NB: I Chair the IATI Data Use Working Group on an unpaid basis. As with my original proposal in July 2021, I would not receive any income through this proposal. I would continue to provide occasional contributions to Datastore Classic as part of my own work supporting the Government of Liberia through the Overseas Development Institute.

In April this year, Code for IATI launched Datastore Classic, an open-source tool developed by volunteers in the IATI community in our free time, based on the original (v1) IATI Datastore. It became used by country systems in Liberia and Somalia, as well as a range of other data users including Development Initiatives and Oxfam Novib.

On 30th June 2021, the IATI Secretariat announced that the official (v2) IATI Datastore would become unavailable from 1st July, for a period of up to six months. The Secretariat recommended during this period that users move to IATI.cloud or Datastore Classic. These two free of charge, non-funded, community products made it possible for users to continue to access the data they need, with some moving to IATI.cloud, and Datastore Classic picking up others.

It’s great that the community was able to help out, but ultimately, the services that users are relying on need to be properly supported, and that means they need to be paid for. We also need to provide continuity of service for users of IATI data - doing everything we can to avoid breaking users’ systems - so that users know that their investments in using IATI data will be worthwhile.

For these reasons, in July 2021, IATI’s Governing Board approved support for Datastore Classic, and IATI’s Data Use Working Group (DUWG) began supporting Datastore Classic. On behalf of the DUWG, UNDP quickly contracted Open Data Services Cooperative to host and maintain Datastore Classic for an initial period of five months.

Providing a reliable service at low cost

Datastore Classic is easy to set up and cheap to run, currently on a €40/month server. In the first three months, Open Data Services, in collaboration with the community, have delivered some significant improvements:

  • More robust and reliable: we shifted to a much more powerful server, and have maintained 99.9% uptime over this period
  • More frequent updates: Datastore Classic now updates every 6 hours, reflecting any changes in publication much more quickly
  • Greater understanding of our users: analytics set up (see below)
  • Increase in performance: downloads are now 20%-50% faster
  • New features: we made it possible to filter activities by policy marker (e.g. gender, disability)

The initial contract, made under an emergency procurement mechanism, provides only for very limited maintenance and hosting, and the focus has very much been on ensuring a stable and reliable service. Nevertheless, we’re happy with how much has already been achieved, and we’re keen to encourage further contributions from the community!

Supporting a wide range of users

In September, with only limited promotion, Datastore Classic recorded 1,212 visits from 53 countries. It provided XML downloads for Haiti, Liberia and Somalia (in all three cases, for country systems), as well as CSV (spreadsheet) downloads for Armenia, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, the Netherlands and Papua New Guinea.

Data on the activities of specific donors has also been downloaded in CSV format, including: EC - INTPA, France - AFD, IMF, Ireland - DFAT, Netherlands - MFA, UK - FCDO, UNDP, UNITAID, and USAID. Finally, there have been a range of more specific queries, from closed activities in Kenya, to activities in Palestine funded by Germany.

We’ve also been handling redirects from queries that were previously going to the IATI Datastore, for XML data. In September, around 100 requests for data from the IATI Datastore were successfully handled by Datastore Classic, including requests for data from Haiti, the Netherlands, Somalia and Sudan.

Ensuring continuity of service with no gaps

Datastore Classic is currently only funded until December 2021. After that it would revert to being hosted on a server paid for by volunteers, and maintained for free (if at all).

According to IATI’s latest technical update, the official Datastore (version 3) is scheduled to be launched later this year. We positively welcome this, and look forward to this new iteration. However, given that Datastore Classic is working well at low cost, it’s important to provide further support for Datastore Classic for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, IATI Datastore version 3 will initially only be accessible to technical users, as there won’t be a “query builder” user interface. A query builder helps less technical users to choose the subset of IATI data that they want to download. Datastore Classic has a simple and clear query builder, and as shown above, there are currently a very diverse range of requests for data in the less technical CSV format. We need to continue to make data even more accessible to an increasingly wide range of users.

Secondly, there will be a need for a substantial (at least six months, preferably much longer) period of overlap to allow for users to transition from one tool to another. This transition period can only begin once a fully-working Datastore is in place and stable, thoroughly tested and with any bugs ironed out.

Recommendation: continue support going forward

With very limited resources, we’ve made great progress in the last few months, delivering a stable and high-quality Datastore that is used by a wide range of users around the world. It’s essential that support is maintained going forward, to ensure we can continue to meet these user needs, and make further improvements in accordance with user feedback.

Datastore Classic was developed by and for the community, and community contributions continue to be important. It’s also relatively simple to maintain and the hosting costs are low. However, it’s not realistic, reasonable or appropriate to expect this service to be provided exclusively by volunteers in their free time and at their own cost. Accordingly, the DUWG agreed in principle to a further period of support in our meeting on 19th October. I’m therefore recommending to IATI’s Board to extend this support going forward.