Debunking the Myths of IATI (that you probably believed)
In light of the level of interest in my last article introducing IATI, I sat down with two persons, Rolf Kleef and Herman Van Loon, to gain insight from the perspectives of persons experienced with matters surrounding IATI. According to them the common misconceptions about IATI are:
Myth 1: IATI is a database
‘I can just cram all my data on IATI and IATI will take care of the rest’
Rolf explains that IATI is a data exchange format to share information. It is not a database which provides a concise overview. It is up to the publisher of the data/data user to combine different data sets and decide how to deal with errors in the data, duplication of information and possible double counting due to "flows" not being linked properly.
Myth 2: IATI satisfies all reporting purposes
'I published the required data on IATI so all reporting obligations are fulfilled. My work is done’
IATI is a potential component of a reporting process, but it is not intended to be a substitute for other reporting requirements. As Rolf noted, tt can replace some of the reporting (as is now the case with grantees of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), however it is activity-focused, so it won't be able to "tell the whole story by itself". Organisations will still have to complement IATI data (and the resulting data visualisation) with case studies and the narrative behind the numbers.
Myth 3: IATI only allows for the publication of structured quantitative data
"IATI is so restrictive"
According Herman, a common misconception he encounters when explaining what IATI is, is that IATI is only about structured data (codes and financial figures).
He often hears the comment that the complexity of development cannot be captured by mere figures and codes alone (which he is not disputing by the way). As such, IATI is not adequate to tell the whole story.
The truth is that IATI provides an excellent means of adding context to structured data by:
1. Having a lot of places to add narratives (e.g. explaining details of result scores)
2. Having the option to add links to documents, pictures, websites, etc. on both the activity as the organisation level.
So the myth is that IATI is only about publishing structured quantitative data is not true. IATI also provides the means to publish all kinds of unstructured data, therefore enabling telling the whole story about activities and also about the organisations participating in those activities.
Myth 4: IATI is hard to do
Many articles and discussions on IATI still focus on the technical part of it. Rolf states that this reminds him of the early days of the web where people would talk about HTML. Nowadays persons talk about websites in terms of communication and not at all in technical terms.
Once you get beyond the technical hurdle, implementing IATI is about collecting, managing and organising information in your organisation: Who does it?, what skills are needed?, How will we use it? Organisations start to look at their own processes in a new way. IATI itself is just a vehicle.
I also reinforce Rolf's last observation that IATI is a tool that really should fall under a bigger organisational strategy. One of the NGOs that I currently work with is keen on using the IATI standard. The first thing I recommended to them was for the development of an Open Data policy and a framework for transparency and accountability (of which IATI is just one aspect). Publishing in the IATI format should be driven by a broader internal organisational process and not the other way around.
Do you also know of any other misconceptions surrounding IATI? Add your voice to the discussion by leaving a reply in the 'Comments' section below. If enough persons share a similar sentiment, I will revise the article to add additional 'myths'.
About Rolf Kleef:
Rolf is an independent facilitator, researcher and developer for organisations like Greenpeace, IICD, IDRC, APC, and Nabuur. He has worked extensively with the implementation of IATI, open data and online collaboration in civil society. Read more at https://www.drostan.org/about/
About Herman van Loon:
Herman van Loon is an Open Data and Business Intelligence Specialist at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands