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IATI: What is it good for?! (Surprisingly A Lot)

In the summer of 2014, I was part of a USAID-organized, US Government-funded four-person, three-country assessment to learn how local stakeholders in Bangladesh, Ghana and Zambia would use International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data as provided by foreignassistance.gov. These are our findings:

Quick background

IATI is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, development, and humanitarian resources in order to increase their effectiveness in tackling poverty...Organisations implement IATI by publishing their aid information in IATI’s agreed electronic format (XML) – usually on their website – before linking it to the IATI Registry.- http://www.aidtransparency.net/about

The US Government signed onto IATI in 2011 and foreignassistance.gov is the website that publishes US Foreign assistance data to the IATI registry.

1. Practically no one had heard of IATI

IATI WordleSeriously. It was bad. Even staff from government ministries who had members on the IATI steering committee had never heard of IATI. I think our team visits did a ton for IATI awareness!

And we interviewed a lot of people. Representatives from Ministries of Finance, Line Ministries (like Health or Agriculture). Anti-corruption offices and members of parliament. Anti-corruption advocacy organizations. Service and Advocacy NGOs. ICT4D firms. Banks and accountants. People who should have known about IATI and its goals.

The sole exception was in Bangladesh, in the office of Economic Relations Division (ERD), because the Senior Secretary, Mohammad Mejbahuddin, is on the IATI secretariat. While there, we were able to see the beta launch of the Aid Information Management System created by ERD and UNDP, which was really exciting.

2. Everyone interviewed desperately wants data that IATI covers

Across the board, we found strong interest in IATI data. We downloaded a spreadsheet from the foreignassistance.gov site of USAID-funded transactions in their country and showed many of our interviewees. You could tell from their body language and their immediate request for a copy (which we sent them) that this was of interest. 

We also asked a lot of questions about types of data and formats and compared that with the IATI standard, and found it aligned pretty well (which is another article for another time). If donors complied fully with the IATI standard (especially breaking data out by subnational levels), the data would be highly valuable to all these different groups.

Below is a chart we put together on what different groups would use the data for (I am going to do a follow-up article, diving into each purpose and usage by stakeholders).


Finance Min.

Line Min




Advocacy NGOs

Service NGOs

Private sector





Public accountability



Civil-society participation









Business and funding opportunities





3. Data directly from the donors is highly valued

One prominent message we heard was the clear preference for data directly from donors to compare with or even use instead of data from government sources. This makes sense since many developing country governments struggle with data collection and management, and the purpose of aid transparency is partially anti-corruption. One of the goals of the AIMS in Bangladesh is to streamline data collection from donors to make it easier and to improve the accuracy of their resource management, as well as to share that data publicly.

Interviewees also wanted data from NGOs and other partners on status, outcomes and other project information.

Also other data such as government statistics, demographics or geography alongside IATI data made this data more valuable to interviewees, since you could compare donor activities by demographics or geographies. This fact indicated to us that other open data initiatives such as those supported by the World Bank and UNDP are very valuable as part of Aid Transparency.

4.  People don't know what they don't know

While everyone we spoke with expressed needs and desires for data, they said that often were not in a position to demand it, mainly because the idea that it could or should be easily available to them was new. We identified cultural issues around feelings that citizens have the right to information (many countries still do not have freedom of information laws) or that their needs for data will be respected by Government officials. Since currently in a lot of places, access to data is often controlled by gatekeepers (such as local government officials or academics), Open Data and Aid transparency are pretty culturally significant changes to existing situation about data. 

5. Data is important, but it isn't enough on its own

Everyone interviewed also agreed that direct access to IATI-type data by private citizens was unrealistic, due to cost of access and lack of skills. However, using intermediaries such as the media, community-service organizations or local government to translate this data into formats that citizens could understand was highly realistic - assuming that those groups had the skills and the access to the data.

We found a lot of digital talent in these three countries, as well as access to broadband internet (often 3G), but it is still too rare/too expensive for broad access/meeting the needs of most data users. Many governments and NGOs, for example, expressed that their staff don't have computer skills to use web-based databases, or know how to manipulate the data. There remains a huge gap in how to translate raw data into analysis.

Next Topics

  • Needs vs IATI standards
  • Deeper analysis of different usage of IATI Data
  • Ideas for moving forward with IATI
This article and associated other ones do not reflect the opinions of the US Government or USAID, who funded this assessment. For more information on the three country assessment and our formal findings, please visit https://www.usaid.gov/transparency/country-pilot-assessment

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