Photo: Maxime Le Conte des Floris, Unsplash

Transparent data publishing can transform development

3 July 2018

Transparency has become a mainstream feature of international development and humanitarian work in recent years. In a sector facing the challenges of new technologies, complex crises and budget constraints, being able to demonstrate transparent and accountable practice has become a basic expectation of the modern NGO. Donor requirements have increased to match this expectation. Yet our approaches to transparency are diverse. 

We can often respond to changing donor requirements and new challenges in isolation from each other, missing the opportunity to collaborate and create common solutions. To help address this problem, Bond has provided support around IATI and a space for NGOs to come together: to listen and learn, and to develop solutions that will help us to navigate the tricky terrain of integrating transparent best practice. 

Over the past few months, Bond members have been coming together to share and solve problems around the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). IATI gives organisations across the sector – donors, northern-based NGOs, southern-based partners, multilaterals etc. – a platform to publish information about their projects in a usable and open format. It has the potential to change the way development and humanitarian programmes are run, influence the mechanisms through which the sector is funded, and could be used as a source material for changing public opinion for a more positive narrative around development. 

However, NGOs face significant challenges in publishing IATI data. Most notably, making the strict IATI codes fit against the complex relationships and project structures of development and humanitarian programmes can lead NGO staff in circles. While written donor requirements and guidelines alleviate this confusion, there is often still ambiguity about how NGOs should “do” IATI. This is where the Bond Transparency Group comes in.

The group consists of development professionals with varying levels of experience with IATI, who come from NGOs with diverse missions and organisational structures. Together, we have identified key questions that have left us, and many in the sector, scratching our heads. We work collaboratively to identify common problems, and then break off into smaller working groups to develop best practice and tangible tools that can be shared with the wider sector. 

IATI can often be a frustrating obstacle to overcome, but by working together we can break out of our silos, and learn from each other about how we can publish usable and useful data for the wider development community.

Solutions to key questions

In our March workshop, we identified key challenges and areas of improvement: 

  • How do we communicate about IATI with our partners, both in the country of operation and in donor countries?
  • Which of our southern partners should be encouraged to publish IATI data?
  • If our partners are to publish IATI data, what guidance is best suited to their needs? What level of support can we offer?
  • How can we best communicate with our donors to share our concerns and to let them know about the challenges we face?

Although we identified specific resources to help us answer these questions, we want to go further to deliver tangible solutions. We are currently creating several resources, including: 

  • A one-pager explaining IATI in simple and engaging terms for our partners.
  • A decision tree to help NGO staff decide whether or not a partner could/should publish IATI data.
  • Models of support to guide our communications and link to resources that are appropriate to the capacity of the partner.
  • A common position paper for DFID, which will describe the experiences of NGOs in sharing the IATI expectation with partners, and outlines our concerns and suggestions.

The Bond Transparency Group is a space to discuss common issues and develop targeted solutions. If you’re interested in working with us on our resources or would like to share an issue you’re having with transparency in the sector, join the group now

Bond offers training courses to support you on transparency and IATI - find out more.

About the author

Daniel MacKenzie

Daniel Mackenzie is the transparency adviser for the IRC. He has been involved in IATI for a number of years, and is currently one of the co-chairs of the Bond Transparency Working Group.