Roads to results in IATI

Last week, at the Partos event for IATI implementation by Dutch NGOs, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that publishing data in IATI format would be part of the upcoming funding regime. That immediately led to many questions on how to publish, especially with respect to results of activities.

Some of my reflections

IATI lets a publisher choose their own notion of “activity”: it is basically what an organisation considers a “unit of work” (a project, a programme). A pragmatic choice as advocated by Caroline Kroon of Cordaid is “if it has a project number in our administration, it’s an activity”.

An activity can be targeting one of more “recipient countries“, and one or more “sectors“. It can also have one or more “results” (and results can have quantitative “indicators“).

For recipient countries and sectors, it’s possible to specify percentages to divide the total budget over those countries or sectors.

But for results, it’s not possible to indicate in which country the results were achieved.

Mark Smallwood (2008, CC-BY-SA)

Three roads to choose from

In order to be able to link results and countries (or sectors), we can do three things:

“Disaggregate”

As a publisher, you could add “sub activities” to your main activity, in such a way that each activity targets only one country.

So an activity such as this with 9 recipient countries would lead to 9 additional sub projects, one for each country, if we want to report results per country.

“Delegate”

As a publisher, you could also help (or force) your implementing partners to publish data in IATI format. If they only work in one country, they would report results for that country, and you would “only” have to make sure your activities properly refer to each other, to allow aggregating the results.

In that same activity above, there is just one implementing organisation, so it would mean either this organisation publishes 9 separate activities, or in turn delegates it to their partners (if there are partners).

“Improve the standard”

Both ways above come with difficulties:

  • the semantics (and pragmatics) of defining your “activity” gets lost, and so the complexity of interpreting data sets increases;
  • it leads to a lot of copies of the same information in each sub activity, resulting in bloated data sets

The activity above has a single, simple, narrative result, which starts with

Results achieved as of March 2013: 77 containers were delivered to the eight beneficiary countries.

If all you wanted to add is a break-down of how many of the 77 containers went to each of the 9 recipient countries, you’d want a simple way to link those numbers to a country.

Further concerns

If you also want to add links from results to your own “theory of change” model (e.g. through your own sector codes), to feed into an IATI-based tool to monitor your own work, you’d have to also split activities according to those sector codes. Again, in the example activity: 9 countries, 3 sectors… up to 27 sub-activities?

It’s not the only reason to consider a redesign of the results part of the IATI standard. More concerns and quizes to follow!

In the meantime, as an organisation, do look at the existing standard and your own monitoring needs: you can do a lot with tailored tools to publish and use the data. All those experiences lead to additional insights to feed into that redesign process!

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