4th IODC

Blog IODC 2016
Madrid. October 6-7, 2016

#IODC16

Will the Data Revolution Be Open?

June 9, 2015 by IODC

A guest post from Mélanie Brunet

For anyone who attended the 3rd International Open Data Conference, it is clear that we are in the midst of a data revolution. Furthermore, the level of enthusiasm around development data could not be higher for the revolution’s potential to be reached, it must be open.

According to Wayne Smith, Canada’s Chief Statistician, data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. The data revolution is marked by an explosion in the volume and speed at which it is produced, the number of producers, the range of things on which there is data, and the new technologies that use this data. This coincides with the enormous need for data to fulfil the post-2015 development agenda. However, Smith warned that big data is not a panacea; it provides information and the means to solve many problems, but it should only be used if fit for the purpose. He reminded the audience of these key data principles:

  • Quality and integrity, i.e. standards and common concepts for comparability
  • Disaggregation, i.e. need for more granular data while protecting privacy
  • Timeliness, i.e. new technology to reduce time between collection and dissemination
  • Transparency and openness, i.e. only with open data can governments be meaningfully held accountable, but a larger body of citizens also need the skills to evaluate and analyse the data
  • Usability and curation, i.e. preservation and maintenance to support larger number of purposes
  • Governance and independence, i.e. investing in human capital, data management systems and standards, and build statistical capacity in developing countries
  • Data rights, i.e. right to be counted, provide consent, and have one’s privacy protected

Although Smith emphasized the importance of data quality, he also compared data to children: we need to let go of them, even if they are not quire ready or else they will never make their way into the world. It is not about perfect quality, but about trust between those who create and those who use the data.

Catherine Woteki presented the example of a project she helped catalyse, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) to demonstrate the importance of data to drive better decisions and enable governments and the private sector to provide a range of services and achieve sustainable development goals. Woteki pointed out that public investment in agricultural research has been declining, except in India, China and Brazil. Adopting open data policies could boost agricultural research worldwide and enhance food production to fight malnutrition, as outlined in GODAN’s working paper, released at the IODC.

Closely involved in the publication of the UN’s report, A World That Counts, Shaida Badiee of Open Data Watch insisted that the data revolution is really here, but some challenges remain, including a growing gap in the statistical capacities of many countries, and weaknesses in access to and literacy on data (leading to vicious cycle of low usage). Indeed, open data is not just about transparency, but about empowering users, bringing them together, and making them data literate, in addition to modernizing statistical systems.

José Alonso of the World Wide Web Foundation talked about the importance of policy grounded in research, pointing to ODDC, a network to study the impact of open data in developing countries. But data goes beyond statistics. There are different sources of data and it is imperative that all of these be put to use for better outcomes, while being integrated with official data. Cooperation between the open data community and governments is crucial to fill capacity and data gaps. So is the need for intermediaries, i.e. application developers and data disseminators.

Finally, Amparo Ballivian of the World Bank stated there was no doubt the data revolution would be open, and in more than one sense: in the types of partnerships and the sources of data. For Ballivian, open data is more than a monitoring and innovation tool; it allows for the creation of new businesses and services, it contributes to the GDP and job creation. In that sense, transparency and accountability are almost byproducts of open data. The supply of such data should be driven by the needs of the users, the farmers in the field, for example, a point that was made in more than one session during the conference.

 

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