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.



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