Validating Swiss IATI data

Cross posting a forum.opendata.ch thread here to bump the topic …and put a bit of gravy on my December clean-up of the relevant tools ; )

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is the agency for international cooperation responsible for coordination on development topics and cooperation with Eastern Europe as well as for humanitarian aid delivered by the Confederation. They started publishing data to Opendata.swiss last year and are encouraging the community to take a look.

There are currently two datasets, both in XML format according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard, containing activity reports since 2015 and organizations since 2017 as resources:

https://opendata.swiss/en/dataset/iati-xml-activity-file

https://opendata.swiss/en/dataset/iati-xml-organisation-file

I am not sure why there is a two year gap in the latter, whether it prevents making sense of the historic data for 2015 and 2016, or when we could expect the publication of 2020 data. On the upside, both datasets are published under Open terms. As these terms are not mentioned on the source site, which demands permission, this is somewhat contradictory. The recommended contact for this data is the Statistical Unit.

It’s always nice to get a bit more context for data from the provider, and by searching the EDA website (using DuckDuckGo, as the built-in search is rather broken…), I found a Transparency Principles page and a recent publication, the Swiss Peace Supporter which mention the IATI.

Back to the topic of open data, poking around XML files is not much fun, and I don’t really have time for XSLT right now, so I went to look for some ready-built apps. Not knowing much about this area, it took me a little while to find an app that supports these formats, but it turns out that the international initiative itself provides web-based and openly accessible tools - and even has a code@ support e-mail for extra geek cred :eyeglasses:

The immediately useful one for dealing with these XML files is the IATI Validator, where you can put in the URL or upload a file for … :drum: … validation. Much like Goodtables, it is asynchronous, so you can either wait a few minutes or enter your e-mail to get a notification when the validation completes. To my chagrin, both of the most recent (2019) publications from Switzerland had validation errors:

iati-validator

You can also find a public list of validations (from what I assume is official data aggregation), where the last few entries from SDC are all erroring out for various reasons. The validator points to helpful documentation links, and I think it wouldn’t be too much effort to fix at least some of these issues - so go for it, if you have time!

The more user-facing tool is d-portal.org - where the data aggregated from across the world is presented by the IATI in presentable, infographic form. You can find the Swiss projects detailed at this search query:

iati-portal

Just from this screen, it is clear that the SDC is busy (with far more active projects than even it’s German or Italian equivalents, though clearly in other countries this may be the split across multiple organizations), but that it does not publish planned projects on this portal.

iati-portal2

Further down on this screen you can see simple (non-interactive) charts of the main recipient countries and sectors, and then dive into tables of reports on spending. So despite the validation errors, the data seems to be “good enough” for use on this efficient webapp (with a rather unfortunate choice of palm-tree-beach wallpaper).

Financial flows is not really my area of expertise, but I know that there is a community at Open Knowledge engaged in these topics. There are a couple of - now very out-of-date - articles about the IATI project itself, instructions of publishing donor data in OpenSpending, and a repository of translation code which I actually archived myself in December. I’ll cross-post to bump the topic a little up there.

Since 2020 has been both a year of remarkable global solidarity, and rampant self-serving nationalism, it’s clear that efforts to support and understand international aid will be of vital interest. We could probably do quite a bit of good here on the ground to shed sunlight and standards where they are needed most, but can also run aground if we are too politically inept in our efforts. Therefore it’s good to see the SDC engaging our community openly on social media, and hope more of us here will answer their call. In the meantime, I will read up on what a sensible-sounding person like Daniel Warner has to say on the subject.

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