4th IODC

Blog IODC 2016
Madrid. October 6-7, 2016


Talking Capacity Building at IODC 2016: What have we learned and where do we need to go?

September 7, 2016 by Fiona Smith

This blog provides information on the Capacity Building Action Session, which will be held at the 4th International Data Conference (IODC) on Friday October 7, 2016 from 08:45 – 09:45 (CEST) in Room D. Further information on the session can be found here.

As the open data community gets ready to converge in Madrid, Spain for IODC 2016, it is a good time to reflect on how much progress we have made as a movement—and how far away we are from realizing the full potential of open data to promote transparency and accountability, drive economic growth, improve lives, and create more responsive services. Building capacity across both supply and demand sides is essential for realizing this potential.

At the last edition of IODC, which was held in Ottawa, Canada in May 2015 (see last year’s agenda here), we came away with a list of ambitious recommendations, fuelled by a week of inspiring presentations, challenging discussions, and intensive networking. As stated in the IODC Roadmap, participants from civic tech groups, governments, developers, startups, researcher organizations, and national statistical offices (to name a few) recommended:

Government open data leaders need increased opportunities for networking and peer-learning. Models are needed to support private sector and civil society open data champions in working to unlock the economic and social potential of open data. Work is needed to identify and embed core competencies for working with open data within existing organizational training, formal education, and informal learning programs.

But how has open data “capacity for all” evolved since then? How far have we come towards achieving what we set out to do in the Roadmap?

There are many activities and outcomes that have emerged since the last edition of IODC to congratulate ourselves on. Some of my personal highlights include:

  1. Peer networks on the rise: following last year’s recommendation, we are witnessing the growth of peer learning networks for government leaders, such as the Open Data Leaders Network, ODECA, and OGP Working Groups. The forums provide an invaluable space for learning and professional development stretching across north-south divides.
  2. Data collaboratives: such as the dLab in Tanzania, OD4D Africa hub, the Web Foundation’s Open Data Labs, and Labora in Mexico are convening partners from private sector, civil society, and the public sector to promote innovation, strengthen feedback loops between data producers and users, while supporting local expertise.
  3. Sector-specific initiatives: such as GODAN Action, which is building capacity among journalists and policymakers towards the shared goal of increasing farmers’ yields, improving nutrition for consumers, and informing evidence-based policy making. Knowing how data skills can contribute towards solving a specific problem helps to motivate learners and enhance outcomes.
  4. Data for SDGs: the Sustainable Development Goals, launched in September 2015, put the capacity needs of national statistical offices firmly on the map, while marshalling political will towards investing in data capacity—especially in low and middle income contexts. I look forward to building on this momentum at IODC 2016.
  5. Building a global resource centre: the International Open Data Charter and the Open Data for Development Network (OD4D) are contributing a body of practical resource guides and data sector packages to help translate open data policy commitments into successful implementation and impact.

However, there is still a long way to go in building capacities across the board to understand, analyze, publish, use, and build with open data. As highlighted by the Open Data Barometer 2015, persistent gaps around implementation are often less to do with a shortage of technical capability, and more to do with weaknesses around “soft skills” like leadership, strategy, and engagement.

Whether one is a service user, business owner, researcher, or civil servant, it is very challenging to escape the fact that today’s society is becoming increasingly “datafied”. This inescapable reality necessitates some level of data literacy. What data literacy looks like can be highly contextually dependent. The skills required by a policymaker seeking to design an evidence-based immunization program might be very different to the skills required by an app developer seeking to create a real-time air pollution monitor, or a journalist seeking to scrutinize public spending data. But these different skills all need to interact to create value out of open data.

Finally, we need to be conscious of emerging global inequalities in access to data, resourcing for open data initiatives, and uneven opportunities for skills development. All of these factors should shape how we design and prioritize investments in open data capacity building initiatives. As the UN pointed out last year, such gaps could create “a whole new inequality frontier” if allowed to persist.

Looking towards IODC 2016

At IODC 2016 I’d love to see conversations around what a shared open data competency framework might look like, building on the experience of governments, educational institutions and organizations (see ODI’s pilot learning framework here). I’m hoping to learn much more about creative methods for developing capacity from around the world (such as Poplus), and approaches towards evaluating the impacts of these methods. I’m also hoping to have some critical and frank conversations about how we, as a global community, can ensure no one is left behind in the emerging data/digital divide, and what investments are required to sustain capacity building efforts.

These are just some of my thoughts with regards to what I hope to discuss and explore during the Capacity Building Action Session, but I’d love to know more about what other’s priorities and expectations are for this Action Area. Feel free to tweet your thoughts to @opendatacon using the #IODC16 and #ODIHQ hashtags. Alternatively, you are welcome to tweet or e-mail me directly at @fiona_ph_smith or fiona.smith@theodi.org.

In addition to attending the Capacity Building Action Session, the following two sessions may also be of interest with regards to exploring issues related to this Action Area:


Cover photo by Steve Halama

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