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A World to Gain with Data

Roadmaps, data literacy, interoperability, â€‹ecosystems, MOOCs…It is the kind of language that regularly dropped by at the 4th Open Data Conference, that took place October 6 and 7 in Madrid. I attended the conference together with our Economic Empowerment specialist Leonard Zijlstra. The main theme of this open data conference was ‘Global goals, local impact’. 

A World to Gain with Data

What is open data? Open data is data made available by organizations, businesses and individuals for anyone to access, use, modify and share for any purpose. It is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. 

For ICCO Cooperation open data is gaining importance. Why do we want to use open data? Well, there are various opportunities:

  • It enhances transparency about what organizations do and which data is already being collected. If data is already open we do not have to collect it ourselves.
  • Our data might help others. ICCO collects data about hunger and food security. This might be of value for, for example, health organizations.  
  • Sharing data enables new ways working together, e.g. for lobby purposes
  • You can determine by contrast what is not open or what or who is missing in the data (e.g. specific data about women or indigenous communities); â€‹

ICCO is particularly interested in the opportunities that open data offer, as we increasingly gather data about income, hunger, what people eat and how cooperatives perform (see also my blog on data gathering and analysis). These data become richer once we start combining and comparing them with open data sets.  ​We can use this for monitoring and measurement. How do we perform compared to other initiatives for example?

Back to the conference. Here are some take-aways from Madrid:

  • Practice on data literacy: 

The number of datasets is increasingly growing. There are a number of large donors (Worldbank, EU) that seem to be really committed to open up data. So the data is there, but how to use it in such a way to get useful information out of it? We call this data literacy. And data literacy is generally low among NGOs and the partners we work with. If you want to understand how you can make use of data, you first want to improve on your  Excel and statistics skills, so that you can visualize your analysis.  This becomes even more important if we want to combine our ICCO data with open data sets. Hence our idea to organize a training week for our regional staff members upcoming November to practice these skills.  

  • Consider the risks of sharing data       

As ICCO we should seriously consider speeding up making our own datasets open. This sounds easier than it is in practice. What do we do with data that are private for example; this is one of our struggles in opening up our data through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). During one of the workshops a clear framework was provided for making your data open by GovLab. The framework has two pillars: enabling conditions and challenges and supports organizations for example to think properly about the way you share data, risks around privacy & security and ensuring that your system to open up data is sustainable.

  • Map out what is done with your data       

When opening up our data we should track how our data is used. What do users want to know? This might sound logical, but there is a current tendency to simply upload data in bulk. Is that really helpful?

  •  â€‹Find collaboration to make data really usefull

As civil society organization, we need to be aware that ‘Open data’ is no longer the exclusive domain of tech geeks. In an increasingly authoritarian and closed world, with shrinking space for CSOs and journalists, open data becomes every day more politically charged and confronts mental and social barriers. We are already witnessing something called ‘Open-washing’; organizations that pretend to be ‘open’, but actually aren’t. We need to engage with the tech savvy people as well as with politicians and bureaucrats, to turn open data into something really meaningful for the people; insights and statistics that are local, actable and collaborative.

  • Take a closer look at what is already there       

Finally, during the conference we came across some really inspiring examples.  We saw maps that are combined with stories from indigenous groups; tribes can customize this information themselves. We saw Global Forest Watch, a website that combines 150 datasets and visualizes where forests disappear. It is used for lobby purposes and to hold companies accountable to keep their promises. We saw banks willing to freely share bank-transactions (anonymized) that were a trigger for development of apps and better understanding of what is going on for entrepreneurs.

Have become enthusiastic and want to know more about open data? Check out the Open Data Impact Map (www.opendataenterprise.org), a public database of organizations that use open data from around the world. It shows for instance how open data is used in agriculture by better informing farmers’ decisions on managing their farms and increasing their crop yields. It is this kind of information where ICCO will increasingly look for in the coming years.​

Author Martijn Marijnis
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