relationship and meaning to data. It allows data to be interpreted without human intervention.

IATI’s data is published in XML, so a semantic data layer is needed for most users to feel comfortable working with IATI data. IATI has the Single Source of Truth (SSOT), which is currently the most detailed description of the Standard and what each element represents. However, this is geared more towards technical developers than all data users. The RST files contained within the SSOT build our only semantic description of the Standard (e.g. an iati-activity), but not all of the relationships within our hierarchical data structure are described to an extent where users can easily understand the concepts. We would like the project to take this information and develop it further, while also making it accessible to a broader group of users.

Our datastore query builder and d-portal tools illustrate how some semantic decisions have already been made. We also have previous UX research and findings on IATI data use – all of which will be made available for the consultant taking up this project. However, there has never been detailed user research to understand our users’ needs and requirements for semantic data.

Key questions to answer

  • What questions are users trying to answer with IATI data? (We want to see this question answered with elements and attributes within the Standard)
  • Is the SSOT meeting users' needs? Should it be extended or represented differently?
  • What are the different layers and models that people need?
  • What sort of data outputs would our users find most helpful and impactful to their work?
  • IATI is an XML standard – how should it look in JSON or CSV?

Requirements and responsibilities

Led by the IATI Technical Team Lead and drawing upon knowledge of the wider IATI Secretariat, we require a consultant who is experienced in UX research to develop an appropriate UX research project to address the issues described above. The consultant/s will be asked to use and incorporate existing research and findings on IATI data use and personas, which will have been gathered by the IATI Secretariat before the start of the project. This includes prior UX research for our website, findings of projects run by our Data Use Working Group, etc.

This will likely involve:

  • Reviewing all pre-existing research, talking to internal stakeholders and building up a list of the external input required to deliver this project
  • Updating and further developing data user personas that describe the most common questions people are trying to answer with IATI data, particularly focusing on where within the Standard they are likely to find the answers to their questions
  • Undertaking desk research to understand the IATI Standard and the current ways data is semantically presented
  • Developing IATIs semantic data representation and suggesting how to make it accessible to users.


  • A set of the core data user personas with the key questions they are trying to answer with IATI data relating this to elements and attributes of the Standard
  • Semantic data layer, with instructions as to the models and views that are needed by our users
  • Summary report on the outcomes of the research and how semantic data should be used within IATI
  • JSON representation of the standard
  • CSV representation of the standard.


The consultant/s should have:

  • Demonstrated experience in UX research, tool design and representing complex data (Essential)
  • Ability to design UX research projects (Essential)
  • Ability to understand and describe complex systems in writing (Essential)
  • Knowledge of international development data (Desirable)


The consultant/s must designate and define key personnel for this project, including a lead who will be responsible for the supervision and management of the consultants’ personnel.


  • Submission deadline: 18 March
  • Submission evaluation and selection to be completed by: 29 March
  • Consultancy start date: early April
  • Consultancy end date: before 31 May

We would like the consultant/s to be on board before 13 April, when we have a virtual IATI event which will include a session on our synthesised data user persona research so far.

Application process

A submission must consist of the following and be submitted to Kate Hughes, Technical Delivery Manager, [email protected]:

  • A technical proposal describing how you would undertake the research
  • Details of similar projects or projects that show you have the requisite skills
  • Staffing proposal showing the person or team that will conduct the work, including sharing their CVs
  • Timeline and milestones
  • Financial proposal.

Further information or questions

Questions can be emailed to [email protected]; they will then be anonymised and posted on IATI Connect. We will aim to respond within two working days.

Evaluation process

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of members of the Technical Team, the Secretariat and the IATI Governing Board, and be evaluated on:

  • The extent of the applicant’s understanding of the details of the project’s requirements, i.e. responding to the requirements, not simply repeating the requirements
  • The extent of the tailored approach, showing milestones and checkpoints relevant to this project
  • The makeup of the proposed team, their qualifications and experience
  • The extent of the applicant’s similar experience of projects that are reliable in size, complexity and content
  • Transparency of cost and value for money evident in the financial proposal.

Relevant links