We have won an Honesty Oscar!

Friday last week, the ONECampaign tweeted Open for Change was nominated for an Honesty Oscar. In their own words:

The Academy Awards is a time to celebrate the best films, actors and behind-the-scenes players in Hollywood – so why not do the same for the incredible videos, infographics and songs that help fight global corruption through creativity and innovation?

ONE is teaming up with Accountability Lab for the Honesty Oscars 2014, a week-long event to honor groundbreaking people and creative that make our world more transparent and hold our governments and corporations more accountable.

Kennedy, Bertil, LinetIt definitely was great to start the weekend with the recognition for our work after the Open Data for Development Camp in Nairobi, when we produced a short video to explain our take on what makes “open development” work, and why we think it is important. A great day of filming and working with Linet, Bertil and Kennedy, and great work by Africa Interactive and VIVE Visuals.

Update March 3: we won the Honesty Oscar for “best picture”!

Honesty Oscars 2014

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Using IATI for your NGO

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) provides a standard for the exchange of information on activities, budgets and results. More and more NGOs are embracing the standard as well, and in The Netherlands, civil society is actively working with IATI:

Being involved in all these activities, and on my way to the Technical Advisory Group meeting of the IATI standard body, time to reflect on how IATI can be (or should be made) useful for civil society actors.

Cordaid’s case

Cordaid wanted to increase their transparency to the general public, and publish a lot more information about their work on their website.

They embraced IATI as a standard to connect their back-end management information systems to front-end project progress monitoring tools and to their public-facing website.

The technical infrastructure basically was ready at the beginning of 2013, and powering the web portfolio since. It took almost another year to embed “open” in the whole workflow of the organisation, and to go over a quality check (and improvement), before they felt ready to publish “raw data”.

Getting ready to publish your activities as open data gives a boost to your internal quality management.

It now is one of the richest and most detailed sets available. But what can others do with it? Cordaid set out on three Data Journeys to explore.

The untold story of Afghanistan

cordaid-map-afAccording to the public image in the media, The Netherlands is retreating from Afghanistan. And we did military and police work mostly. Heinze Havinga looked at what the data tells, to show what Cordaid is doing there: the sectors and locations they’re active in, and how much is spent. The rich descriptions allow a journalist to explore untold stories, and also immediately find the right contact details for further information.

Rich data lets a journalist find out more about what you’re doing where, and how to get more information.

Insight in the Democratic Republic of Congo

cordaid-network-cdCordaid’s business units are active throughout Congo. But who is working where? And who are the donors? Pelle Aardema looked at the details of locations and funding relations, to show a map and a network graph. For instance: The Global Fund is a big donor funding one big project, whereas the Ministry is another big donor funding a multitude of smaller projects.

Information about locations and your organisational structure paves the road to management information and insights.

The bigger picture in the sector

iati-reported-global-fundBy now, over 200 organisations publish data, so can we see the bigger picture of what is going on? My colleague Jaap-Andre and I used data profiling and data integration tools to see what we can find out. For instance: which organisations say they receive funding from the Global Fund and how much do they receive? This turned out to be hard: accurately linking across data sets and preventing double counting is hardly feasible now.

Combining data sets offers some information, but the quality and completeness should improve to make it easier and more useful.

Making IATI work better for NGOs

The IATI Standard is not set in stone: we can bring forward use cases of NGOs, and thereby help inform further development of the standard.

How can IATI be useful for:

  • internal monitoring and steering
  • exchanging information within networks and partnerships
  • communication towards the general public
  • as a basis for, or replacement of reporting to donors

A few simple steps would help a lot:

  • Providing better guidance and feedback on the use of organisation identifiers and activity identifiers will help reduce the effort to prevent double counting, and more easily let you find out (competitive) information about your donors or implementation partners.
  • Expanding the capability of the IATI standard to represent results will make it a lot easier to monitor progress of the work of your NGO or partnership, and also to show to donors and the general public what your targets and achievements are.

In The Netherlands, we are starting to research and develop these aspects in pilots, working with civil society, donors and technology providers, to propose concrete improvements based on real-world experiences in using IATI data.

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Take note (or loose notes)

I like a tablet-only travel style: going to conferences without a laptop. I usually just want to take notes, follow social media, and do email. A tablet gives me mobility, both in weight and in battery life.

But at OKCon last week, I had major fail. I have an Android tablet, and I had been using Epistle for some time: a simple but useful text editor, that nicely connected with Dropbox to make my files available on my laptop.

A recurring problem with text editing (on Android devices, at least) is the lack of undo options in almost any app. Swipe your finger slightly wrong, type a letter, and your precious text is gone. Forever.

A note-keeping app that syncs with Dropbox mitigates this risk a bit: every save creates a version that can be retrieved through Dropbox’s history.

That feeling… (photo by Simon James, CC-SA-20)

I was happily taking notes, and with each “save” saw the sync icon rotate, as usual. And then made a wrong move, and lost two days of notes.

No worries, I thought, I’ll get it back from Dropbox. But I didn’t. My notes did not exist, according to Dropbox.

A little worry turned into a big frustration when I found a blog post describing how Epistle had secretly stopped syncing. Despite the reassuring icon, nothing had been synced, and without warning. It looked like it worked. It didn’t.

In fact, the Epistle app had disappeared from the Google Play app store, and apparently had been replaced with a paid version of the same thing.

Of course there is no way I am going to pay a developer who screwed me like this. I would have, if he had made a proper call. I’ve paid for apps before, either to just get rid of ads, or because I really want to support the developer (a partial list below).

I’ve been looking for an alternative, and hopefully found it with Jota+, an editor with plugins to let it synchronise to a variety of back-end cloud services, such as Dropbox (for a fee). And with its own undo! €2.98 instead of €1.99 for the Epistle replacement. Continuing my tablet life style.

Some of the paid apps I have installed:

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The epiphany of “open” and IATI

The IATI standard is meant to make it easier to exchange and compare information about activities and funding flows in development aid worldwide. But it can be useful within a (network of) organisations as well, even if you don’t feel ready to share that data with the rest of the world (yet).

Large organisations are starting to see the benefits: adapt your internal project management system so that it contains the necessary information in the right format, then export it to IATI data from there. IATI is vendor-neutral data store

You then have an internal, vendor-independent format for your data, and have a choice of tools to put that data to use.

Cordaid project pageEarlier this year, Cordaid released a new website with information on many projects, allowing their supporters, donors and partners to see in far more detail what they are working on, what they hope to achieve, and how projects are progressing.

And last week, Oxfam Novib in the Netherlands hosted an “Open for Change open tea” and offered a sneak peek at their internal project browser. It should soon give their staff in offices around the world a better insight into what their organisation is doing in each country.

Oxfam Novib project browser previewSince it is fed with IATI data, it’s easy to also add the IATI data published by Oxfam GB. Thus, IATI becomes a format to combine all information of all Oxfam organisations across the whole network. And put it to multiple uses. Competing with single-use internal reporting standards.

“It’s the culture, stupid”

In both cases, once a few technical hurdles are overcome, the real challenge arises: organisational culture. Field staff realise that any information they enter into the system, becomes available to lots of people, sometimes almost real-time.

This epihany of what “open” is can lead to anxiety, often in the management of organisations. “Going open” also leads to a greater sense of ownership and responsibility with the people entering the data.

Instead of a black box with a communications department and sign-off procedures that mysteriously “translate” your story into something different, you get a channel to communicate directly, instantly. It’s actually what you can show your colleagues and friends: share what you’re doing.

It’s what many staff members already do with other parts of their lives, on social media like Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s deja vu all over again”

Many of the discussions around open data resemble the discussions back in the ’90s, when email got introduced in organisations. “You mean someone in our organisation could just send a text to anyone outside, without going through communications? Even if it’s a journalist or a member of the public, not a co-worker?”

Again, it was what many staff members already were doing from home: exchanging messages and exploring web forums.

Anyone who still thinks giving an employee an email addresses is a bad idea? Can you actually imagine that was a real management discussion, 15 years ago?

“You only see it when you get it”

The question is not whether “open” is going to happen, the question is how your staff prepares for it, makes use of it, and is aware of its opportunities as well as its risks. Benefit from the experiences they have with “open”, to shape how to get from sharing pictures of kids, cats and hobbies to sharing your organisation’s projects, activities and results. Make your project data available internally, show how it works with a few projects, let staff improve the data, and then publish the raw data.

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Pivotal Tracker overview

Pivotal Tracker is a great agile planning tool for “projects with issues”. But checking the various projects I participate in, just to see what we’re all working on, was a hassle.

Pivotal overviewI wanted to have a quick overview: a list of the projects I’m involved in, and the current “stories” we’re working on in each of them. Sitting nicely next to similar other “to do” lists on my dashboard page.

I found a PHP library that allowed me to quickly put together a script that does that.

And not just that: since the script downloads the data from Pivotal Tracker, it also was quite easy to store that data and have a copy that I can include in my own backup scheme, to reduce the risk of loosing it all.

Quick walk-through

The script runs regularly (with cron) on my laptop, and generates a local HTML file that I can include in my dashboard page. It shows my projects, and the unfinished stories in the current iteration of each project:

Overview with one project and one current story

When I hover over the project title or the end date of the current iteration, I see more details:

Details of the current iteration in a project

When I hover over a story in the current iteration, I can see more details about that story:

Details of the story in the list

It shows the description, and a list of the open tasks in the story as well.

Projects and stories are also links, clicking them opens (the project or the story) in a new tab.

If you think it might be useful for you too: the code is on github.

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