How open data innovations can transform Canada’s international aid

We don't often talk about this, but part of Powered by Data’s original inspiration was an important innovation in international development — the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). As a Canadian organization devoted to developing our nonprofit sector’s data infrastructure, it’s easy to get caught up with our work here.  But it's important for us to discuss international best practices — especially when they are applicable back home.

IATI is one of those best practices.  It’s one of our favorite innovations that demonstrates the potential of open data for social impact. IATI is a framework for sharing information about international development activities using a specific data format called XML. Compared to Word files, PDFs, or even spreadsheets, the XML format enables machine-readable data to be easily exchanged, compared, and mashed up with other data.

IATI is currently being used by many of the largest and most influential development stakeholders in the world. These range from NGO’s like Oxfam Netherlands, to funders like the UK’s Department for International Development, to country partners like Bangladesh.

The UK’s Department for International Development’s use of IATI was just recognized in an international report released by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). This report identifies IATI as one of ten “star” commitments with a potentially transformative impact. According to the report, the UK’s adoption of IATI “allows donors, recipients, and civil society advocates to better plan, coordinate, and execute their development programs”. The report also describes how IATI helps recipient countries understand how international aid is allocated.

We think this recognition of IATI is exciting, given it was the central point of our submission to the Canadian government’s recent public consultation on international aid. With the early success of IATI adoption in the UK, and other leading countries like the Netherlands, we think it makes sense for Canada to expand its limited application of IATI. We are confident that this would transform the effectiveness of Canada’s international aid by enabling collaboration and helping to improve decision-making.

We’re looking forward to continue raising awareness of successful international open data practices back here in Canada. But don’t worry, we won’t forget to keep talking about all the great stuff being developed right here at home.


For those of you looking for more information on IATI, we recommend watching this video.

And for a great writeup from a Dutch perspective on the impact of IATI on their international development sector —  see this piece by Anne Murray Brown.

Read our submission to the Canadian Government’s Department of Global Affairs