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There is little doubt that the reporting standard developed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is heading for the mainstream across the international development sector. Funders and donor agencies are increasingly requiring implementing organisations to report their activities via the IATI standard – no IATI, no money. Most grants from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for example, require NGOs to publish to IATI as part of their grant compliance. The Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs (DGIS) is now making the same stipulation. This means that many organisations that have not already adopted the IATI standard are now looking at doing so.

Why embrace IATI?
Funder requirements aside, there are very many good reasons to do it. 

Before IATI, a tremendous amount of information about development aid organisations and activities was filed away in reports that were not accessible, comparable or manipulable, meaning their value to inform decisions was limited or lost. The IATI XML standard lets computers understand and exchange this data. This increases the availability and usefulness of the information exponentially, greatly benefitting not only the publisher, but everyone else too. It means that your work is published in ways that allow it to be studied, transferred, assimilated, used and built-on in new forms of visualisations. 

This has the potential to shift development activities to a whole new level. It means NGOs can show people the work they’re doing and be accountable to their donors; organisations can plan and collaborate around each other’s work and learn from each other; governments can know which organisations are doing what in their own countries; and citizens can hold governments to account. All of which has the net effect of increasing the speed and effectiveness of development interventions. 

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Where to start?
So IATI is ‘A Good Thing’. However implementing it can be a daunting prospect. It demands not only technical processes to be put in place, but – if you really want to reap the benefits – sometimes also a fairly fundamental change in an organisation’s information and communication culture. Where do you start?

The good news is that software tools are coming together that help you and others work with your data in previously unimagined ways. And connectivity has never been better. Also, as IATI is a truly collaborative, international initiative, there’s a whole community of support and a lot of good examples to follow. 

IATI can be rolled out in stages: you don’t have to publish everything all in one go. Starting small and applying your learning from that experience as you move forwards can be really helpful. 

Akvo has been establishing common data platforms since 2007 and we have a lot of experience of helping organisations to navigate the path towards greater openness and transparency. Akvo RSR is now fully integrating with IATI which means that the process of reporting via the IATI standard is embedded into existing workflows – this makes it all much more straightforward.

The right software is essential but it’s also about staff training, and creating an example for colleagues to experience and emulate. Once people can see tangible benefits, they are much more likely to engage with the process.

We’ve created a new web page intended to demystify the IATI standard a little bit. If IATI is on your agenda for 2015, it could be worth a read. If you’d like to have a conversation with someone at Akvo about publishing via IATI, Marten, Josje, Kasper and Adrian would be happy to help (you can email them using their firstname[at]akvo.org). 

Jo Pratt is communications manager at Akvo, based in the UK.