I was asked to give a presentation at the Akvo Spring Track Day event in Washington, DC earlier this week on how ICT tools can help improve programs run through a coalition of implementers. Along with my presentation, other fun events took place- like the opening “Speed Dating” ice breaker, Spring Fling at Akvo, and a “wild-card” discussion. It was this final event (and conversations over delicious Mediterranean food afterwards) that left me with the most to think about.
The topic of this open forum discussion was on open data. Specifically, how do we go about opening data and what do we do with open data? The academic side of my brain came up with a simple answer for both questions: make people/organizations/governments put their data sets public and then we analyze the data. Duh!
But the conversation in the room very quickly shifted in to the logistics of getting data released for public viewing, maintaining and managing the data, and then actually doing something useful with it (and no, my NGO cohorts did not think putting it into a journal publication was a good use of data). Who do we target first: Big multilaterals? Local government? Small missions or student groups? Who has the capacity to orchestrate and advocate for this? And most importantly, is there technology available to do this cheaply and quickly?
We Have the Technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first [comprehensive WaSH data set]. The techies in the room were first to speak up. The technology needed for data collection and management is 80% there- and we can easily build new tools to fill in the gaps. The big challenge is not in the systems, but in building sector wide capacity towards the acceptance of open data and ability to put it into the hands of decision makers.
The entire discussion made me remember a mentorship model I had been taught in a leadership class in college. To be a leader, you need: a mentor above you to guide you and teach you, peers around you to support you and encourage you, and a disciple below you to lead and be challenged by.
There are early adopters in the WaSH sector who are promoting open data and using it in the programmatic decision making, but the large majority of organizations, donors, and government ministries have a long way to go. As leaders for open data, it is our job to promote these concepts to those above us, around us, and below us. We must advocate to the mentors, the large donors and policy makers, to adopt concepts like the DGIS sustainability clause and IATI standards for data reporting. As we implement open data policies within our own organizations and projects, we need to encourage other partners in the field and across the sector to do the same. And, possibly most importantly, we need to create a culture change in the way we do business and train new staff members in the ways of open source.
By the end of our wild-card discussion, a general consensus was reached that it is the responsibility of everyone involved in WaSH projects to advocate for open data. From grass roots initiatives to country-level programs, we need to have open data. Once that happens, then we can worry more about what to do with all the data.
…Or maybe I’ll just save that for another post.