We virtually interviewed Anand Ramachandran who gave a compelling account of the different ways in which IATI data and tools are working for his organisation, Fields Data.
He highlighted some areas of challenge and food for thought for the IATI community. Read Anand’s ideas and take them forward with him and his team on IATI Connect.
Tell us about your organisation
How does a school in Burundi end up having 3 water access systems – a rainwater collector, a well and a water pipeline – and none of them work? As so often happens, this is a result of various donors, INGOs and local implementing partners working separately on the same operation, seemingly oblivious to each other’s presence. Can we find a way to optimise resources and time for all the stakeholders involved?
At Fields Data, we envision a coordinated, efficient and transparent development & humanitarian community striving together for social impact. So, using a bottom-up methodology, we collect and share ground-level organisational information and combine that with publicly available information to create 4W maps of who does what, where and when. This 4W map forms the core foundation on which additional analysis can be done. We plan to empower organisations by providing tailored data-driven solutions to facilitate informed decision-making.
When/how did Fields Data first hear about IATI?
Two of our founders had used IATI before for different use cases. So, we had an idea about the kind of information we would run into. Here are just a few of the processes we have used IATI data for:
- Tracking funding information;
- Analysing donor investments/portfolio/trends for clients;
- Identifying potential local partners in a particular country;
- Estimating costs and budgets from previously implemented initiatives.
How has Fields Data used IATI data? What tool(s) did you use to access the data e.g. d-portal.org, IATI Datastore?
Since, many organisations report about their activities around the world, we look for specific 4W information – organisation name, sector and sub-sectors, country-region, activity dates, description. This information mainly comes from the IATI Datastore.
We have also used d-portal for running quick searches on a particular type for funding. For example: Education based projects in Burundi, COVID vaccine distribution in Colombia, scouting innovation-based initiatives etc.
What are the benefits of being able to access IATI data?
- Aggregated information: We have noticed that many organisations have created their own data portals. In such a scenario, it becomes easier for us with IATI to access a single source that has information submitted by multiple organisations as compared to the time-consuming process of data extraction from individual sources.
- Structured data: Exporting CSV data makes it easier for organisations like ours to run quick analyses.
- Complementary use cases: Even though IATI was created mainly for transparency, we have also used the data for scenarios such as replicating solutions that were implemented elsewhere, business development research, scoping donors, identifying potential partners etc.
Specifically, what data did you find most useful?
IATI data has worked for us as a good starting point for many data-related analyses. The fundamental information about projects already worked upon or currently active in a geographical area and/or in a particular sector has helped us the most.
Have you had any challenges with using IATI data? Are there any suggestions for improvements?
Yes! IATI came into existence with a purpose of creating transparency around aid spending. Hence, the systems were created for the bigger organisations to report about their activities.
For this reason, smaller organisations don’t really have a mechanism to be a part of this ecosystem, unless a bigger organisation does the handholding, partners with the local organisation and then reports about them. This exacerbates the gap we have in the sector.
Let me give you an example: to publish in IATI you need Organisation ID along with activity details. Now, consider thousands of national NGOs, many of which don’t even have a good website; expecting them to create XML uploads is unrealistic. Secondly, many organisations don’t work on an activity basis. Individual donors support the causes of smaller organisations, and these organisations keep working for years on education, sanitation, gender rights etc. This also implies that a major chunk of development and humanitarian activities are carried out by organisations that specialise in local contexts but are virtually invisible to the international audience.
If we need to push for localisation of aid, then we need to think about redesigning systems and making them inclusive.
Would you encourage other organisations working in the international development and humanitarian sectors to access IATI data?
“At the start of 2021, we estimate that just 51 percent of relevant, complete crisis data is available across 27 humanitarian operations.” - The State Of Open Humanitarian Data 2021, Sarah Telford.
One of the major reasons why there is duplication of work or lack of coordination across humanitarian and international interventions, or even across different sectors, is lack of data. Due to the genuine lack of data, organisations can’t collaborate even if they want to.
IATI can turn into a one-stop-shop for a major chunk of the data we need. This would not only accelerate efficiency improvements but can also lead to cost savings.
Hence, it is extremely important to share information. IATI can turn into a one-stop-shop for a major chunk of the data we need. This would not only accelerate efficiency improvements but can also lead to cost savings. For example, before starting operations in a specific region of a country, what if you had information about activities that are already active or completed by other organisations. In such a scenario, you can build on the previous work rather than dedicating resources to reinventing the wheel.
Do you have future plans on working on IATI?
One of our major sources of information is IATI and that would continue for the next half a decade at least. We plan to be active on IATI Connect and share different use cases and data discrepancies we encounter, whilst pushing for the redesigning and creation of more inclusive human-centred systems.
While we are around, we hope to be the voice of local organisations in the IATI community.