A Message from Data Intermediaries

This post continues coverage of breakout sessions held at the 7th Annual Aid Management program Good Practices Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal.

While we’ve covered the demand side of data, it’s important to remember that a broader open data ecosystem exists – including civil society organizations, academia, media, and others. Representing this perspective, YoungInnovations (YI), a privately-owned technology enterprise and co-founder of Open Nepal, talked about what makes “good” open data, why openness matters, and why data suppliers should care.

What kind of data?

For YI, free, available, and accessible information is key – but not necessarily in the same ways that data suppliers are accustomed.

Like many others in the data ecosystem, YI defines “open data” as information that is digital, machine-readable (XML or CSV format vs. PDFs), and free from copyright, patents, or other restraints. But interestingly, YI also discussed the problematic tendency to publish information in English – thereby limiting access to non-English speakers – and encouraged participants to find ways to publish data in local languages.

Why open?

Behind the push for supplying data to government officials is the assumption that more information can lead to better decision making. But why are civil society organizations pushing for access? Because benefits of open data are well worth the fight, and include:

  • Opportunities for business and innovation – opening up information can allow new markets to develop around data analysis and visualization
  • Higher citizen engagement – better tools for interpreting data can make complex datasets easier for the everyday citizen to understand and react to
  • Increased accountability – analytical and visual platforms, along with citizen participation, can lead to more public scrutiny and calls for better results
  • Improved project efficiency – ultimately, better tools for decision making and more pressure on decision makers can, one hopes, drive more cost-effective and impactful programming

Why should you care?

The extra effort required to put data into the right format, and to make it open, is needed to ensure that data is meaningful. From the perspective of YI, splitting the Open Data Ecosystem into two spheres is too simplistic; rather, between data suppliers (government, private companies) and data demanders (media, citizens) there are intermediaries (civil society, academics) that serve as facilitators between producers and consumers.

From their role as intermediaries, YI urges suppliers to hold up their end of the bargain: when suppliers provide high-quality information, intermediaries can better facilitate demand, and the Open Data Ecosystem can flourish.

Image from Open Nepal CC-BY-2.0.

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