Taryn Davis is the Senior Project Advisor at Development Gateway. She started as an Aid Management Fellow for Laos in 2012, is the AMP Product Owner and currently the Project Manager for AMP in Tanzania, Malawi, and Timor-Leste. Marina Baralo is the AMP Scrum Master. When she first started in 2014, her work focused on testing, but has grown to include requirements analysis, and project planning. Julian de Anquin began at DG in 2013, and has primarily focused on AMP since then. As AMP Technical Lead, Julian has helped shape the AMP program, worked to develop new features, and trained country partner technical teams.
As part of our 20th celebration, Taryn, Marina, and Julian examine the 15-year history of the Aid Management Platform (AMP), one of our flagship tools, and provide background on how AMP has grown to include implementations in over 25 countries and evolved in response to changing client needs.
The Aid Management Platform helps governments and development partners gather, access, and monitor information on development activities, with the goal of increasing aid effectiveness. Using the AMP software, stakeholders can track activities through the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages. With online workspaces, data entry and reporting modules, and interactive dashboards and maps, decision-makers can better understand how aid is directed throughout the country. To ensure sustainability, the program implementation includes hands-on training for government and development partners, data management plans, ongoing technical support, policy support for program management, and a semi-annual Good Practices Workshop. AMP was first conceived and created in collaboration with the OECD, World Bank, UNDP, and Governments of Ethiopia and India. Anchored in the principles of the global aid effectiveness agenda, as expressed in The Paris Declaration, and specifically focused on country ownership of the development process and alignment of aid with country priorities to improve effectiveness.
In May 2005, DG completed its first AMP implementation in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia. Between 2005 and 2009, AMP rapidly increased from a single implementation in one country to 15 implementations globally. Accelerated growth meant expanding and adapting the platform for each country. During the early years, change requests from almost two dozen country partners had to be integrated into weekly stable builds. Since 2005, AMP has been implemented in 25+ countries. Much of this growth is made possible by the fact that AMP is a highly customizable off-the-shelf solution. One country’s improvement and any new features are made freely available to all other countries that receive the upgrade. This increases economies of scale, but it also creates complexity in the system. Because of this, over the years we have taken important steps to update, re-engineer, and streamline our tech and processes around code development.
The AMP process always begins with an in-depth assessment to best understand the needs of government, development partners, and CSOs. Based on the assessment findings, as well as previous implementation experiences, DG is able to propose the AMP configuration and improvements that meet the country partners’ unique needs, as well as suggesting institutional policies and processes to sustain the AMP.
Because the AMP platform has a standard source code with built-in customization, DG can quickly deploy a pilot system and then collaborate with the stakeholders to fine-tune system configuration. For larger system improvements, DG works closely with end-users to define and validate system requirements, receive feedback through user acceptance testing – first on design mockups and again once the final improvements are live. DG provides a series of trainings for four categories of users: 1) general users on data entry and analytics tools, 2) trainings for trainers 3) administrators on system management and configuration, 4) system administrators on the maintenance and troubleshooting of system hosting. The vast majority of AMP countries host the system locally. DG typically provides 1-2 years of technical support to ensure stakeholders are comfortable using the system, and to answer any questions, resolve bugs, and make small additional configuration tweaks.
Read the previous blog for more about DG's tech evolution.
When AMP began, support for version control was rudimentary. We initially used CVS (the very first version control system available!), migrating to Subversion in 2008, and again to Git in 2016. Git allows us flexibility in developing new features, and also saves time by providing quick fixes to up-and-running code. Similarly, we started using Jenkins as our continuous integration tool. Using Jenkins and Git also provides our quality assurance team with increased flexibility. As a user-focused team, we are constantly considering user requirements and environmental limitations. In 2016, with support from USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network through the AidData Center for Development Policy, DG enhanced AMP’s GIS module based on findings from country-level research on how development data are used in Senegal, Timor-Leste, and Honduras. The GIS module meets country needs for more customized analysis tools. Additionally, to meet environmental challenges of internet speed and reliability, we developed AMP Offline, which enables users with limited or unreliable internet connections to use AMP without disruption. To avoid reinventing the wheel, we use open source frameworks – providing user-specific functionality, while also optimizing software development. AMP is built using the Java platform, and we have seen the Java ecosystem evolve – from plain JSP files and Struts back in 2005, to Apache Wicket in 2010, and APIs in 2012. We started building APIs with the IATI Import tool and with redesigning the reporting framework, and as for databases, we have moved from MySQL to PostgreSQL. In addition to iterating on the technology itself, the AMP team also continuously improves the modules making up the platform – for example, in building a new report engine. In reengineering how information is reported throughout the system’s modules, we have drastically improved the speed and stability of one of AMP’s core modules. In 2018 AMP took a big step by becoming open-source. While DG always granted full ownership of the source code to governments that use AMP, making it fully open-source was the next step to encourage innovation and sustainability of the system. Finally, this year, we launched a successful integration with an existing country budget management system. Read more about the evolution of DG’s technology here.
Encouraging a Culture of Data-Use for Decision-Making
When it comes to making sustainable, positive change, there is much more than technology involved. That is why we work closely with our partners to develop Data Management Plans that create processes and policies to improve use of the system, and that outline roles and expectations of those who enter, validate, and ultimately use the data. Our partners use data from AMP in many ways, including publishing annual development assistance reports, which analyze the collected information and allow for the development community to engage meaningfully on objectives and data-based planning. Data is also used to support government budgeting processes, increased awareness of development funding, and strengthening a community’s ability to hold development actors and government accountable.
|Participants at 2018 AMP Good Practices Workshop|
While no single country’s AMP has the same exact setup as another, many of the needs and experiences are shared. This is why we encourage study visits between AMP countries, and why we host our AMP Good Practices Workshops. These workshops bring together AMP users from across the world to share how they are using AMP and their challenges and victories. The workshops also provide space to collect feedback from our partners on how to improve the program and the platform. Many specific changes – such as working toward partners maintaining their own AMPs – are the result of this type of feedback.
What We’ve Learned
Our experience over the last 15 years has taught us:
1. Data collection for the sake of data collection is counterproductive
It is common when establishing an aid information management system to identify all possible information that could be collected, but it is important to focus on what should be collected. Collecting and publishing data takes time, and we have found when country governments attempt to collect more data than is needed, it decreases the likelihood of data being published. DG works closely with our partners to focus on the priorities needed for specific decisions and actions, and to trim data fields being requested.
2. To regularly share data-use stories with data publishers
Those who collect and publish data within an organization are often different individuals than those who use the data. Usually In AMP, development partners enter data for off-budget activities (funding that does not go through the government’s budget), and might not be as aware of how the government is using the data. When the data publisher is not aware of how data is used, there is less willingness to enter data in a timely manner. Sharing examples of how data is being used and why it is important is helpful for demonstrating the value.
3. High-level engagement is critical
Often, data entry is either relegated to entry-level staff who do not work directly on projects, or it becomes a low priority for other staff members. This can lead to poor data quality that shocks executive-level staff when the final numbers are published. Having higher-level staff involved in reviewing the data to be published can mean better quality data. In addition, ministries within governments often have high levels of turnover, and staff are not always aware of the AMP or the information it contains. Consistent awareness-raising and engagement at all levels of government can increase the use and impact of the AMP.
4. The importance of transparency
In 2010 the first public-facing AMP was launched in Kosovo, and was followed by ten additional countries making their AMPs public. With public-facing AMPs, we have seen journalists and researchers using AMP data to tell important stories. We have also found that as data becomes public, data quality increases as partners know it will be openly available. From this, we learned that waiting for perfect quality data is not always the best course of action, as publishing data can ultimately lead to cleaner, and therefore more useful data.
The Future of AMP
|Screenshot from the expanded South-South Cooperation Module|
It is inspiring to look back on how far AMP has come, but even more exciting to look ahead and see where it might go. We are currently working on integrating our autogeocoder into AMP. This feature will automatically update the project location based on information in the project description and text. We are also expanding the South-South Cooperation Module, particularly for Haiti. Traditional aid tends to focus on financing and figures, while South-South Cooperation is often in-kind support, including technical assistance, which can be difficult to accurately capture in numbers. DG is also working in DRC to map its latest national development plan to the New Deal indicators. 15 years ago, AMP development was led by and co-designed with multiple partner country governments and international organizations. Today, we continue to expand the platform in partnership with our clients and based on actual requests – with the goal of building a platform that provides the most useful information for decision-making.