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The GovLab Releases Report Detailing Why and How Open Data Matters for Developing Economies

July 21, 2017 by Andrew Young

New Report Provides Framework to Understand Evidence and Improve Future Open Data Initiatives;

Expands Insights and Practices Gathered from 12 Case Studies of Developing Economies;

Identifies 27 Success Factors in a Unique Periodic Table of Open Data; and Offers Recommendations

BROOKLYN, New York –Today, The Governance Labat the NYU Tandon School of Engineering has launched a first-of-its-kindreport that assesses and explores ways open data can be used in developing economies. The GovLab’s new report, “Open Data in Developing Economies: Toward Building an Evidence Base on What Works and How,” (1) provides an evidence-based tool governments, NGOs, donors, and others can use to assess the impacts resulting from the use of open data in developing economies; (2) outlines four key impact areas gleaned from 12 case studies that feature real-world examples from 12 countries, ranging from Colombia to Nepal; and (3) identifies 27 critical factors that help to determine the success (or failure) of open data uses in developing economies, organized into a newly-created Periodic Table of Open Data, along with recommendations for both practitioners and decision-makers, including donor agencies.

The new report and case studies complement existing findings The GovLab has published on its open data website, ODimpact.org, a multi-faceted platform of information about how open data can improve peoples’ lives.

The “Open Data in Developing Economies” report is also the result of a months-long collaboration between The GovLab and several partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, FHI 360, and the World Wide Web Foundation. “We’re very excited to share key lessons and takeaways from this project,” said Stefaan G. Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer at The GovLab. “Together with our partners, we set out to learn if and how a broader use of open data could improve lives and spur opportunity in developing economies. Our findings show that open data provides unique opportunities for developing economies to become more data-driven; and the framework and insights provided in the report allow the development community to become more evidence-based in how to leverage open data for good.”

How to Capture Evidence?

While the use of open data is on the rise in developing economies, a common (and comprehensive) framework for evaluating what works and how was missing. The “Open Data in Developing Economies” report sought to fill this gap and provide a way to analyze and assess existing open data initiatives. In developing this part of the framework, The GovLab focused on all the elements that comprise the open data value chain: supply, demand, action, output, use, indicators, impact, and stakeholder feedback.

What Can We Learn from the Field?

Capturing the stories behind the data is another critical factor in leveraging open data in developing economies. The repository of case studies that was launched simultaneously with the report features 12 case studies from 12 countries: Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. From its analysis of these case studies — which represented a variety of sectors such as health, poverty alleviation, and energy — The GovLab identified four ways people’s lives can be improved in developing countries:

  • Improving Government (e.g., through increased transparency and accountability);
  • Empowering Citizens (e.g., by enabling more informed decision-making);
  • Creating Opportunity (e.g., through economic growth and innovation); and
  • Solving Public Problems (e.g., by informing crisis response efforts).

For example, in Colombia, The GovLab case study showed how the Colombian government is using open data to better understand and address the way climate is affecting the country’s potential to grow its own food — a particularly serious challenge for small farmers, who represent the majority of crop growers in the country.

What Makes a Difference?

The GovLab subsequently organized the variables that determine impact into a new Periodic Table of Open Data, containing 27 elements that can play an important role in determining whether an open data project succeeds or fails, within five overarching categories: (1) Problem and Demand Definition, (2) Capacity and Culture, (3) Governance, (4) Partnerships, and (5) Risks. The Periodic Table of Open Data also provides a unique checklist for open data providers and users.

Providing a set of actionable recommendations for practitioners as well as decision-makers was another important element of the report. Recommendations for practitioners included articulating the issue to be addressed with as much granularity as possible, and clearly defining why the use of data for addressing a given problem matters. For decision-makers, recommendations included developing and integrating regular exercises that identify how open data can help to address problems.

“Our work at The GovLab is ultimately meant to help us get smarter about what works in practice,” said Andrew Young, knowledge director at The GovLab. “We believe ‘Open Data in Developing Economies’ provides tools that practitioners, governments, donors, and several others in the development community can use to unlock the power of open data to benefit people in developing economies around the world.”

The full report, “Open Data in Developing Economies: Toward Building an Evidence Base on What Works and How,” along with the 12 new case studies, is available at ODimpact.org, and thegovlab.org.

About The Governance Lab

The Governance Lab’s mission is to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern. Our goal at The GovLab is to strengthen the ability of institutions — including but not limited to governments — and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. We believe that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science, can transform governance. We approach each challenge and opportunity in an interdisciplinary, collaborative way, irrespective of the problem, sector, geography, and level of government. For more information, visit thegovlab.org.

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country’s largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit engineering.nyu.edu.