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After I attended the Developers for Development conference during my recent trip to Montreal (which I have written about here), I spent two days at the same venue participating in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Technical Advisory Group (TAG). 

By bringing together people from all over the globe with a vested interest in IATI and its future, it was possible to have some in depth discussions about the state of the IATI world as it stands today as well as looking into the future to determine where we want to go and how we’re going to get there as a community working together.

With a mix of people involved in every discussion, the level of depth we were able to delve into was fantastic. Decision and policy makers from donor and recipient countries were present, alongside the geeks and techies that have supported their IATI efforts so far. Distributed within this mix were multilaterals, civil society organisations (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with representatives also covering the spectrum of skills and experience.

I was honoured to be able to participate in these discussions and found the creative and open environment that the TAG works in to be hugely rewarding and encouraging for a standard that’s only been around for a handful of years. Everyone was fully willing to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences regardless of background, technical knowledge or position within their organisations. This allowed a much wider audience to understand the challenges that have been encountered, giving air to the problems and difficulties that many have faced in generating, publishing and consuming IATI data, and allowing these to be picked up by others who may have encountered or even solved these previously.

While it wasn’t possible to resolve all the problems everyone faced during the meetings – after all we were only together for two days – we did generate a great common understanding of community and togetherness, as well as make some remarkably solid and pragmatic plans to move forward and assist with those plans.

I felt the collaborative effort put into how we improve the work of the TAG between these meetings (the previous one was two years ago) was encouraging to say the least. We have clear plans in place to encourage more sharing and exchanging of ideas and experience, foster the sense of community within the TAG as well as provide more clear and understandable documentation to allow everyone to access the information they need or alternatively access the people who understand this information and can help with onboarding or implementation.

One topic that was repeatedly highlighted was the quality of data being submitted to the registry. This came up time and again as one of the largest issues facing the standard. Until many items are improved, the use of the end data beyond the internal organisations themselves is somewhat limited. This, combined with the lack of results being published so far (only 9 out of 216 organisations have published results within their files), means there is still a lot of work to do. However it was encouraging to hear the willingness of all involved to work in this area. By looking at ways to identify how rich a data set is, how we encourage and enable publishers to provide better quality data, we are taking steps towards making more data more valuable. These conversations are by no means finished, but we are moving in the right direction and making the journey a collaborative one shared by all.

The efforts already being made behind the scenes by the existing TAG Secretariat well surpasses their capacity with a team of 12 people. The team covers all aspects from policies, changes and building tools that help analyse and consume this data, and one clear path for the community is to determine how we can as a group assist and share this workload. This would not only help the individuals involved (who have their plates full),  but would also help share the knowledge more widely – building local knowledge points within more countries. This should in time give all organisations working with, or wishing to work with, many more possibilities to meet and collaborate with people in their own regions, with local knowledge who can assist with all things IATI.

Adrian Collier is the product manager for Akvo RSR, based in Amsterdam.