As someone who has worked for NGOs for over a decade, my interest has evolved from helping NGOs leverage new technologies to better understanding the impact of their work. I've decided to focus on international NGOs, with a special interest in Program Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (PMEL or MEAL).
With our core focus on making the world a better place, my colleagues and I have worked with several NGOs to automate their program management, monitoring, and evaluation processes. But I've found that there is still so much to learn, for me and for other practitioners in the NGO world. That's why I took the initiative to organize round table events.
In our most recent round table earlier this year, we focused on the value of using frameworks, specifically IATI - an open standards-based framework developed by NGOs with the UN at the center. IATI is now embraced by many governments as a mandatory part of reporting on their funded projects, which makes up a significant portion of Western NGO funding.
Leo Stolk, BI Lead at Oxfam Novib and former IATI Governing Board Member, was invited to give the opening keynote. He spoke about the benefits and issues of adopting IATI from his experience dealing with many NGOs and as a practitioner at Oxfam.
Nowadays, over 1550 organizations publish in IATI! The IATI vision is for every actor or organization to join, not just NGOs but also governments, multilateral organizations, and even private sector organizations. The common objective is to achieve better effectiveness and impact by improving coordination among actors.
The old-fashioned way of thinking is linear - a governance invests in a cause, an NGO implements and reports the results. But the reality is much more complex. NGOs work with local organizations, multiple donors, and other NGOs, leading to a much more networked vision and way of working. IATI is capable of demonstrating and monitoring the interdependencies and relations in such a network.
So why should an NGO use IATI? Advocacy and practicing what you preach are good drivers to publish to IATI. It adds to an organization's credibility because of the transparency provided by the IATI framework. Leo explained that Oxfam chose to publish to IATI and become an IATI member because they want to be open and transparent to all stakeholders.
But how complex and expensive is it to implement IATI properly? At Oxfam Novib, the process of implementing IATI started with the leadership's vision. They gave the organization six months to get all the data from different programs and sources into the IATI framework. "We will publish even when not fully ready. Quality in, quality out; garbage in, garbage out. That shook up the whole organization, and within weeks after starting publishing, the quality of the data increased enormously," Leo said.
“IATI is relatively simple for smaller organizations and often more complex for larger ones.’’ Leo explained that at Oxfam Novib they opted to automate the process of generating IATI publication files, and build an interface for SAP to publish to the IATI registry. It is complex and costly to maintain, but creates transparency throughout the organization and makes the data trustworthy. Moreover, it allows them to update the published data in IATI on a daily basis. Katrina Seidel, Business Developer at Vera Solutions, also joined our round table. She explained how Amp Impact, a PMEL solution using the Salesforce platform, can manage project information in a way that is IATI ready, and IATI publications can be generated. But this is not a simple plug-and-play solution. The IATI requirements ask for detailed data that are not usually addressed in the Program Management process.
How can IATI help NGOs improve transparency and integrity? NGOs have the tendency to report data that make them look good only. But that does not always reflect the real situation. And that is an integrity issue. NGOs should aim to share realistic figures and not just ‘report what the outside world wants to see’.
Want to join a discussion like this as well? On the 12th of July we are organizing another round table, click here for more information and registration.