Blogs

Installation problem

If you have tried to install Logframer recently you may have experienced a problem. The installation file would download but then the actual installation file would come to a halt.

Thanks to a warning from user Alex this problem has now been solved and the installation process should now run smoothly again.

Sincere apologies to all those who were unable to download Logframer, I hope you'll give it another try.

IATI part II – Does IATI provides us with a better understanding of aid flows?

In the previous article we introduced the International Aid Transparency Initiative and why it was created. We also saw the birth of the IATI standard for information and how it evolved over the past couple of years. But how does this work? Who releases this information and where can you find it?

The central element in the IATI concept is the Registry. This is where you can find all the organisations that publish information in IATI format (the publishers), as well as their activities (projects or programmes; providing funding or credit; etc.). The registry does not contain the actual information about development and humanitarian aid initiatives. Instead, it provides a list of organisations and for each organisation a list of the (XML) documents they have created and the location where you can download them. The actual IATI documents aren’t stored in the IATI Registry but can be found on the websites of the different government agencies, NGOs, volunteer groups, etc. that have joined the IATI initiative. While anyone can produce and share IATI documents, the Registry is what enables people or organisations all over the world to find that information.

The Data section on the IATI website

The Registry is the foundation of IATI and as such it allows you to find information. However, hopping from one website to the other to open IATI documents can be tedious and each file will only tell you what that specific organisation does. To get an overview of what is done by different donor countries or what happens in a specific country or region (activities of different organisations), you can use the Datastore. The Datastore uses internet robots that visit the websites of the registered organisations, read the information from their IATI documents and bring it all together in a database that you can query.

Another instrument to explore IATI data in a more visual way is D-portal. This tool is still in a development phase and tries to explore the different possibilities to learn from the IATI data.

IATI's goal is that any person or organisation would be able to understand what is happening in a certain country or area at a given time, who is doing what and where the funds are coming from. Ideally, you would be able to follow the aid streams from donor countries and organisations via intermediary NGOs or other aid actors to their final destinations. However at the moment we’re still far from this goal.

First of all, there are still many gaps in the overall picture. Although there is a growing number of (donor) organisations that publish their data, for now it’s only a small percentage of the overall aid industry. Also every organisation publishes what they are doing. So if you have donor A that funds NGO B who sends it to partner NGO C who then uses it to build hospitals, you only get a complete picture if all three organisations that are involved participate in IATI and publish their data. If A and C do but B doesn’t, there’s a gap. When I was at a presentation about IATI two years ago I asked how many publishers come from donor countries and how many from receiving countries. The answer was that about 80% of participating organisations come from donor countries where publication was obliged, about 10% for receiving countries and 10% from other countries. So you’ll find quite a lot of information about government agencies and NGOs from rich countries but very little from the receiving countries. One important reason for this situation is that in a number of donor countries (UK, Finland, the Netherlands…) NGOs and other aid actors are obliged by law to publish IATI files.

Also there is no minimum standard as to the content or the quality of the actual IATI documents. So an organisation may publish documents at regular intervals, but that doesn’t mean there is a lot of information to be found in those files. There are many IATI activity files that contain little more than the title, duration and overall budget of the project.

A key element in the financial transparency of IATI are the transactions: in every IATI activity file there are a number of transactions from the organisation that publishes the data to other organisations. Transactions are typically grants or subsidies but can also be credits and repayments or other types of financial flows. As each organisation has its own unique IATI identifier, you can see how money flows from one organisation to another. The identifiers should allow you to trace money from one organisation to the other.

However you must use a lot of caution when you use these figures. For one thing the transferring and the recipient organisation may register these transfers in different ways (taking or not taking into account administrative costs for example). They may group various effective transactions in one reported transaction at the end of the year to make reporting easier. And most importantly: it is not because a transaction is made in a specific year that all this money is also spent during that same year. So it is important to understand that IATI is not a global bookkeeping system for international aid. You can’t simply add up figures of various projects in recipient countries and expect them to correspond with the total transfers that the donor countries have reported in a given year.

So what a researcher, journalist or interested citizen can expect is to get a clearer picture based on indicative figures – if the information is indeed available (no gaps) and sufficiently detailed. From the side of the recipient countries, if a mayor or politician wants to find out what organisation X is actually doing on their territory (because sadly NGOs don’t find it necessary to inform local authorities) it can be quite the task to actually find information. That is because at the moment people are mainly obsessed by getting their data published, so you have a number of tools to create IATI files. But there aren’t so many tools that allow you to analyse and make sense of it all – especially if you don’t have the technical know-how to query a database.

In this IATI shows that it is still a relatively young system – although there is progress in this respect. But we can only expect improvement if better analysis tools are developed and if more and more organisations start contributing to global transparency – on the condition that they also provide quality information. What it takes for an organisation to join this global quest for aid transparency we’ll see in the next article.

IATI part I – What is the International Aid Transparency Initiative?

Recently I released Logframer 3.0 which has as one of its main features the ability to read, create and edit IATI documents. IATI stands for ‘International Aid Transparency Initiative’ and is a global attempt to make aid delivery and the fight against poverty more effective through the sharing of information. IATI isn’t the first attempt in this direction: you may have heard of CEFDA (Common Exchange Format for Development Activities) and IDML (International Development Markup Language) that was used in the AidData database.

The initiative to develop IATI as an information standard to share data about development activities grew out of the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (2008). The idea then was to have a set of standards by which international donors could be evaluated in their pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals. An initial group of fourteen international donors signed an agreement to create the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which had as its first task to develop a common format for sharing information on aid streams. The first version of the standard (1.01) was developed after consultation with aid donors, governments and NGOs from all over the globe and officially released in Paris in 2011. Since then, a growing number of governments, foundations, NGOs, international governmental organisations such as UNDP and World Bank etc. have been publishing data on their activities in the IATI format. Since the official launch of the first version of the standard there have been a number of improvements, each made after consultation with the publishing organisations, which have led to various updates of the standard. Version 1.01 was followed by 1.02, 1.03, 1.04 and 1.05 and then a major upgrade followed to version 2.01. This led to version 2.02 which is currently in use and at the moment the consultation round is going on in preparation of version 2.03.

So after this evolution over the past six years, what is IATI currently trying to achieve?

The main focus of IATI is to provide a good overview of what kind of aid is delivered (or will be delivered) at different places by different actors. These actors can include governments of both the donor and recipient countries, international NGOs, local NGOs, companies, non-profit organisations, faith-based organisations, individual initiatives...

The hope and expectation is that this overview will lead to a common strategy and vision so that different initiatives work complementary to each other and reinforce each other. This is necessary for instance to avoid that everyone starts working on the same spot, hindering each other and pouring too many resources in one location, while people in other locations remain in dire need for assistance. This would lead to a more coordinated effort that will make aid delivery to a country or region more effective.

This aid transparency must also benefit the recipient countries. In order to enable developing countries to coordinate and plan the different efforts that will take place in their territory, it is vital that they know who wants to do what where and when. At the moment this is very difficult, as there are many sources of information and not every organisation informs local authorities about what they want to do - although in some countries there may be very good reasons to avoid government interference.

The second main goal of aid transparency is to offer citizens, civil society organisations, journalists, scientists, etc. information about where the funds - provided by government agencies or by private donations - go to. Who is involved in the transferring and spending of this money? Where does it end up? What did it buy? Who received it? What changes did it bring about? Were the projects successful?

The common information exchange standard developed by IATI makes this exchange of information possible. Since its release it has become THE internationally agreed standard of information exchange about aid delivery. In 2016 a total of 473 organisations (government and private donors, international institutions (UN, EU…), non-profit organisations etc.) have published information about their projects and activities in the IATI format.

When organisations publish information about their activities following the IATI standard, this information is structured in a specific way so that both the software at the sending and the receiving end agree about where to find the title of the project, the financial information, the location of the project, the results of the project and so on.

Technically, a document published in the IATI standard is a XML document (similar to HTML which is used to create web pages) and it lists a number of field names. Each field contains text or a value (we’ll go deeper into the technicalities of the standard in a future article). In essence, these XML documents are text documents that can be created with different instruments: an ordinary word processor, special Excel templates, specialised software (including Logframer) or web services that publish data from an organisation's database directly into the format.

These IATI documents then have to be published on a public location – normally the organisation’s website – and then they must be registered in the IATI Registry. This serves as a big list that allows anyone to see what information is available for which organisation in a specific country or region. If you want to see that information, you can download the IATI file of your choice and go through the information. There are also a number of tools to help you search, get lists of basic information and analyse – but more on that in the next article.

 

Links:

Logframer by the Numbers - 31000 Downloads and Counting

Logframer 3.0 is out and it's the sixth version in total. So how is this project going?

Well of course monitoring is important for any project and I wouldn't be allowed to call myself a M&E expert if I hadn't devised a monitoring system for Logframer as well. So here are some of the main results

 

Logframer has been downloaded and installed over 31000 times

Since its launch in May 2013 (four years ago), Logframer has been downloaded more than 31000 times. That is pretty huge for specialist software aimed at project managers in international assistance.

Logframer download stats

As you can see in the chart, most people use the logframer.eu site (some 25.000 downloads in total - the blue line). Logframer is also available from a number of download sites such as Softpedia, Download.com, FindMySoft, FileCluster, etc. For my stats I track seven to eight of the more popular ones, but there are many more mirror sites out there that are not included in this list. (Beware for some mirror sites because they lure you in with free software and gain money by including all kinds of unwanted applications in their download files).

You can see the dramatic jump since November 2016, when version 2.0 was released. This was by far the most popular version:

Average monthly download

In defense of version 1.3: it had to keep the fire going for two years while I completely revised the code and developed version 2.0. But still, version 2.0 managed to get more downloads in half a year than its older brother did in two years:

Downloads of each version

With Logframer 2.0's excellent results and the release of version 3.0 a couple of weeks ago, it's clear that 2017 is going to be a record year:

Total download figures per year

The number of downloads for the first six months (well almost; the first five-and-a-half-months) of 2017 are almost as high as the total number of downloads for 2016 - which was a record-breaking year.

 

People from all over the world use Logframer

When I started working on Logframer my hope was that it would be a useful tool for grassroots organisations as well as larger organisations and that it would be used in developing countries and donor countries alike. And this is the case, as you can see in the map below:

People from all over the world visit the site (the map shows the number of visitors per country, not the number of downloads). People of Greenland and Turkmenistan are not fond of project management and I urgently have to send an e-mail to the five people in North Korea that are allowed to use a computer about what a great application it is.

The top twenty of visitor countries shows a nice mix of people from developing and donor countries:

1 India 11 Belgium
2 United States 12 Indonesia
3 France 13 Bangladesh
4 Kenya 14 Ethiopia
5 United Kingdom 15 Italy
6 Philippines 16 South Africa
7 Canada 17 Germany
8 Pakistan 18 Nepal
9 Australia 19 Nigeria
10 The Netherlands 20 Uganda

So all in all I'm quite happy with these figures so far, which exceed my expectations by some margin. I hope Logframer 3.0 will have a bright future and also that Logframer will attrackt more people from Spanish speaking countries once the interface has been translated.

 

Logframer 3.0 preview

The official launch of version 3.0 of Logframer isn't too far off now, it's a matter of days now. So it's high time for the traditional preview of the new features of this version.

Originally, version 3.0 was supposed to be version 2.1 - meaning that it was supposed a minor upgrade instead of a major new version. But well, one thing led to another and before I knew it I had made so many changes that I figured it made more sense to release it as a new major update.

The one thing that led to many others was the ability to read and create IATI activity and organisation documents. IATI is the International Aid Transparency Initiative: it aims to clarify where aid money comes from and where and how it is spent. Amongst other things, this will empower local governments who will have a better understanding and overview of the aid that is coming their way or that has already been delivered in their country. But IATI also aims to inform the public at large, journalists, researchers, etc. To enable this exchange of information, IATI has created an information standard, i.e. a way of presenting information in a standardised, digital format. In some countries, NGOs are required by their respective governments to produce IATI activity files about all their projects as well as annual reports about the funding of the organisation as a whole.

IATI is picking up speed, but there aren't a lot of tools to produce IATI compliant files. But now Logframer can create such files, and the best thing is that you don't have to do anything particularly complicated: just develop your project in Logframer, push a button and presto! Your IATI activity file is ready for publication!

Create an IATI activity file or organisation file at the push of a button

The great thing is that unlike most other tools, you don't need to copy-paste all that information from your project from the project's documentation into the tool.

To make sure all the information required by IATI can be developed in Logframer, a number of changes had to be made to the Project Information window. The bulk of the changes can be found here:

The new Project Information window

In the new Description tab you can indicate the phase your project's in. Content-wise you can indicate what type of project this is, what sectors it deals with and provide a short (or long) description of the project and the context you're working in.

Another improvement in this version of Logframer is the inclusion of (dynamic) maps. You can indicate the location of your intervention zones, target groups and (partners') offices on Bing Maps.

Draw a rectangle, circle or polygon around an area

Another new addition is the Funding tab. You can list funding sources, add information about budget lines and calls for proposals, make a list of contractual obligations such as deadlines for reporting, external audits & evaluations, etc.

A key element in aid transparency is to provide information about transactions and show how money moves from the donor to the NGO to its partners to beneficiaries in the field.

Information about a transfer from HQ to a field office

What struck me when I first learned about IATI is how much information the Activity standard shares with the Logframer object model - in fact this was the reason why I started to add this capability of producing IATI files in the first place. But there is of course also information that is specific for aid transparency, which can be found in the IATI specific tab

A main worry was that the novice user of Logframer, or someone who just wants to create a (simple) project, would get lost in all these additional fields aiming for aid transparency. Logframer is not only used by NGO people but also by businesses, non-profits in other fields than international assistance, various government agencies, etc. So an important new addition was the introduction of view modes. Logframer now has four view modes:

  • Basic view mode: this focuses on the main elements: the logframe, planning and budget along with the short description of your project; the identification of your target groups and partners; and the planning of your monitoring. By default the detail panes are hidden but you can show them by pressing <Ctrl><D>.
  • Advanced view mode: in this mode you can include all kinds of detailed information about your project, including the location of intervention zones and the funding sources for your project. Some dialog windows and panes also offer more information. IATI-specific information is not shown.
  • IATI activity: in addition to all the options of the advanced view mode, this mode adds fields and lists to include information that you may need to make a report compliant to International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards.
  • IATI organisation: this mode allows you to create the (yearly) IATI organisation report. It focuses on the expenses of your organisation during the past (three) years and your budgetary forecast for the next (three) years.

The view mode can be found in the File toolbar. The File toolbar of version 2.0 was split up in a modified File toolbar and a new Reports toolbar:

The new File toolbar in 'Basic' view mode

The new Reports toolbar

You may notice the 'My organisation' button in the File toolbar. You can now create a separate file with information about your organisation that Logframer loads every time you start the application. You can use this information in your various projects - in fact your organisation is automatically added as the lead organisation in the list of partner organisations. You can also add a link to a picture file with your logo, which will consequently appear in the interface (see the Facilidev logo above in the Project Information window).

The My Organisation dialog window allows you to include your own logo

You can then include this information in the headers and/or footers of your reports

As said earlier, most of the changes can be found in the Project Information window. Some minor improvements were made in the logframe, planning and budget windows - mainly removing some bugs found by users since the release of version 2.0. However when you use Logframer to create an IATI organisation file, not only do you need to be able to provide your organisation's budget but also an overview of its expenses over the past couple of years. A new Expenses window was added to the interface, but it is only available when you work in IATI organisation mode:

The expenses window

Last but not least, you can use Logframer in a new language. Logframer 3.0 is also available in German thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers from Applicatio Training and Management in Hamburg. A big thank you to this team.

Stay tuned for the official release of version 3.0 in a couple of days!

RAID – how the environment affects your project (and how to prepare your team)

When we design a project we hope everything will go as planned. The weather will be nice, the suppliers will bring everything on time, there will be money in the bank, our well-trained staff will finish everything on time and there will be a beautiful rainbow over our work site.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this many times in our carreers. But every so often, things may go wrong. There may be errors or accidents, or simply things we hadn’t thought of or taken sufficiently into account. Or maybe we were aware that something just like this might happen, but we didn’t really consider what we could or should do in such an event. The fact is, there are many ways in which the context or the environment in which we work may influence our project. The environment in this case doesn't refer just to the natural environment. It is about any factor that can influence your project, including human factors but also political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, etc. This influence may even be positive – great! – but can be negative and it can be expected or unexpected. We must be aware of this and try and prepare for it.

When you use a logical framework-based approach, you will know about the fourth column that contains the risks and assumptions. The good thing about logframes is that they explicitely take the (potential) influence of the environment into account. When you design a project, you understand what is necessary for your activities to be succesful and lead to tangible results that add up to the realisation of the central objective (purpose) of your project. The fourth column and the first column of the logframe have an if…then… relationship: if these pre-conditions hold true then we can do our activities. If we do our activities and the next set of assumptions hold true then the activities will produce the desired results our outputs. If we have all the necessary outputs and the next group of assumptions hold true, we will realise the main objective(s) of our project. And if a final set of assumptions hold true our project will contribute to a greater good.

if...then... relationship between the last and first columns

Identifying assumptions (and risks as a kind of negative assumptions) is important to create awareness about critical success factors that are external to the project and often beyond our control. But how do you deal with actual problems that arise? What possible action can we take? Which alternatives exist? Who should take action? Who can help us? Who or what may obstruct us?

Originally the logical framework was only meant to be used during the planning stage, but gradually it became both a project design and management (including monitoring and reporting) instrument. In the same vein it’s important to consider how you will deal with incertainties and this influence from the environment not only during the formulation of the project, but also during its execution.

One interesting tool is to use a RAID log. The RAID acronym stands for Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies. LFA, PCM and RBM users will know about risks and assumptions, but RAID identifies two other types of factors: issues (problems that raise during execution) and dependencies (from others or previous projects). These elements are not only four different types of influence; they also occur during different phases of a project.

Risks are events that may have a negative impact on the project. You can try to identify risks as much as possible during the design phase. Risks may or may not occur during the execution phase and it’s therefore important to follow them up. A specific tool that is used in Results Based Management (RBM) for this purpose is the Risk Register.

Assumptions are the situations, events, conditions or decisions which are necessary for the success of the project, but which are largely or completely beyond the control of the project's management. Assumptions are identified during the design phase and at that moment you can think of ways to deal with them so your project can start up. If there are any critical assumptions, it’s possible that you won’t be able to start the project at all – unless you redesign it completely, or postpone it until the circumstances have changed.

Issues are problems that you have to deal with on the very moment they present themselves in order to ensure your project runs smoothly. Issues occur during the execution of the project. They are not things that may occur like risks, but actual problems that you encounter

Dependencies are things (output) that your project needs from another project or partner. It’s also possible that another project depends on output of your project. Dependencies can have an influence during the design phase (because your project can’t start without certain external outputs) or during  the execution phase. They can also influence the course of future projects because they depend on the results of your project.

The RAID log helps you identify possible or actual risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies and plan what action you can take to deal with the situation should it occur. If there is an unexpected issue you can describe what you did to solve for future reference (learning). A RAID log can include the following pieces of information:

  • To identify risks you use the Risk Register (see RBM). It helps you to calculate a Risk percentage based on the likelihood that the event will occur and the impact it would have on the project. Each risk must be described and the steps to take if it occurs can be described (scenario). It’s also important to be clear of who will be responsible in such an event (risk owner). There are different strategies to deal with a risk: you can try to to avoid the risk, reduce or share its consequences, try to transfer the consequences to someone else (insurance company, emergency services) or simply accept the consequences.            
  • The assumptions list includes the reason for the assumption, how you will validate whether it influences your project, how it may impact your project, how you've dealt with this assumption in the design of your project and who is the owner for this process.
  • The issues log includes a description of each issue, the impact it has on the project and how serious this is (does it threathen the realisation of the project). It’s also important to note what you did to deal with the issue (for future learning).
  • The dependencies log specifies the type and possible impact of each dependency, what deliverables you expect and when, how you will deal with the situation if these necessary inputs don't show up and who is responsible for dealing with such a situation (the owner).

If you use Logframer for your project design and management, you will find the RAID log integrated in the Details pane of the fourth column. When you click on an item in the Risks and Assumptions column you can select whether this item is a risk, assumption or dependency in the Details pane on the bottom (if it’s not visible press <Ctrl><D>).

Information for the risk register in the Details pane

Here you can register all the information you need to identify and manage risks, assumptions and dependencies. You won’t find ‘Issues’ in the list because by definition issues can’t be foreseen.

In the ‘Reports’ section of the File toolbar you can either print the risk register, assumptions list or dependencies list or export it to MS Word or Excel. The fact that you can export the Risk Register to Excel is particularly interesting, because it allows you to periodically re-assess your risks and update the list of risks as well as your assessment of the risk level and potential impact over the course of the project. This helps you maintain vigilance for potential risks and also to understand how the risk percentage increases or decreases over time. This will enable you in turn to be prepared and take appropriate action should such an event occur.

Risk register exported to MS Excel

For more information about how to work with risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies in Logframer, see this section in the Logframer manual: Managing Risks, Assumptions and Dependencies.

If you haven't already, you can download Logframer 2.0 from the download page. Logframer is open source software, is completely free and comes with no string attached.

Example projects

As you may have noticed, Logframer 2 offers a lot of possibilities and it may take a while before you know and understand them all (even if you are one of those rare people who actually reads a manual).

So after popular demand I've decided to post the projects I use for testing the software and writing the online/offline manuals on a new page (version française ici). You will find a new link in the Help pages as well as on the Download page to the Logframer examples page.

For the moment, most examples are in english, but in the future I will post more examples here. I'm also willing to post any example projects that you would be willing to share with other people, so feel free to contact me if you have a project to share.

Bug: exporting the logframe to an existing Word document

A user reported a problem when you want to export the logical framework to an existing MS Word document

Exporting the logframe to the end of a Word document

When you want to export the logframe and insert it at the end of an existing document, Logframer stops the process and gives an error message. Exporting the logframe to a specific bookmark does work however.

This problem was solved and I made a new build of Logframer 2.0 that I published on the download page of this site.

To remedy this problem, you have to re-install Logframer so the new build will replace the earlier version:

  1. Go to the Download page
  2. Click on the green Download button
  3. When the installer has been saved on your computer, double click on 'logframer_20_setup.exe' to start the installation process.

Many thanks to the person who was so kind to make me aware of this problem. If you encounter a similar problem, feel free to use the contact form on this site to report it. When you do report a bug, please give a detailed description of the circumstances in which it occured. This helps me enormously in finding and eliminating the problem. Good user feed-back is essential to improve Logframer and to iron out all the bugs.

 

First bug detected: Logframer halts when adding/removing outputs or activities

Today a user made me aware of a problem in Logframer 2.0. When your logical framework has more than one purpose (or outcome, or specific objective) then you may run into troubles when you try to add or delete outputs or activities.

I was able to remedy this problem and I made a new build of Logframer 2.0 that I published on the download page of this site.

To remedy this problem, you have to re-install Logframer so the new build will replace the earlier version:

  1. Go to the Download page
  2. Click on the green Download button
  3. When the installer has been saved on your computer, double click on 'logframer_20_setup.exe' to start the installation process.

That's all there is to it. Thank you to the person who was so kind to warn me of this problem. If you encounter a similar problem, feel free to use the contact form on this site to report it. When you do report a bug, please give a detailed description of the circumstances in which it occured. This helps me enormously in finding and eliminating the problem. Good user feed-back is essential to keep improving Logframer and to iron out all the bugs.

Windows SmartScreen blocks installation

Some people have reported that they were unable to download and install Logframer because they got a warning from Microsoft SmartScreen:

Windows SmartScreen warning

There is no reason to worry, this happens because SmartScreen checks of list of known applications. If an application has a bad reputation, it is blocked. The problem is that young, new applications - such as Logframer 2 - are not known yet by Microsoft and therefore haven't got any reputation (good or bad) yet. So by default they are blocked.

Luckily, it's relatively easy to install Logframer anyway. Here are a couple of articles that explain how you can install an application anyway:

You can also turn of SmartScreen if you want. It is not a virus scanner, it just checks for an application's reputation. So if you have a decent virus scanner installed (and you should have one) then you are perfectly save.

 

 

Pages