The use of International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data in country systems is one of the most important frontiers when it comes to drawing value for decision-making from the significant amounts of data now available. More than 700 organisations now publish details on their contributions to sustainable development, including both development and humanitarian activities, to the IATI Standard. Integration and use of this data in country aid information management systems (AIMS) and processes is therefore a significant opportunity and priority, as reflected in IATI’s data use strategy and DI’s own research.
In this context, Development Initiatives was pleased to partner with Development Gateway to pilot an effort to support technical capacity and practical ability to use IATI data within country systems in Senegal and Madagascar. Generously supported by UNICEF and focused around import of their data during the pilot phase, this involved the placement, training and accompaniment of Aid Management Fellows in the foreign aid units of both governments. Development Gateway, with their long-standing experience in national aid management systems, were leading the overall effort, while DI contributed its technical expertise in IATI.
You can read the full report about the experience and lessons learned. A summary report was also developed, which includes a series of questions and answers that development partners and government partners might ask when considering using IATI data in local AIMS. Two country-specific reports for Madagascar and Senegal on strengthening the capacity to use IATI in AIMS were also produced. Please also have a look at Development Gateway’s blog and reflections on how we have progressed in making the ‘publish once, use often’ dream a reality.
As detailed in the full report, the pilot delivered important results and learnings. For example, use of IATI data in Senegal’s Aid Management Platform resulted in adding data on more than US$200m in donor commitments and almost the same amount in disbursements to the data previously available to the government. In Madagascar, there was significantly more project data in the IATI file than in the country’s Aid Management Platform. While of course a number of technical challenges had to be overcome in the data import in Madagascar and Senegal, both countries have started taking important steps to help donor organisations roll out IATI-based reporting.
As part of the IATI Secretariat, Development Initiatives leads on the management and technical implementation of the IATI Standard. In the pilots, Development Initiatives together with Development Gateway developed an IATI-AIMS Training Guide (available in English and French) that was used to train the two IATI fellows on how to understand, review and prepare IATI data to be used by the government. So, how did the training go?
There are many reflections and lessons learnt from the training phase that we can mention here, but we have decided to outline two in particular:
- Language: You may immediately think there is a language barrier, in terms of the different languages spoken by the trainers (English) and the Aid Management Fellows (French) as well as all most guidance on the IATI website being in English. While this is indeed a challenge for some IATI users, for this particular training it was actually not a problem as the fellows were speaking a bit of English and were working very well together. What was challenging, however, was speaking the same ‘IATI language’. There is such a diverse interpretation of what is meant by transactions, such as ‘disbursement’ or ‘commitment’ by the different users of the data (e.g. UNICEF headquarters, UNICEF country office and government staff). Before using and interpreting the data, it was really important to align the definitions so that there is common understanding and we are able to speak the same ‘IATI language’. We need to create a much simpler narrative that can be understood by all partners, and in all languages, and this pilot contributed to making the first step of the definition mapping.
- Importance of partnership, feedback loops and sustaining IATI knowledge: It is not easy to be trained in IATI in a week. This project required joint efforts from many partners collaborating to make it work: Development Gateway, Development Initiatives, the two Aid Management fellows, UNICEF country office staff, UNICEF headquarters staff, and local government staff in Senegal and Madagascar. Face-to-face training with the fellows in Dakar really helped, as well as their commitment and eagerness to learn. The partnerships were already built so there was no issue of trust. Everyone recognised the amount of effort invested in this project and worked really hard to make it work. So, how do we make sure that IATI knowledge is sustained in both Senegal and Madagascar and scaled up in other countries? This project showed that to do so we need to ensure that there is an improved feedback mechanism between IATI publishers (UNICEF headquarters and country office) and IATI users (government), that there is a localised support structure, that knowledge is shared widely and maintained within each organisation.Training people locally who would then be able to share and spread the knowledge more widely (as done by the fellows) is needed to sustain the IATI knowledge and improve the use of IATI data in government.
Overall, the project demonstrated a practical approach to increasing the use of IATI data in country AIMS. Experience is building with comparable and different experience across other contexts, too, for example in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Going forward, we are keen to keep learning from these and to collaborate with national and international partners to realise the value of IATI data for decision-making in development efforts.