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Cordaid is one of the largest international development organisations in the Netherlands. It has a nearly 100 year history of helping people affected by poverty, disaster, injustice and violence and is currently working on projects in 35 countries. In recent months it’s been applying a lot of energy to reshaping its operations and organisational culture into a more transparent, modern and effective model, with a little help from Akvo.

A major part of this process has been the development of a new communications strategy for the organisation, with, at its heart, the integration of an open data vision. In other words, a shift to a more prominent, detailed and timely publication of all its projects and activities, telling the story of what’s happening on the ground, as it happens. Opening up its activities to public scrutiny in this way is crucial not only to keep supporters engaged with its work, but also to enable colleagues within Cordaid and across its vast network of over 800 partner organisations to stay informed of what each other are doing. It ensures that Cordaid meets International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards, and puts it quite a long way ahead of many other organisations in its field.

As a member of the Connect4Change consortium, Cordaid has been using Akvo RSR to publish projects online since 2011. But since last autumn our partner and RSR teams have been working together furiously with the tech team at Cordaid, in conjunction with their web design agency Fabrique, to create a new application programming interface (API – a kind of digital socket that other things can plug into) that sends information to RSR on Cordaid projects from their internal systems, and subsequently delivers this to the charity’s newly redesigned website. This involved making several changes to RSR including strengthening the API and the addition of some new fields: IATI activity identifiers, field partner sub-types, and partner project identifiers (allowing partners to add their own internal IDs for projects).
Photo: Cordaid, ‘Support local production and processing‘ project, Haiti
Cordaid’s new site went live earlier this year and Caroline Kroon of Cordaid came to our team week in Amsterdam in January to tell those of us not directly involved in its creation more about it and the wider context of the cultural and structural changes that have been taking place within the charity. Shifting from the traditional NGO communications approach of highlighting a few good-news case studies to a commitment to publish everything going on in real time is no minor undertaking. It requires quite a fundamental change in attitude and a lot of momentum and time to percolate throughout a large organisation with an extensive partner network. Caroline has been working on communicating to people in the field that there is a purpose to telling the story of their projects as they unfold. If something goes wrong and goals and deadlines are not met, for example if a war breaks out or a storm destroys buildings and equipment, it is far better to describe this at the time rather than giving it the appearance of an excuse after the event.

Cordaid.org is still a work in progress. More project information is being uploaded all the time and there is of plenty further fine-tuning to be done to the site. We’re currently working on building an application on top of the existing content management system, which will enable Cordaid staff to insert project information directly into their own content management system. The first RSR training workshops for Cordaid staff and partners are being planned. Meanwhile, we’re already working with another Akvo partner on building a similar site to roll out later this year.
Jo Pratt is communications manager at Akvo.
Thanks to Charlotte Soedjak, Akvo project officer, for help with this blog.
(Updated 13/12/13 with new image due to change in blog formats.)