NGO Aid Map: The Tricky Question of Use

One of the first questions we get about NGO Aid Map – an initiative that pools and shares data about the work of InterAction members around the world – is, “Who visits the site?” A close second is, “How are people using the site?” Though we have some information about this, these are both surprisingly difficult questions to answer.

The “Who”

This is what we know about who visits NGO Aid Map: Users include individuals from NGOs, U.S. government agencies, academics/students, multilateral organizations and other donors, host country governments, businesses and the media. While we hear most frequently from students and researchers, we assume NGOs are our largest user group.

Our users come from all over the world, but about half are from the United States. Not surprisingly, most of our users are in English-speaking countries (especially the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia). In what we take as a good sign of the sites’ relevance, the top sources of traffic vary depending on the sub-site (Haiti, Food Security and Horn of Africa). For example, for Haiti Aid Map the second highest source of traffic after the United States is Haiti. And for the Horn of Africa Aid Map, Kenya and Ethiopia are the third and fourth highest sources of traffic.

This is what we wish we knew: Which types of organizations visit the site most frequently? Which specific organizations, and who within those organizations, are visiting the site? What are they looking for? Who are our regular users? To help answer these questions, we plan to add a temporary pop-up box to gather information on users. We are very open to hearing about other creative ways of gathering this information.

The “How”

Our evidence of the use of the site is mostly anecdotal, gleaned from emails we receive from users, the survey we conducted in November 2011, and conversations with InterAction members and others. At the beginning of this initiative, we had very specific ideas about how the data on the site would or could be used.

To test those assumptions, in our survey we asked people, “What have you used the information on the site for?” The graph below shows their responses:

 

Though most people reported simply using the site to learn more about NGOs’ work, we found it promising that some were also using it for some of the purposes we’d envisioned. People also provided specific examples of how they had used the data:

  • We have an exercise planned in which workshop participants will visit the Haiti map in order to ascertain what other organizations are working in our target zones, and thus what gaps in programming/actors exist.
  • We have also used the site to assist with coordination efforts, by introducing our local partner to potential resources available in country that might complement ours.
  • I have referred other INGO [international NGO] workers to the site, especially when they are looking for partners. I have also referred local individuals and community based organizations to the site to see which organizations are working in their neighborhood.

Other uses we've learned of: For organizations new to a country or area, the site provides a quick way to get the “lay of the land.” Organizations have referred donors to the site, to provide information about their organization’s own work and to show donors how their funding contributes to an overall aid effort. Some organizations, including a USAID Mission and the agriculture ministry of a host country government, reported using the site to cross-check data they have collected on aid activities. One U.S. government agency mentioned that the site could be useful for identifying which organizations should be consulted during the development of country or sectoral strategies.

To us, stories like these demonstrate the great potential of NGO Aid Map. Yet we need more evidence.

When asked about how the data on the site is being used, we would love to be able to answer with more than individual anecdotes, however powerful these may be. In addition to “case studies,” are there any indicators that we could be tracking as proxies of use? How are others addressing this challenge?

We also want to be able to show how people have acted on the data. This would involve taking the stories above one step further. In the first example, did the gap analysis exercise lead to better decisions about where to start new programs? In the second, did the local partner actually find other organizations to work with? And in the third, did the site help those local individuals and community-based organizations hold aid agencies in their neighborhoods accountable? If not, why not?

For several years, the main focus of transparency advocates has been increasing the availability of aid data. The success of efforts like the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) – which has 112 publishers and counting – means that there is now a considerable amount of data out there. Recognizing that use or demand has not kept up with supply, attention is now turning to what needs to be done to make aid data truly accessible and useful to different groups of people (here is an example of one such effort). With this in mind, we will be thinking harder about what we can do to ensure that the publication of this data actually leads to better results.


Laia Grino is Manager of Transparency, Accountability and Results at InterAction. Read the other posts in this blog series: Two Years Older and WiserWe Built It. Have They Come?, We Built It. Have They Come (Part 2: Making It Easy to Participate), and Balancing More Data with Data QualityFollow us on Twitter at @NGOAidMap.