We spoke to Steven Flower at the Open Data Services Cooperative about the organisation’s recent decision to join IATI.
1.What is the Open Data Services Co-operative? How is the organisation involved in IATI?
We’re a UK-based organisation working in the field of transparency and open data. We’re a technical partner in a number of initiatives such as Open Contracting, 360Giving and Open Ownership, where we work on a mix of research and development, technical infrastructure and support for data creators and users.
Many of our members have been involved in IATI - some since the very early days! We now work with a wide range of organisations to help them plan, prepare, publish and use data in the IATI format. We’ve also helped organisations to communicate what they need from the Standard to the IATI Technical Advisory Group (TAG) which in turn advises other governing bodies of IATI on technical matters.
2. Why did you decide to join IATI? Why is transparency important?
It was quite obvious, and about time!
Our members have worked on IATI as experts in the Standard, providing knowledge and insight to users and publishers. Our decision to join is about reminding our members and the wider community that we are all users and stakeholders of the Standard - even a small workers’ cooperative which doesn’t fit the mold of a development or humanitarian organisation!
3. How did you first get involved in IATI?
Just after the first draft IATI files were published by DFID in 2011, one of our team attended a hack day hosted at the Guardian and worked on an early exploration and visualization interface to show the potential of this new data source. As a group that was becoming more interested in the potential of open data, we came at IATI as community technologists interested in open data for social impact. Our team was joined by other developers who had previously worked as part of the IATI technical team, contributing code to validators, dashboards and documentation for IATI. We formed Open Data Services Cooperative (GB-COH-09506232) in 2015 to further our work on data like IATI, and support collaboration and connections across different open data standards.
4. IATI is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. What progress have you seen since you first worked on IATI?
It's been great to see the growth in data availability - and rising data quality. There are also many more ways that data is now being used, even if this is not always visible to publishers. The way donors are starting to integrate data use in their reporting is also encouraging, and projects like Open Ag Funding have been interesting to explore the potential of IATI for particular sectors - although there is still much to do here to make projects like this sustainable.
In this anniversary year, it's worth noting how much IATI has influenced the wider open data and transparency field. Many of the other projects we work on regularly reference IATI, drawing on approaches pioneered in this community, and generating learning of their own that could feed back into IATI development.
5. What changes would you want to see over the next 10 years?
There is a famous quote (though attributed to a few different people) to the effect “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Taking something as complex as International Aid, and making information on it accessible to many different people, for many different uses, is an ambitious project, and it takes an investment of time and energy to move through complexity, and achieve something that is simple, clear and powerful.
As a collective, with different backgrounds and views across our team, we’ve got various ideas of the most important areas for change. A stronger focus on usefulness and usability of the data is one area where we would love to see even more progress - at the same time as continued investment in the core infrastructure of IATI, and bold choices explored about the evolution of the technical approach that is taken.