• Written by Peter van der Linde
    13 May 2011

Yesterday I had the chance to kick off the Open Data Development Camp event here in Amsterdam. I described the work we’ve done over the last few months with DGIS – the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Photo: my view from the front of the room. Open Data Development Camp. Royal Institute of the Tropics. Amsterdam, Netherlands. 12 May 2011.

On the map below, you’ll find a sample of water and sanitation programmes funded by the Dutch Government. It covers 528 million Euro of the Dutch aid portfolio. This is the first result of a transparency pilot between Akvo and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The pilot aims to make the Ministry’s water portfolio visible online, meeting both the IATI standard, and the increasing demand of the general public to ‘see results’.

IATI (the International Aid Transparency Initiative) is an emerging standard for aid data that makes it easier to share and compare what is being spent on international aid in countries around the world. It was ratified by several countries early this year and I think it will play an influential role in encouraging development organisations to open up their data and their work, and bring projects online in new ways. Projects need to be able to compare data and it’s a great first step that this is now happening. The challenge is to make the data “rich” enough to make it meaningful to more people. We also think it’s really important for this not to be run from the top-down. The organisations running projects need to be able to add context and updates as things progress – their voices need to be heard.

Our pilot goes beyond just the data and provides more context on each project – a map, photos, details of goals, and leaves open the opportunity to add updates on top. IATI-compliant XML output can be obtained and downloaded via the project pages.

This initiative has been backed and funded from the Ministry by several key people, including Rob Swinkels and Pieter Dorst. Here’s a short interview with Pieter yesterday about his work at the Ministry, and the Akvo pilot.

Yesterday I explained to the audience that when doing this work, while most of the information comes straight from the Ministry’s database, there’s a need for some solid manual labour too – finding additional material that will bring the data to life. It’s taken about 2 hours per programme to gather this from other documents, but was worth it – a week’s work to bring half a billion Euro of programmes online isn’t too bad.

Here’s my presentation, in case you’re interested:

I’m also grateful for the wider support and encouragement from people involved in IATI, especially in the UK, from organisations such as AidInfo, Publish What You Fund and The Open Knowledge Foundation. In particular, Tariq Khokar has been supportive via Twitter as Akvo’s Mark Westra began doing the manual work to get data into the right shape.

Thanks also to Open for Change for organising the Amsterdam event. It’s has been a great step towards bringing all players in this field together, to improve cooperation and share the lessons learned.

Maybe the follow-up event can be hosted at the new Nailab, that was launched yesterday in Nairobi.

Peter van der Linde is a co-founder and director at Akvo.org.