Lessons from the Road to Transparency: Four Tips for Publishing to IATI

Screen Shot from NGO Aid Map

In honor of Sunshine Week – a weeklong celebration of open government – we’d like to share four lessons InterAction has learned in our own journey towards openness. Today, we join the more than 300 organizations that have published data on their activities according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard (view our data on the IATI Registry or a visualization of our data on NGO Aid Map). This includes our counterparts in the U.K., Ireland, Netherlands and Nepal, and several InterAction members, including CDA, ChildFund International, GlobalGiving, Pact, and Plan International USA. In doing so, we have taken another important step in making our organization more open and accountable, in line with the open information policy InterAction adopted last October.

In the blog post announcing that policy’s launch, we explained our rationale for making a commitment to greater openness and transparency. Our reasons for publishing to IATI are much the same, so I won’t repeat those here. Instead, I’d like to share four tips:

  • Adopting an open information policy first can be helpful. Not every organization publishing to IATI has adopted an open information policy. For InterAction, however, I believe this was a critical first step for two reasons. First, in adopting the policy, InterAction’s senior management signaled their commitment – both internally and externally – to improving the organization’s transparency. Having this public commitment to point to is useful in ensuring we are continuously making progress on implementation. Second, the development of the policy prompted us to have important discussions about why transparency matters specifically for InterAction, and to come to an agreement about what type of information we would and would not make public (a list of exclusions is available in our open information policy). This laid the groundwork for identifying what data we would be publishing to IATI.
  • Identify/cultivate internal champions. The commitment to publish to IATI or to be more transparent in general should not lie within one person alone. Those responsible for leading an organization’s transparency efforts should do whatever they can to identify or cultivate other internal champions. Some people will become champions for normative reasons – because they believe in the value of transparency in and of itself. Others will do so for practical reasons – because they realize how publishing to IATI either helps the organization or helps make their own work easier. At InterAction, it has been important to have both types of champions.  
  • Integrate IATI publication into existing (or needed) business processes. Just as the commitment to publish to IATI should not lie only within one person, neither should the responsibility for actually publishing. It would have taken just one or two days for one person to simply publish information on our existing grants to IATI. Instead, it took us five months. Why? To try to ensure that our publication to IATI will not be a one-off effort, we began by figuring out: (1) what information IATI calls for and what we could realistically publish based on our current systems; (2) when and where that information should be captured; and (3) who within the organization should provide that information. Based on this analysis, we’ve made changes to our grants management process to integrate the data we need for IATI publication, rather than set up an entirely separate process. An important lesson here is that, depending on how it is approached, IATI can be a very useful tool for improving an organization’s data management practices.
  • Be patient. Publishing to IATI will almost inevitably take more time than expected (especially since – at least at first –it is usually not part of anyone’s job description). But while improving an organization’s transparency does require consistent pressure, it is important to avoid turning IATI into just another reporting requirement or making the processes of openness seem like a burden. As one of my colleagues emphasized, ultimately this is about shifting organizational culture – something that takes time in any context.

InterAction is committed to publishing high-quality information on its grant-funded activities on a quarterly basis. As we work out the kinks in publishing what we’ve currently committed to, we will be thinking about how we can make the process easier and further improve the quality of our published information. As all IATI publishers should, we will also be looking at how InterAction itself can realize the full benefits of publishing. Hopefully these lessons help clear the path to transparency for other leaders (like you?!), too.