Locations: add them if you can
When we visited the Community Exchange of IATI in Copenhagen last March, we were again reminded of how important it is to know where an activity is taking place. While information on the country is vital, more specific information is often also extremely useful. For many users of IATI data, whether they are local governments, NGOs, donors like us, or simply people living in the areas where the projects are taking place, it is vital to know: ‘Yes, but where is it, exactly?’
Some examples we heard about during the four days we were in the event, we want to share with you.
- A representative from an African country, who told us in between sessions: “My country, like many other African countries, has a lot of different communities and tribes. The first thing someone will want to know when they see how many programmes happen in our country, is: which community will benefit? Where is this activity exactly?”
- An international NGO which believes that its projects will be more effective if it knows which other actors work in the area, and what those actors are doing. It also feels it should provide location information to its private donors, big and small, to be more transparent to a public which is increasingly cynical on aid spending.
- A government which claims that their embassies in developing countries need to know which development aid projects are happening where in the country, even if they are financed by others.
- From a presentation from an environmental NGO: ‘what we do is highly geo-specific, but the problems don’t stop at political borders’, meaning that sometimes knowing in which country the data is from, is less important than which river bed or which forest, even when the countries may have different ways of approaching problems, or even measuring them.
- Location data came up a lot in a session from the organisation Land Portal, which was about a land projects database, based on IATI data. Location information is vital for this.
- Two large multilateral organisations trying to combine forces in locations where they both work, and are looking into using the IATI data they both publish to figure out where that synergy could be useful.
So location information is important, as has already been made clear by an interview we did last year. However, it is important to keep safety in mind. If the location of your activity is sensitive, for example if its beneficiaries are vulnerable if their location is published, don’t publish it.
Firstly, only add a location if it applies to this project. Some activities simply don’t happen in an exact location. They truly are national projects, or even regional. If you have a parent-child structure, usually the parent has no location or even a country, so you don’t add them. The rule is: be as specific if you can, but don’t make up information if it doesn’t reflect the reality of the project.
The location in IATI resides directly under the activity. Please also add the country, even if you already give locations, because a lot of analysis still happens on country level, meaning an analysis of a certain country will likely not find your activity if you only publish its exact location. You can add more than one location per activity. However, if you want to measure the project’s effectiveness in these locations separately, you will have to have two different activities according to the Netherlands guidelines.
In Aidstream and many other tools, you can easily pick a location on a map, which will create a geolocation with longitude and latitude coordinates. If your tool doesn’t let you do this, you can find the coordinates on Google Maps or similar. You can also, if it applies better, publish the name of a province, or other administrative area. This will be sometimes less useful for mass analysis, but if it reflects reality better because the project doesn’t impact one location as much as a big area, this is preferable. The rule is again: reflect the reality of the activity.
Don’t add a specific location of the office of your implementing partner, if the project actually is run elsewhere. What matters, is where the intervention is taking place. If your implementing partner is also publishing, it is probably more useful that they add the specific location in their data, rather than you, since they are implementing the activity.