The future of data is open!
“We should ensure that open data makes a difference in people’s lives.” Tholakele Nene travelled to Buenos Aires to find out how.
Gone are the days when the term “data” was used exclusively among scientists and technical people, and sounded like jargon to everyone outside of these industries. Over the years, more professionals have opened up to the idea of using data for impact, to tell stories, to seek justice, and to educate.
From these multiples roles, with the assistance of technology, came the need to open data for communities, government and the like. The drive for open data has taken on many faces in civil society, challenging NGOs and professionals across the world to explore creative ways to analyse, visualise, and use data.
As a creative, evolving, and tech-savvy media organisation, Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism has created multiple tools to store, visualise, and simplify data for stakeholders to use in the environmental sector. One of its cutting-edge data-driven geojournalism projects, #MineAlert, was among the 1,500 participants gathered at the recent International Open Data Conference (#IODC18) in Buenos Aires, where 70 countries were represented.
#MineAlert Manager Tholakele Nene attended the Open Heroines Do-A-Thon, and spent the day working as part of the “Justice data with a gender perspective” group. The group built on an app set up by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to make data about gender issues available to communities in Latin America. The group’s approach was to create an international index to track femicide cases globally, including in Africa, aiming to assist in curbing femicide worldwide.
The existing app focuses on Latin America, but because #MineAlert was part of this group, the group also focused on South Africa. It was interesting to see how various laws across the world deal with gender-based violence but do not explicitly reference femicide. Poor data collection of femicide cases makes it difficult to track whether there’s a growth or decline over the years.
Part of an open community
IODC was #MineAlert’s first open data conference, and it was striking to see just how far, wide, and cross-sectoral open data reaches — spanning from projects aimed at improving water services in Tanzania to groundbreaking data-driven investigative work to improve health services and challenge existing systems and policies.
Listening to like-minded industry experts share the daunting processes of data collection to create stronger, more impactful stories was an IODC highlight. We talked about creating data – how sometimes data needs to be created from scratch using technological tools – and interpreting data — working with experts in different fields to find the best way to do so.
“We use data to prove injustices and systematic problems, it is the spine to our stories,” — Mary Joe Webster, Minneapolis Star Tribune data editor.
Impact! Impact! Impact!
The conference emphasised that across our work, we should always have impact. This theme ran throughout IODC, with several speakers highlighting that “data matters only when it’s used” and that digital tools are necessary to create visually compelling, informative communication.
“We should ensure that open data makes a difference in people’s lives. We need to scale up on open data and participation in things that matter for ordinary citizens.” Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Government Partnership
Challenges in the open data realm
Ten years into the effort to make government data open, the movement has seen much success — but several issues still hinder organisations and activists from achieving their data-driven goals. Some of these include:
- Concerns around data washing – when organisations are able to successfully request and receive information, but parts have been omitted. Data washing can also be when policies exist to promote information sharing, but actually getting data from the custodians remains difficult.
- Being sent “from pillar to post” to source information with little success, and then having to rely on crowdsourcing.
- Lack of accountability or clarity on what information is public and not.
- Questions of platform sustainability in terms of funding.
For the next IODC in 2020, all roads lead to Kenya. A topic sure to be buzzing is open contracting, and its importance in upholding transparency and providing citizens with meaningful and fair participation.
#MineAlert manager Tholakele Nene secured an Open Heroines travel grant to attend #IODC18. The travel grants are aimed at increasing the presence of women in open data initiatives.
Originally published at medium.com on October 5, 2018.