Submission to the UN Expert Advisory Panel on the Data Revolution

Achieving a data revolution in sustainable development: open data for development

We welcome the appointment of the Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on the Data Revolution. We believe that open, timely and comparable data is needed to unlock the power of information to drive positive outcomes for sustainable development.

Definition of a data revolution

A data revolution will see timely, accessible, comprehensive and comparable information about development-related activities and impacts made public, in a way that different users can freely access it to monitor, compare, use and reuse the information for decision making, planning and accountability. This includes financial, descriptive and performance-related information.

Principles for a data revolution

Transparency, accountability and citizen engagement are now accepted as central to more effective development and are reflected in the current discussions on the post-2015 Development Agenda. In support of these discussions, the Expert Advisory Group should establish some basic principles in order to maximise both the availability and use of the data:

  1. Information should be published proactively: All providers and recipients of sustainable development flows should make public what they are doing, for whom, when and how.
  2. Information should be comprehensive, timely, accessible and comparable: Development information should be provided in open, comparable formats. Organisations should develop their systems to better facilitate the collection and publication of timely information.
  3. Everyone should be able to request and receive information on sustainable development processes: Everyone needs to be able to access the information as and when they wish. The information should be open by default.
  4. The right of access to information should be promoted: Governments and other organisations engaged in sustainable development should actively promote this right. This includes private companies, foundations, academic institutions, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other third parties.
  5. Open data and new technologies should be leveraged: Organisations should draw on the potential that new technologies offer for transparency and accountability. They should provide incentives to make the data more accessible to different stakeholders, including by investing in capacity building and adopting open data policies and practices.
  6. Build an enabling environment for citizen-led accountability: Open data is not a ‘silver bullet’ for accountability; citizens need political space to feed into discussions and enabling conditions to exert their right to access to information and participation.

Open data standards

Within the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the international development community has been discussing the importance of standards and harmonisation to increase the transparency and comparability of development flows. These discussions can benefit from the lessons learnt from establishing and implementing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a multi-stakeholder initiative comprised of donors, partner countries, foundations, open data experts and civil society.

Agreed in 2011, the IATI Standard is a technical publishing framework allowing open data from different development organisations to be compared, aligned with partner country budgets, and linked to results at national level. The Standard was developed after extensive consultations on the information needs of partner countries, CSOs and donors

Based on Publish What You Fund’s experience of advocating for an open standard for aid data, we recommend the establishment of compatible open data standards for other flows based on the following approach:

  1. Consult with users: Open consultations with user groups help identify their needs early on and build them into open data standards as they are being developed.
  2. Engage all stakeholders: A multi-stakeholder governance structure and working groups help ensure that open data standards are fit for purpose for various providers and users of the information.
  3. Invest in information management systems: The best quality information is backed up by good internal data collection systems that allow detailed, disaggregated information to be published automatically, using the “publish once, use often” approach. As well publishing the information as raw data, visualising it and making it available via open data portals help improve accessibility for non-expert users.
  4. Publish, use and improve: Several organisations initially published a limited amount of information to IATI and then continually made improvements, both to the coverage and timeliness of the data. This “publish, use, improve” approach allows for quick progress and external feedback helps identify systems improvements for driving up the quality of the data.
  5. Build awareness and capacity: Data supply does not guarantee use. This is partly due to capacity constraints of users; lack of awareness of what new data is available; and lack of systems required for mapping the information to other datasets already being used.
  6. Coordinate processes: Close coordination between the policy and technical functions of some IATI publishers has meant they have progressed quickly. Sharing best practice with others helps drive the supply and increase the quality of the data made available.

Getting the basics right

For a data revolution to have maximum impact, it needs to be built on these basic foundations:

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Joining up different datasets, ensuring that they are standardised and data quality need to remain at the centre of discussions on the data revolution. Crucially, lessons learnt from opening up information on development flows via a common, open standard need to be incorporated into any new open data initiatives, building on the work done to date. The next step is to ensure the interoperability of different standards so the richness and usefulness of the data is enhanced.

Adequate resources and funds need to be allocated to all these activities to ensure continuous progress. The potential for open data to have a profound impact on development outcomes is enormous but it will require a truly multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that citizens and users are at the heart of discussions on a data revolution.

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Comments

  • November 8, 2014 at 18:38
    Darragh McCurragh says:

    You have an impressive alphabet soup of organizations that are meant to look after standardized data formats. While I am not deeply enough involved in these, as you called it “sustainable development flows”, I would suggest to put all this under the auspices of the ISO (International Standards Organisation). I can almost predict that (as Dijkstra said: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee”) otherwise you will still have competing concepts and no true interoperability ten years down the road.

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