Open Data, Mobiles and Development
By Hans Zomer
Ireland, like many other EU countries, has signed onto the IATI standards for aid transparency. This means that the Government has committed to publish information about Irish Aid programmes (and by extension, of Irish NGO programmes) in line with the IATI standard.
IATI was launched in September 2008 in Accra, Ghana, and brings together donor countries, developing country governments, non-governmental organisations and experts in aid information to agree ways of sharing more and better information about aid. The IATI standards include:
- an agreement on what information organisations will publish, how detailed the published information should be and what kind of detail should be included.
- a common system for categorising different types of aid spending /commitments with all participants using the same terminology and definitions so that it will be easier to share and compare information
- a common electronic format that will make it easy to share information and thus reduce transaction costs
- a code of conduct that will set out what information donors will publish and how frequently, how users may expect to access that information, and how donors will be held accountable for compliance.
IATI will thus create a platform for the sharing of information about international development assistance, and contribute to the development of an Open Data system on aid.
According to a definition I found on the web, “open data” are any form of knowledge provided under the following conditions:
- Access is free or at minimum cost
- Data may be redistributed for free or for sale
- Data may be reused and derivative works redistributed
- Without technological restrictions – open format
- No discrimination – against persons or fields of endeavor
And to give NGOs a chance to find out what this means for them, the “Open for Change” platform in the Netherlands is organising the Open Data for Development Camp, in Amsterdam (12 and 13 May 2011). The key question addressed is: How does open data contribute to more effective international cooperation? (Find more info on http://openforchange.info/oddc)
In a recent blog post, we argued that the Irish Development NGO sector had traditionally been fairly sceptical of the relevance of Information Technology for international development cooperation.
(Do also check our long, long list of mobile phone “apps” that are relevant for development cooperation, as well as this very exciting scenario for the future of mobile phone use in Africa).
It would seem now, that NGOs simply won’t be able to afford not to engage in this issue: NGOs must consider the opportunities and implications of the aid transparency and open data commitments for their own work, and of the technological developments, or risk being overtaken by them.
Or, as it was put in last year’s report, “Technical Innovation: the Opportunities for Increasing Transparency & Accountability of Aid Data” (in slightly techie speak):
The ease with which ordinary people can now create, contribute to and access information resources is changing the relationship between institutions and citizens. This changing set of circumstances presents the international aid community with a unique opportunity to harness the power of a disintermediated public sphere in order to close the feedback loop between donors and recipients of aid, and introduce a step-change in efficiency and agency. To take full advantage of this opportunity, the international aid community must re-imagine itself as a publisher of “open data”: raw, reusable data sets published in standardised, interoperable and open formats.