Written By Steven Flower, 29 Mar 2017

Global foreign aid is a $100-billion-dollar-affair. But how much of the money I contribute as a taxpayer arrives on the ground to deliver vital goods and services to people in need? Answering this question proves difficult.

To get a clear picture of the aims and objectives of aid programs, where activities are being delivered, and how they are financed, we require information that’s often trapped in multiple organizational silos.

At the recent International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Technical Advisory Group meeting in Dar es Salaam, we set out to discuss how we can connect information on aid flows and contracts by joining up data published using two different data standards.

We have explored this relationship in more detail, but here’s a summary.

First, we identified the core focus of each standard:

  • The IATI standard starts from an “aid activity”, which may relate to a large-scale program involving many partners or a simple project delivered on the ground in a particular locality. Aid activities can be linked together in a delivery chain, where, for example, a program funds a countrywide project, which then funds a local project.

    IATI captures classifications of the aid, location data, information about partners, and details of incoming and outgoing transactions for each activity.
  • The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) starts from the “contracting process”, and captures information on each stage, from planning, through tender, to award, contract and implementation.

    In general, each OCDS record relates to a single tender but may incorporate multiple awards and contracts signed, and implemented, as a result of one initial solicitation.

These standards also differ on a technical level. The IATI standard uses an XML data model, whereas the OCDS uses JSON as its primary schema language.

Once the focus of each standard was evident, we explored how they related to each other. We discussed three models at the Dar es Salaam meeting.

  • When an aid activity and contracting process are essentially the same thing – for example, when a government plans an aid project and contracts a single supplier to deliver it.
  • When an aid activity leads to one or more contracting process(es) – for example, when a program is planned, and tenders run to find a number of suppliers who will be involved in delivering the program.
  • When a contracting process leads to one or more aid activities – for example, a tender is issued to solicit ideas for new aid programs, and once the ideas are collected, a budget is allocated and aid activities started.

The relationship can vary from case to case and country to country depending on the administrative processes, so any integration between the standards needs to take these different models into account.

During the third step we dived into the technical approaches to the integration. In our working paper, we outline the use of identifier cross-references and document links to establish clear connections between contracting and aid.

This would require only minor updates to the two standards, such as adding relevant codelist entries. Current implementers of the OCDS and IATI standard should be able to add these to their publication processes relatively easily.

Fortunately, this is already happening. In our workshop, we heard that donors such as the UK Department for International Development and Global Affairs Canada | Affaires Mondiales Canada have started to make these links. We will now explore the different approaches in more detail, and seek partners and case studies. Have you worked on either? Let us know! We’d love to learn more.