The state of open data in the development sector

The State of Open Data (Davies et al., 2019) is an extensive report about “all things open data”. Chapter 5 deals with open data for development assistance and humanitarian action, and highlights the crucial chicken-and-egg problem we see as well:
Lack of investment in data models, infrastructure and organisational capacity leads to data with insufficient quality, which makes it harder to use it and to provide evidence of the impact of data-driven decision-making. To quote the authors:

“This funding gap inhibits the critical changes required to properly implement tools and workflows to better support open data.” (p. 84)

Although insufficient funding for technical development is a key factor, this is driven by bigger cultural gaps.

  • The open data evangelists move too fast, and lose (or lack) the connection with local culture and organisational processes and procedures. A mostly international and high-level focus leads to data that is not a good fit for local needs.
  • Local staff is skeptical of data and relies more on interpersonal relations and negotiations to get the information they need.
  • There is no “data leadership” and culture of evidence-based decision-making, a lack of capacity building, and often a lack of trust in the data.

This has its effect on data-driven projects and products that focus on what actually is the core process of what our customers do: deliver impact. A good data infrastructure is key, as is illustrated in this quote from chapter 18:

“Roads help us to navigate to a destination; data helps us to navigate to a decision.” (Dodds and Wells, p. 260)

Davies, T., Walker, S.B., Rubinstein, M., Perini, F. (Eds.), 2019. The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons. African Minds and International Development Research Centre, Cape Town and Ottawa.