Coming Soon: New Tools for Publishing and Using IATI Data

Photo By: James Coe
Report from the Open Ag Tool Accelerator Workshop

Despite all of our collective progress towards more open data and more transparent funding, the simplest questions can still stump us. Take for instance this real-life, time-sensitive inquiry: “How much does DFID spend to combat illegal fishing? Need to know by noon.” Ideally, a quick search of investment data from OECD DACD-Portal, or the IATI Registry would allow one to triangulate an answer, but not always (go ahead, try it!).

When the available data fails us, we’re left with a classic data quality chicken and a data use egg problem:

Data users: “If only the data was of better quality, we could use it.”
Data producers: “If we knew how you wanted to use it, we could improve the quality.”
Data users: “We won’t even know how we could use it until we see better data.”

...and so on.

Over the past year, the Initiative for Open Agriculture Funding has attempted to mediate this conversation by identifying specific data user needs to data producers while simultaneously giving data producers the necessary tools to meet those needs. Last week, the Open Ag partnership held a Tool Accelerator Workshop in London with the goal of jumpstarting tech tool development around four key data challenges:

  1. Improving the traceability of funding from donor to local implementers;
  2. Identifying the location of activities at the sub-national level;
  3. Increasing the granularity of investment classifications by specific sectors or crop types;
  4. Sharing project results, such as baseline, target, and actual values for key indicators.

Each of these challenges represents a gap in data quality that inhibits the usefulness and usability of IATI data in the agriculture sector as well as others.

The workshop began with several knowledge-sharing sessions followed by collaborative team work. This was the first time so many IATI-focused developers have been in the same room together, let alone working collaboratively to solve persistent IATI data quality issues. The velocity of discussion was evident in the thrice-a-day ‘standups’ where each participant shared their ideas and progress with the rest of the group. More than once, a single idea would (forgive the agriculture puns) blossom, wither, blossom again, and then bear fruit, all within just a few hours!

The following is just a sample of what happened in the short span of three and a half days:

  • Young Innovations proposed a tool that would increase collaboration by connecting implementing organizations to potential donors and partners through a simple interface. As users interacted with the organizational data, they could also provide data publishers feedback to correct misidentified organization names and broken links in the aid delivery chain.
  • Foundation Center and FAO collaborated to investigate ways their auto-classification tool could select specific sector tags and assign them to a project automatically from over 32,000 AGROVOC concepts with minimal human validation.
  • Development Gateway explored ways that their OpenAid Geocoder tool might automatically generate geocodes of sub-national locations (region, district, city or town, etc.) directly from a project document or activity description.
  • Development Initiatives explored ways to improve the user experience for data publishers and data users as they navigate through the IATI standard and various toolsets.
  • Wet Genes added IATI results data, where available, to their existing project profile pages on D-Portal. This feature didn’t exist a week ago, and now it’s live on D-Portal for the whole world to access!
  • Zimmerman & Zimmerman developed a concept for a new feature—IATI Perspective—to integrate with their existing IATI Studio to visualize funding relationships, results and other key information extracted from standard IATI data.

​At the end of the week, invitees from DFID, Bond, Development Initiatives and others came to hear each team share the tool concepts that emerged from the workshop. When asked to describe their reason for attending in as few words as possible, many simply exclaimed “We need help!” By the end of the presentations, it was clear to all that help was on the way.

Over the next several days, various team members from the Open Ag partnership will share specific insights and new ideas they took away from the workshop. Stay tuned for more as this is just the beginning!

On behalf of the Open Ag partnership, InterAction would like to thank all of the teams and organizations that participated, including:

  • ALINe
  • Development Gateway
  • Development Initiatives
  • FAO
  • Foundation Center
  • Global Giving
  • Publish What You Fund
  • Open Data Services
  • Wet Genes
  • Young Innovations
  • Zimmerman & Zimmerman

Special thanks to Newspeak House for hosting, DFID for their support in bringing the event together, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for making this important work possible.