Hi everyone,

The IATI Secretariat has had a very interesting query from Charlotte at MFAT New Zealand, regarding use of the IATI Organisation Type codelist.  We’re hoping others may be able to help clarify and give advice.  

Specifically this relates to the codes that relate to NGOs on the existing list:

  • 21 - International NGO
  • 22 - National NGO
  • 23 - Regional NGO
  • 24 - Partner Country based NGO

As far as I can see, there isn’t a clear definition of how these types should be applied.  I checked the IATI Guidance materials from 2019, but there’s no definitive guide.  There’s a discussion started by David Meggison in 2021, “What org types do you count as "local/national" vs "international"?”, which centres on use of the 24 code.

Charlotte provides three use cases:

  • New Zealand as the funder of an activity in Fiji, and with an implementing partner that is an NGO based in Australia.
  • New Zealand as the funder of a regional activity in Oceania, and with an implementing partner that is an NGO based in Samoa.
  • New Zealand funding an activity with an implementing partner that is an New Zealand-based NGO.

IATI Community : we need your help! How would you use the OrgType codes in your publication for similar cases?

The key issue seems to be whether any organisation is assigned an OrgType code in relation to the activity, or its status with the publisher.  

To illustrate, here’s where we are so far:

  • New Zealand as the funder of an activity in Fiji, and with an implementing partner that is an NGO based in Australia.
  • Is this defined in a National NGO (22) in Australia, or actually an International NGO (to the publisher activity)? 
  • New Zealand as the funder of a regional activity in Oceania, and with an implementing partner that is an NGO based in Samoa.
  • Again, is this a National NGO (in Samoa) or in fact a 24 - Partner country based NGO, on the assumption that Samoa is a recipient country within the activity?
  • New Zealand funding an activity with an implementing partner that is an New Zealand-based NGO.
  • This seems straightforward: a National NGO (22)

We’d like to get feedback from the community, with a view to helping colleagues at MFAT, and then also drafting some guidance to help all publishers.

Lastly - but this could be something for wider discussion: Elsewhere, there’s some documentation via the Grand Bargain workstream on localisation that might give some further context.  Again, we’re trying to understand the applicability for the IATI Standard, and would appreciate any feedback from organisations involved.

Steven Flower

IATI Secretariat

Comments (16)

Ole Jacob (OJ) Hjøllund
Ole Jacob (OJ) Hjøllund

The most important point must be to recognise that no 'type' is better or more desirable than the other.
Apart from that, there is obviously a story to be told about the early days in IATI. Having agreed, as a general principle, to design the IATI code-lists to be aligned (if not identical) to existing CRS-standards, it was recognised that there was a need to be a little more specific about NGO-types than the existing channel-codes.
At that time, CRS only served to distinguish 'International' from 'national' NGO's - it is a more recent feature to distinguish between national NGO's based in donor-countries resp. recipient-countries.
This means that the only type, that carries reference to CRS-definitions, is the 'International' NGO's; according to the current DAC-directive, these organisations have the following characteristics:
• either there is an international coordinating body facilitating the work of its members on the international level or the NGO has an extensive network of country/regional offices in the field; and
• the NGO has internationally diversified sources of revenue.
Whether a NGO is 'National' or 'Partnercountry-based' might then be based on the registry used to create the org_id
As far as I can see, the most tricky type is the Regional - I am not aware of a shared, international definition of such entities, but one could suggest that it requires legal entities registered in multiple countries in a region.

Michelle Levesque
Michelle Levesque

IOM does not look at the status in relation to us but rather in relation to the country in which the activity takes place. We also do not look at it in terms of where the NGO gets its funding from. It is more about the scope of where the NGO operates. If the NGO only operates in one country then it is a national NGO. If it operates in multiple countries in only one region (as defined by UN M49) it is regional and if it operates globally or across regions it is international. Of course that is easier said than done. What do we do with federated (Oxfam or Red Cross)? We have internal debate on the definitions so any clarification may help. It doesn't help that some of our publishers aren't classified correctly so even that can't always be a guide.

Very much appreciate OJ's history lesson.

Gary Forster - I know PWYF had a big study on USAID funding of "local" actors and if memory serves me there were distinct differences in opinion on the definition. I believe PWYF brought in the idea of governance so perhaps you have some thoughts?

leo stolk
leo stolk

Hi Steven and others,

Good this is raised. I posed a very similar question to the secretariate last year, and we also concluded that clear definition seem to be missing.

The org-type code list seems to capture overlapping different aspects, the legal registration location and the geographic scope. In other words where a NGO is registered and based (partner country or not) and where the NGO develops its activities, predominantly…. local/sub national, national and or above- national or regional/international, and whether that location is in a “partner country”.

Why would we mix this up in the standard's data model? Isn’t the legal location of an organization an undisputable aspect of an organization, the location of activities is a key aspect of each IATI activity and the classification of a location is an aspect of the location (partner country or not).

We are currently having the same discussion how to best classify organizations in Oxfam'' s new partnership platform, being developed and configured now. Our ability to monitor progress and be transparent internally and externally on Oxfam’s internal and external commitments is leading. These commitments include IATI publication, Grand Bargain, Charter for Change, decolonization, equal partnerships and pledge for change.

In summary the current org type list is confusing and raises questions. I suggest we ask community data architects to develop a revision proposal based on a more rational approach to typification of organizations, activities and location.

Rational records will allow us to create reports on political commitments, the other way around is difficult.

Leo Stolk

Some questions that pop up in my mind are:
• Isn’t the definition of a partner country requiring some thinking? It seems to be a concept of a one way, even top down, relationship. In a network of more equal partnerships most locations could be considered as partner country. Can’t countries, where traditional providers are based be recipient countries in partnerships, and traditional “IATI partner countries” can be or become provider based countries. Think on EU funding development programs in EU member states, and Brazil funding projects in other countries etc.
• Is an organization like Oxfam Novib only an “ INGO” org type, if it also undertakes local activities in the Netherlands, national activities in the Netherlands and regional activities within the EU?
• And would we classify an environmental organizations registered in Mozambique, and predominantly active in Mozambique as national, while it also works across borders in the region and is an active board member of Friends of the Earth?

Steven Flower
Steven Flower

Dear Ole Jacob (OJ) Hjøllund Michelle Levesque & leo stolk huge thanks for these contributions - really helpful and interesting

> I posed a very similar question to the secretariate last year, and we also concluded that clear definition seem to be missing.

leo stolk is that here on Connect? I'm keen to join up dots, so any links we can make to previous discussions would be great. Thanks

Alex Tilley
Alex Tilley

Thanks Steven and Charlotte for raising this question. It's something we looked at in our research on USAID's funding through local organizations (mentioned by Michelle above):


For the purpose of this research we wanted to identify which organisations are "local" and which are "international". The purpose of the research was to establish a baseline for USAID's goal of channelling 25% of funding through "local" organisations.

Note that this binary distinction is just one way of categorising organisations, and this is being pursued though current policy initiatives to increase "localization" or "local delivery" as opposed to aid delivery through "international" implementers.

Categorising all aid organisations as either "local" or "international" is not easy and there are lots of grey areas where it's not clear which category an organisation should be in (some of these have been mentioned by others above):

* Should the make-up of staff and governing boards be a factor in identifying an organisation as “local” or not? I.e. – should a locally registered, national organisation that is staffed and governed by non-nationals of that country count as local?
* And what about a refugee organisation that supports foreign nationals and is staffed/governed by refugees (non-nationals)?
* Should locally registered offices of international federations like Oxfam or the Red Cross count as "local"?
* What about local offices of international NGOs that originated in and have HQs in "partner countries", such as BRAC, for example?
* And what about locally registered organisations that are part of an international federation, but are independently governed? E.g. local chapters of Caritas Internationalis, which are fully national and independent with 100% local governance (each governed by the national Episcopal Conference of Bishops).

How you answer each of these questions depends on what your reasons are for wanting to channel funds to local organisations, so this is an aid policy issue.

I don’t think the IATI Standard needs to resolve these questions but it would be very helpful if the Standard is used to categorise organisations in a way that is helpful for those working on localisation initiatives. One option would be to follow strict formal guidelines and use something like the following definitions:

21 - International NGO:
A non-governmental organisation that works internationally and delivers aid across borders.

22 - National NGO:
A non-governmental organisation that is registered nationally in the country where the aid activity is taking place.

23 - Regional NGO
A non-governmental organisation that works in a region (a continent or multi-national region within a continent) and is based/registered in that region.

24 - Partner Country based NGO
This can be duplicative of any of the others and isn’t strictly a distinct category so suggest removing.

The questions of staffing/governance of national organisations and local offices of international federations can be dealt with by analysts using the data for research.

I also suggest including in this discussion the categories for private sector organisations and to have these aligned in some way. Currently these are:
70 - Private Sector
71 - Private Sector in Provider Country (Is in provider / donor country.)
72 - Private Sector in Aid Recipient Country (Is in aid recipient country.)
73 - Private Sector in Third Country (Is not in either a donor or aid recipient country.)

Yohanna  Loucheur
Yohanna Loucheur

Interesting discussion (reminds me of old TAG days! :-) )

I feel we've been over these questions before - probably in the context of the Grand Bargain, when the codelists were being revised. I'll check if I can still find some of that.

In the meantime, in the thread linked above (that David started 2 years ago), Maaike Bloom suggested in essence to do away with these categories and use (proper) org IDs to determine an NGO status. This means that the status would relate to where the NGO HQ is located vs where the activities are taking place - for instance, an NGO would be local if working in its own country, foreign otherwise (note that foreign and international are different things).

Data users could decide that all NGOs based in some countries count as "local" or "partner country based"; it would be up to data users, based on their own definitions/interests/needs. From a publisher's perspective (and manager of funding agreements), the NGO would be coded simply as an NGO**, with its HQ country in its ID.

**I do want to flag that simply getting agreed definitions - and accurate data - on which organisations are non-profit and which are private sector would already be a huge improvement. Things are a complete mess at the moment.

(Note: Whatever we do, could we please get rid of "regional"? It has always been confusing and has very limited analytical value.)

Michelle Levesque
Michelle Levesque

Yohanna Loucheur I whole-heartedly agree that clarification would be a huge improvement. But after multiple discussions internally I've given up arguing. Even UN guidance on CEB reporting clouds the definition by using "usually" so the wiggle room to interpret is wide open. Making clear definitions on all sorts of these code lists will go a long way to both publishers and data user needs for quality data.

Additionally, eliminating the "regional" category is something I'd support. I don't even see the need for making a distinction between partner-country based. If we are using participating org IDs correctly and the if the first two digits of the org ID actually represented the country location of the organization (not the location of the agency issuing the registration which I still think is useless information) then data users could select based on the org ID. But even if we don't rationalize how a participating org id is structured, as a publisher with a fully automated system, it would be very hard to accurately refelect the difference between a national NGO and a partner-country NGO would be a challenge. Currently we list all as national NGOs and have to let the location of the activity speak for itself.

Evgenia Tyurina
Evgenia Tyurina

Hello, just to mention that there are definitions of these organization types in the UN Data Cube Standard VI (https://unsceb.org/sites/default/files/2023-03/Data%20Standards%20for%2… ). This standard is to classify contributors to the UN system but in the ILO we use the same definitions to classify all partners (funding and implementing). However, we only use "national" and "international" sub-categories for NGOs/CSOs (we interpret them the same way as described by IOM above) because of the confusion associated with the "regional" and "partner country based".

Steven Flower
Steven Flower

Oh wow - what a community!

Thanks so much everyone - we can try and synthesize this feedback into a shared doc, but please keep going!

In the meantime a couple of small updates:

> I feel we've been over these questions before

Yohanna Loucheur indeed, Charlotte M reminded me of a post *I made* on a this topic, six years ago: https://www.iaticonnect.org/discussion/differences-between-ngo-organisa…! Oh wow.

Many thanks also to leo stolk , who pointed me to a support ticket in early 2023 where this was also discussed.

*Note: we're very keen to make sure the outcome of support conversations can be shared with the community, else we will struggle to move forward.*

Below are some definitions shared "from the OECD", but I can't pinpoint where these are documented. Would anybody know (I checked here: https://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-…) where to find these? Thanks!


**22: National NGO**
- Internationally affiliated organisations or donor country-based NGO
*Internationally affiliated organisations*
Organisations that are affiliated to an international organisation through inter-linked financing, contracting, governance and/or decision-making systems. This category does not include local and national organisations that are part of networks, confederations or alliances wherein those organisations maintain independent fundraising and governance systems.

**24: Partner country-based NGO**
- National NGO /CSOs only in partner countries
*National NGOs/civil society organisations (CSOs):*
National NGOs/CSOs operating in the aid recipient country in which they are headquartered, working in multiple subnational regions, and not affiliated to an international NGO. This category can also include national faith-based organisations.

- Southern International NGOs
NGOs based in aid recipient countries that are not OECD member countries, carrying out operations outside of the aid recipient country in which they are headquartered and not affiliated to an international NGO. The same organisation can be classified as a national NGO/CSO when carrying out operations within the country in which they are headquartered.

Michelle Levesque
Michelle Levesque

Evgenia Tyurina it is on page 42 where the definition of private sector is listed and uses the term "usually" that creates confusion. Why allow for interpretation? It simply creates ambiguity and inconsistency. But this is more about Yohanna's comment than the topic of this thread on how to classify NGOs.

Yohanna  Loucheur
Yohanna Loucheur

Thanks Steven (and Charlotte) for the blast from the past!

I read that 2016 discussion again and would double-down on the idea that we should do away with these sub-classifications on the coding side. They are not useful and also reflect a rather OECD-centric view of the world.

We can't hard-code an NGO as national or international based on a specific activity, otherwise it won't be coherent across activities. It makes more sense to code an organisation in our central databases as an NGO, which is what we'd publish; its national or foreign* status would be determined in relation to specific activities - in other words, it's a data-use issue rather than a coding one.

*I insist that foreign and international are not synonyms. A national NGO working in another country is foreign is that country. International means from multiple countries and should only apply to actual international groups/networks.

Charlotte M
Charlotte M

Massively appreciate all the thoughtful discussion - glad to know I could re-open this old chestnut!

My main interests in asking the question were:
1) wanting better data on the extent to which local NGOs are involved in activities in their own country. I.e. the Localisation aspect mentioned by Alex Tilley above.

2) wanting better data on the extent to which providers/donors are involving NGOs from their own country – i.e. provider/donor-country based NGOs in their development cooperation activities. I feel that this aspect is particularly missing from the options currently.

It would be wonderful to see improvement in the org type codes and guidance in relation to NGOs (which may prove useful for private-sector organisations also).

Again, very much appreciate the insights, wisdom and (distant!) memories shared.

leo stolk
leo stolk

support for Yohanna Loucheur appeal to not hard code NGO type on basis an activity location and the status of that location.
A data users should instead combine org info, with activity info and additional classifications, to produce accurate reports for analysis.

Herman van Loon
Herman van Loon

As mentioned above already there does not seem to be one "ideal" classification of NGO's. All is depending on your specific use case. Since there are many different viewpoints on this subject and we as a community after all these years have not succeed in bringing this discussion to an end I wonder if not the most practical thing to do would be to just follow the OECD/DAC standard on this, just as we do with the CRS purpose codes.

The advantage of the OECD/DAC standard is that there are clear and well governed definitions. By adopting the OECD/DAC standard we avoid increasing the confusion about organization typologies by adding yet another badly defined new classification just bas we have done in past. IATI i.m.o. should avoid trying to reinvent the wheel.

I agree with Yohanna Loucheur that the IATI organization typology should not be dependent on a specific activity. The organization typology is an attribute of the organization and should not be determined on an activity-by-activity basis. This would also make it possible to define an international database with IATI organizations and their typology which could be used by all IATI publishers. But I also know that in the past the IATI technical team stayed far away from such an approach because of the feeling that it is not within the scope of IATI to curate such a database (which would be very time consuming).

Steven Flower
Steven Flower

Hi everyone. I think this is now officially a HOT TOPIC!

Meanwhile, we posted another challenge for the community, following a different query from an IATI member ( cooperation_lu ) - please head over *there* to add your wisdom too ... https://www.iaticonnect.org/Changing-CRS-Codelist :)

In the meantime, we'll keep this discussion open / going and aim to synthesize feedback before the holidays.

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