At Festival de Datos 2023, the team at Datalat encountered opportunities and connections that look set to shape the organization's trajectory for years to come. In the first blog of a new series reflecting on the impact of Festival de Datos, the Datalat team shares how attending the Festival has supported their work so far, and their plans to build on the connections forged in 2024.

Datalat, a young organization based in Quito Ecuador, implements projects for the data community in four areas: digital democracy, gender and diversity, environment and territories, and AI and digital rights. Participating on a global stage at Festival de Datos required the organization to be strategic and nimble about their focus and what their presence at the event will help to achieve. 

Julio Lopez-Peña and Margarita Yépez Villareal, co-founders of Datalat, expressed a desire to highlight certain projects at the Festival: 

“We wanted to discover and promote projects that use citizen-generated data (CGD) and open data from civil society organizations, especially those related to urban issues, SDGs, inclusive data for women and the LGBTQI+ population. We also wanted to champion open data and empower local and national governments to promote the use of data through digital participation platforms. 

“For all of this to happen, robust data governance frameworks and capacity building programs are required, such as those developed by Datalat, to reuse data with a variety of stakeholders. Finally, we also endeavor to encourage further research and the collection of evidence concerning the use of public data and CGD, employing AI methodologies within the National Open Data Citizen Observatory, ALDATO (“ 

The Datalat team is also working on data modeling with generative AI for social impact, ethics, and for public policy. Susana Cadena, co-founder and Director of Technology and Research at Datalat, is part of the research team in Latin America (Latam) for the Global Index on Responsible AI (GIRAI) and AI Feminist Network FAIR.  

“The Festival was an opportunity to demonstrate the progress of the use of data, analytics and artificial intelligence. The latter perhaps with impacts still unclear, therefore from Datalat we are working with the use of artificial intelligence applications to improve everyday tasks and to contribute to their understanding, but also in the use of generative AI to reach more people thinking of an opportunity to realize the exercise of human rights.“

Susana also expressed the need that in Latin America, in addition to the use of artificial intelligence applications, the creation of policies that protect the rights of citizens must be initiated.

A focused approach

At Festival de Datos, the decision to split the staff for more extensive networking proved to be a strategic move. With team members managing different project portfolios, this approach allowed them to delve into meaningful conversations about the pillars of Datalat. The result was a surge in interest and collaboration requests, laying the foundation for future partnerships.

The AI track became a focal point for the tech-savvy members of the team. Issues of ethics and governance in AI, along with its real-world applications, were explored in depth. The team identified countries and organizations at the forefront of AI advancement, establishing connections with organizations like ILDA. This not only expanded Datalat's network but also opened doors for potential collaborations in the realm of artificial intelligence.

Three staff members took on the crucial role of identifying potential funders and donors, ensuring the financial sustainability of Datalat's initiatives. The significance of this effort cannot be overstated, as it directly influences the organization's ability to carry out its mission effectively.

New connections and collaborations

Engaging with influential entities like the United Nation Statistical Division’s Collaborative on Citizen Generated Data led to an invitation into their network, further solidifying Datalat's position in the inclusive data landscape. Additionally, connections with OCDE/Paris21 and Codeando Mexico helped to pave the way for collaborative projects, demonstrating Datalat's commitment to working with agencies to address global challenges. 

One of the many reflections coming from participants who attended Festival De Datos 2023, was their appreciation for the ease in which they could hold side discussions in the hallways, among the many intimate seating areas that were made available. These side discussions propelled projects forward, fueled collaboration, and became fertile ground for planning future work. Datalat shared a similar experience in that side discussions held with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) opened the way for a possible collaboration to host a side event at World Data Forum, 2024.

Similarly, Datalat attracted interest from data journalists at the Festival, who spent some time speaking with members of the team and learning about their work during a Data Gender Visualization with Legos session arranged by Datalat. 

On the international front, national statistics offices (NSOs) from Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, and Colombia expressed interest in collaborating with Datalat, demonstrating the organization's expanding influence in Latin America. Engagements at Abrelatam and Condatos underscored the importance of these regional events, which provide a platform for strategic planning and discussions on gender, climate change, and inclusive data.

What’s next: reflecting and building

Reflecting on lessons learned, Julio and Margarita emphasized the importance of follow-up—an essential practice in cultivating and nurturing connections. The team’s experience at Festival de Datos has not only expanded Datalat's network but also showcased their pivotal role in shaping the data governance landscape in Latin America.

When Datalat departed the Festival, they carried with them not just contacts but a tapestry of collaborations, potential projects, a deeper understanding of the global data landscape and the value of the human connections within the data ecosystem. For an organization just five years into its journey, Datalat can emerge as a catalyst for change, embodying the spirit of collaboration, innovation, and resilience.