Data is not really gold if it is not reused!
In my last post I looked at the USA’s decision to become an International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) signatory and what such an open data stance could mean for aid effectiveness. In this post I’ll look at the importance of reusing open data for CSOs. To quote one journalist “If data is the new gold mine of the century, its biggest prospectors will be citizens”, but where does that leave the CSO? Today, more than ever, CSOs are filling service gaps left by government despite decreased resources. Data is essential to CSOs’ effectiveness, however, it takes time, knowledge, and will to turn the vast amounts of quantitative and qualitative data at our disposal into anything of value.
It is clear that access to and deployment of data is too important to be left to data enthusiasts and statisticians. CSOs must also get involved in the process. But how?
For a start they can consciously explore ways to use internal and external data in their everyday work to help them become more effective and solve problems.
The idea of openness that revolves around hackathons has proved an eye opener to the CSOs that get involved. Though some may not be involved in the actual hacking, their insight, ideas and feedback are essential to problem definition and to eventual implementation of good solutions. Hackathons are open to both data geeks and data novices, both of whom bring something to the table. You can read a bit about TechSoup Global’s involvement in hackathons. See (Random Hacks of Kindness at Oxford – 40,000 records test data transparency as well as How Is It To Participate In A Social Hackathon? A Personal Perspective on RHoK Warsaw and Restarting Romania!).
They can help increase interest in the benefits and use of data. By finding practical ways to help citizens understand the importance as well as relevance of data to them they help to create a public culture which acknowledges the benefits of data and encourages reuse among many different types of CSOs.
They can act as a data intermediary for citizens in their interactions with technologists, governments and companies that aim to use data for social benefit. This also helps citizens to make the link between open data and democratic participation.
They can encourage standardization which will in turn encourage collaboration, repurposing and impactful use. By developing and using the same structures, labels and identifiers the sector can organise its own data more effectively. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is encouraging NGOs to become signatories though few have signed up to date. You can read more about What is IATI and aidInfoLabs, Who's involved And What Does This Mean For CSOs in a previous post I wrote to find out more about this.
In very practical terms, when data is also mapped or geolocated it can help a CSO to understand how they are being effective by location and where their services are most needed or used. The work that Data without Borders has started recognises not only the importance of the data that CSOs hold, but also the important role they can play in bringing valuable data to large audiences in a way which can improve services and well-being.
A real life example can be found at the recent Data Without Border Data Dive. Mobilizing Health, which connects rural patients in remote areas with doctors, found that their rich data on cellphone requests made to doctors from community health workers may be able to predict drug prescriptions without the need for doctor contact.
A bit more about how data is being generated and used can be found in an earlier post I wrote. Data, Data Everywhere — But How Does It Relate to You And Your Work?
We give away our data for free each day to companies so they can market their products and services ... to social media sites so we can talk to family, friends and other various networks. Should we not also be finding ways to make use of data available to improve the well-being of our communities?
CSOs dedicated to the cause of transparency have already been the ones that have helped to drive the open government data movement forward. Organisations like Publish What You Fund, Development Gateway, The Open Knowledge Foundation, Aidinfo and The Sunlight Foundation are driving not only the opening up of data but also its reuse.