A guest post by Zoran Mitrovic for the Capacity Building Action Track.
The effective delivery and beneficial use of open data is inevitably dependent on ICT skills: ‘e-skills’. Yet e-skills – the ability to develop and/or use ICT to adequately participate in an increasingly technology-dominated world – are in a very short supply in developing countries. This alone hinder the wider use of Open Government Data (OGD) in these countries and, in that way, severely limit the impact of opening government data. Our recent research for the Open Data for Development project of the Open Data Working Group of the Open Government Partnership, conducted in two developing countries, South Africa and Namibia, has confirmed this fact.
What skills do data publishers and users need? To address this question, we developed an open-data e-skills taxonomy and sought to determine which were needed for data provision and use. We found that government officials (OGD providers) need to be highly skilled, possessing high level of ICT professional skills (e-Practitioners skills) and (at least) basic data manipulation skills (Data Literacy). On the other hand, for an independent use of OGD, citizens need a combination of basic ICT skills (e-Literacy Requisites) and Data Literacy.
Acquiring these e-skills, however, is a very tall order for the majority of people in many developing countries as the simple concept of ‘data literacy’ needs not just awareness, but also a specific set of data manipulation skills and experiences. To make things more complex, data literacy is built on e-literacy pre-requisites – and upon the basic ICT skills that are, as we point out in the research, in very short supply in many developing countries. We have named this practical inability of the majority of citizens in developing countries to use OGD independently as the ‘OGD e-Skills Related Gap’. The nature of this gap suggested that immediate bridging of this gulf is not possible without involvement of a third party: which is this study we identify as OGD intermediaries – whether individuals or organisations.
However, intermediaries are not the complete solution. Although they can create a symbiosis between the data providers, data and data users, their role can raises new concerns, such as possible biases in their interpretation of OGD. Intermediaries can also become a permanent substitute for e-skilling citizens, which would act against very definition of openness.
For this reason, we suggest that there is a need for a systemic solution to equip citizens in developing countries with data literacy. We propose that data literacy becomes a part of a school curriculum and also an integral part of the current e-skilling initiatives such as South African National e-Skills Plan of Action.
In our full paper we also suggest that policy-makers consider some strategic, operational, technological and social policy implications, which should be aimed at the OGD capacity building through e-skills acquisition. However, this study should be seen as embryonic as it only opened up exploration of e-skills as an important facet of the OGD related capacity building. Hence, more research is needed in order to produce more general e-skills framework for OGD related capacity building in developing countries.
Join the discussion
Is it realistic to build the e-skills of citizens to access open data directly? Or will be always need to rely on intermediaries? What should the balance be between supporting intermediaries and direct skill-building in capacity building investments?