The future we want: Young African leaders on a fairer data future

Lack of access to data is a key concern among young data scientists in Africa. That’s what we learned at a recent community of scientists event organized by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (the Global Partnership) and the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS)

In the past decade, data has risen to the top of national and global policy agendas, yet “progress towards effective data governance, and to realizing the public value of data, remains highly uneven across countries, regions and sectors,” according to the Global Data Barometer. Within the African continent, the 22 countries analyzed by the Barometer score below global averages in data availability, capabilities, governance, use, and impact. However, significant opportunities to develop a stronger data economy exist, and a generation of young data leaders and data scientists stand ready to create a data- and AI-driven future.

Concerns and challenges for the data economy in Africa

During the event, young data scientists and data leaders from 18 countries raised three concerns: limited availability and access to data, lack of skills, and inadequate privacy frameworks. 

Despite some progress and the many investments made by the data for development community in the past decade, availability and access to data remain uneven. Access to data is particularly challenging in domains such as economic, transportation, and population statistics and energy data. The experience of AIMS’ community of scientists suggests that key datasets from public and private sectors are simply not available or not accessible, confirming  findings from the Global Data Barometer that availability and access to data are the biggest obstacles for the use of data for public good in Africa.

Lack of skills and weak privacy frameworks and practices are also concerns among emerging young African data scientists. This includes both the absence of adequate technical knowledge among workers and the lack of understanding from decision makers concerning many aspects of the data economy. 

As legislation is also fragmented and, when present, difficult to implement, data privacy is also perceived as a considerable obstacle for data use. The Global Data Barometer “identified gaps with respect to data protection or privacy standards in a number of [African] countries,” noting that the “absence of strong legal frameworks alongside new technological advancements seems to be a developing concern.” 

The best thing we can do for the next generation is to put in place a better architecture for data processing and teach them how to use it.

- Event participant

Describing a fairer data future

Looking forward, the AIMS community of scientists describes a fairer and value-driven data future on the continent as one in which data is accessible and user data is protected.

Young data scientists put accessibility at the center of a fair data future. A fairer data economy is a space where access to data is more equally distributed as a basic right. More equitable access to data should be coupled with protections for individuals’ (or users’) data and sound data management systems. Transparency, regulation and policy, and data privacy and security complete the picture. 

These values are guiding principles for the AIMS community of scientists. Eight-five percent of participants declared that they always think about these values in their work with data. Young data scientists and leaders are already putting their values into practice and operating to change the status quo. 

What will it take to make this change?

To move towards a value-driven data economy, everyone needs to act.

Governments should create enabling environments for a fairer data economy by increasing skills and capabilities within and outside of the public sector through further investments in data education, defining regulatory and non regulatory frameworks and policies, and collaborating with private partners, universities, and others to improve access to data. They should also collaborate internally to centralize data from the public sector instead of working in data silos, with each administration keeping their datasets locked up. 

Governments should work towards democratizing data access and share the data that is currently locked for political or other reasons.

- Event participant

The private sector should also invest in training and educating workers, hiring and retaining data scientists in Africa, increasing access to data and accountability toward the public concerning data use, and partnering with the public sector to foster innovation.

The private sector should focus on solving real life problems of Africans.

- Event participant

Finally, young data scientists and leaders also have an important role to play. They should pay the utmost attention to privacy when developing new systems, look out for potential harms, especially in the context of AI, focus on African problems that need to be solved and use African data to address them, develop more inclusive data solutions and share knowledge and experience broadly to increase data literacy of the population. 

As there is a role for everyone and everyone needs to act, the participants of the event called for a multi-stakeholder partnership approach to moving the needle and improving the outlook of the data economy in Africa. 

A #DataValues agenda

Young African data scientists and data leaders from the AIMS community of scientists have a clear vision of what a fair, value-driven data economy should look like in Africa and what needs to be done to get there.

The Data Values Project is an opportunity to build a movement for change and mobilize African youth towards these objectives. While the objectives put forward by the Data Values Project are universal, they also need to be rooted in the local contexts and local stakeholders need to appropriate them. In Africa, fairness in availability and access to data remains a core concern for the youngest generation. Addressing these unequal access opportunities goes hand-in -hand with implementing the #DataValues agenda on agency, accountability and data in action.  

This article is based on an event on the 16th of June in the context of the Data Values Project in which the Global Partnership and the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) organized an event for the AIMS community of scientists, gathering young data scientists, students and future data leaders from 18 African countries. Our objective with this event was to ask them what are the data values that are closer to their heart and how we can build a future where data is used to do good and not to harm. The AIMS community of scientists took this opportunity to tell us about their concerns, aspirations and the actions that need to be taken to build a fairer data economy in Africa.

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Data Values Project white paper consultation: feedback and responses

The Data Values white paper, Reimagining Data and Power: A roadmap for putting values at the heart of data, is based on contributions from more than 350 individuals from 63 countries who contributed during a year-long consultation. More than 100 people weighed in on an early draft of the white paper published in May 2022 for public consultation. 

The table below summarizes the feedback and the steps taken to incorporate it into the final version of the Data Values white paper. We extend our gratitude to every individual who shared insights, expertise, and valuable time to improve this white paper.

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Developing a “stronger common vision” for data equity

This blog post was originally published in the Data Values Digest on June 21 here. 

The data for development community needs a stronger common vision for data ethics, rights, and governance, according to a recent survey in which nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.*

From the #RestoreDataRights movement in Africa to calls from national statisticians in Latin America, there’s growing awareness that data and tech are powerful tools that can either address or entrench inequalities. Change is needed to ensure we’re on course to use them in ways that improve lives—rather than making people who are already marginalized even worse off.

This is what led to the creation of the Data Values Project (and this publication) more than a year ago. A year in, there’s clear consensus on the need to shift power structures in data. How has the Data Values Project contributed to this shift? Results from the Global Partnership’s annual survey show how sharing knowledge is helping to build a movement for change. This week, we’re dropping in to discuss these results and how they fit into the past year of open consultation. 

In the survey of partner organizations (including governments, NGOs, international civil society organizations, academia, and more), 85 percent of people said that exposure to new ideas has been the most valuable part of the Data Values Project so far. 

These aren’t exactly “new” ideas. Contributions have emerged from the lived experiences of our contributors and rigorous analysis and research from our partners, many of whom have been working on these issues for decades. These are people like Data4Change’s Bronwen Robertson, who spoke passionately about building data confidence, and Gwen Phillips of the Ktunaxa Nation, who explained how data has been used in ways that disempower Indigenous communities. 

More than 300 people from 63 countries have contributed to the search to better understand what should characterize just data systems. We’ve heard from people around the world about what’s working and what’s not. Data Values Project contributors have explained how giving local communities power to design data and share insights with decision makers can create positive change, what it really takes to put values of inclusion and equity into action, and how to foster participatory data governance. Contributors have also addressed some of the tensions in this movement, as when Martina Barbero wrote about trade-offs between privacy and security and Josh Powell warned of the threats to Afghans of development agencies’ collection and use of data. 

Unlocking the power of data to create positive social change while protecting people from harm is obviously a key concern of the data for development community. Consultations in the Data Values Project indicate that including people in designing data systems and in decisions about how data is managed are important, as are cultures of transparency and data sharing among governments and organizations. You can read more about these ideas in the Data Values Projectnwhite paper, a final version of which is set for publication in July. 

As the survey demonstrated, sharing knowledge is a pivotal component of shifting power in data and practices. The power and potential for change of the Data Values Project comes front the breadth of perspectives it brings together. That’s why we’re asking you to join us by sharing your ideas and joining the movement. Email us at DataValues@data4sdgs.org with ideas for contributions and sign up for our mailing list to learn more about ways to get involved in the Data Values Project. 

 

*About the annual survey: Each year, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data asks its more than 600 partners for feedback through its annual partner survey. Data reported here are based on the 2021 annual partner survey’s 132 responses. The majority of respondents (41 percent) in this year’s survey were from government partners. Non-governmental and multilateral organizations made up the second and third largest groups of respondents at 24 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Explore the full, anonymized dataset here.

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Making pizza without dough: the state of funding for data

It's that time of year again when leaders get together at the United Nations to assess progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Data to monitor and to achieve the Goals is quite rightly in the spotlight. So it’s worth asking: How are development partners doing in supporting countries to get the data they need? 

The picture is mixed. 

In data for development, we’re good at funding projects and products. Inspired by the promise of new technologies, lots of money is going to build new things. We were all grateful for the impressive platforms that showed us COVID-19 trends. The climate challenge, too, has spurred the creation of thousands of digital tools (like this one to track deforestation) and data platforms based on ever more sophisticated sources and methods. There are lots of solutions out there. But solutions only solve a problem when they are put to work.  

It’s like we’re making pizza, and the money is all going toward the cheese before we’ve started kneading the dough. Despite investment in data tools and platforms to solve just about every global challenge, four in ten deaths around the world aren’t registered, and only one in six countries has enough data to report on agreed climate targets. People trying to build their national systems and link data to day-to-day decision making in governments are struggling to get the resources they need. We are building shiny tools on very shaky foundations. 

One of the reasons for this mismatch is, of course, the money. First off, there’s not enough of it: Official development assistance for data and statistics has flatlined, as tracked by the invaluable PRESS report issued every year by Paris21. And, on top of that, existing funds are not always spent well. Since 2020, in response to COVID-19, donor support to health data grew to more than a third of all funding for data and statistics. This came at the expense of other sectors where support fell from a fifth to less than a tenth of total official development assistance for data and statistics.

This shows all too clearly the pick-and-mix approach often taken to funding data. Donors frequently support a specific sector, collect specific information they need, or invest in the latest new technology—not in ways that build systems as a whole. This could mean funding a survey on COVID-19 prevalence, for example, but not investing in a robust system for registering deaths. It’s creating a new platform to visualize climate data without investing to ensure the data within it is reliable. And this isn’t just about donors—governments often fail to prioritize data in national spending, finding it more politically attractive to fund things that are more tangible to their electorates. 

The net result is uncertainty and fragmentation, where country data priorities are hostage to what donors think is important and where huge opportunities are missed to create efficiencies and develop systems that can be the foundation of modern data architecture. 

None of this is new. We’ve been talking about it for a long time even as a few far-sighted donors and governments have been quietly showing us how to do it. Finally, others may be catching up. The urgency of tracking COVID-19 and the reality of climate change have shown all too starkly what happens when good data isn’t available to guide policy and change minds. As Ghana’s Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia* explained at the World Bank Spring meetings this year: 

“Many governments do not really prioritize data collection because, traditionally, voters don't care about it. That is now changing. With pandemics, economic and food security issues, you have to use data to know where you are, act fast, and prove you are delivering for the people. Our view is that strengthening data systems can enable considerable economic returns by making programs more efficient by better targeting resources, by strengthening transparency, and by reducing waste.”

One of the key elements in the #DataValues agenda is action: We all need to be thinking about how data can drive action to respond to critical global challenges.  We’re witnessing an opportunity to finally get political momentum on this critical issue. The next stop will be the UN General Assembly in September, where it’s time for leaders to step up and show they mean business when it comes to data by making new commitments to invest in systems.

Rather than relying on a single platform or tool, a broad base of data skills need to be built across governments. We need meaningful investments in better connectivity, data storage, and hardware that make using new tools and platforms feasible. Above all, we need leaders who are confident with new technologies and motivated to ensure they are governed for the benefit of all, leaders who know how to ask the right questions, understand what data they do and don’t need, and how to use it. 

More funding for systems means all these amazing new platforms and tools will be used where they are needed most: by governments and civil society organizations saving money and making better and faster decisions at the sharp end of global crises. Data is worthless if it is not used to drive action, and all our tools and platforms will founder without the basic investments that enable them to be used. 

*Vice-President Bawumia serves as a board member at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

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Advancing dialogue on data governance in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Data governance speaks to who has authority and control over data and how that data may be used, but the term means different things to people and is far from straightforward in practice. As one participant in an initial conversation in a series of regional dialogues explained, “the question is how to embed democracy” in data governance. 

Statistical offices in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are increasingly confronting the need to establish data governance frameworks amidst rapid technological change, emerging data demands, and heightened concerns around privacy. Officials across the region are seeking to find their place in a widening ecosystem of data demand, production, and use. 

Sharing knowledge and ideas among data producers and users is the first step to navigating fast-evolving data ecosystems and reconsidering remits, practices, and responsibilities. Strengthening regional collaboration is critical to building clarity around data governance and addressing the complexity and urgency of these issues.  

In November, leaders from the statistical offices of Colombia and the Dominican Republic, civil society organizations, and research institutions exchanged perspectives on data governance during a side event of the Eleventh Statistical Conference of the Americas. Their discussion surfaced some of the key challenges and recommendations that will help guide further conversations among regional leaders. 

Outdated laws, low levels of trust, and limited resources

Out-of-date and weak legal mandates hinder statistical offices’ ability to advance data governance. Statistical legislation often dates back years and is out of step with the latest technological developments and the emerging data economy. These types of laws limit national statistical offices’ ability to be at the forefront of data governance and coordinate across the data ecosystem. In cases where it is not possible to change the legal framework in the near term, statistical offices are taking steps to align with national strategies and make data governance more central within these strategies. 

The lack of strong legal frameworks to promote statistical offices’ technical independence has implications for the perceived trustworthiness of official statistics. The absence of a clear mandate, scope, and limitations for statistical offices as the stewards of national statistical systems has made it difficult to build trust among the new users and members of the data ecosystem. Participants highlighted that promoting a culture of efficiency and innovation within statistical offices can help to bolster trust in the institution.

Participants from national statistical offices also explained that they face an increasing imbalance between demands and resources. Statistical offices' institutional capacities and resources are rarely keeping pace with increasing expectations and demands of new data producers and users and rapidly evolving discussions around data governance. 

The way forward

Data producers need to ensure that data represents the interests of data subjects - the people providing data. “Our role is to ground data governance frameworks in reality with a bottom-up approach,” Julia Zulver of Ladysmith explained. 

Participants pointed to promising developments and approaches to shared challenges, emphasizing the importance of localizing norms and frameworks, enhancing transparency, and fostering collaboration. The following ideas emerged from the discussion:

1. Data privacy must be tailored to meet local needs and political contexts.

Privacy concerns and individuals’ expectations about how governments will use their data vary across countries. For example, tax declarations of all individuals are publicly-available records in Nordic countries, but this is not the norm in LAC. The specific privacy context and the preferences of individuals towards their data require tailored approaches and solutions.  

Fabrizio Scrollini, Executive Director of La Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos (ILDA), emphasized at the event that we must go beyond considering privacy at the individual level to recognize this as a community issue and a collective phenomenon. This is especially important when considering historically marginalized groups and the potential risks of further discrimination through data practices.

2. Promoting transparency and inclusive data governance systems builds public trust and credibility.

Patricio del Boca, Senior Software Developer at the Open Knowledge Foundation, highlighted that statical offices should improve transparency on data, methodologies, and processes to foster greater use of data and strengthen citizens’ trust in governments to collect, access, and use their information. Without transparency in both the data itself and the processes of data collection and analysis, he explained, a lack of credibility prevents data use.

National statistics offices can also increase trust by adopting reciprocal data governance models, instead of extractive ones. Reciprocal models involve collecting data from various sources (public and private) while also giving back to those data providers. This approach has helped ONE in the Dominican Republic gain access to meteorological and water data. In exchange, ONE is strengthening the data skills of the data producers and helping them reorganize and update their data collection processes and databases. 

3. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is critical to realizing equity and inclusion through data governance.

In working with women in vulnerable situations, Ladysmith Senior Researcher Julia Zulver acknowledged that data collection can expose people to harm. To protect data subjects, she explained that it is important to avoid collecting data for the sake of data itself. Instead, data collection should have a specific purpose and be tied to concerns and changes that affected communities wish to address. This aim requires researchers to co-design programs and work closely with grassroots organizations to ensure that data addresses the needs of communities and is used to amplify the voices of people who are data subjects.

Juan Daniel Oviedo, Director General of Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), explained that DANE has a legal and constitutional mandate to improve the visibility of minorities in statistical production and has worked closely with sectoral ministries to achieve this. This requires considering not only how statistical offices respond to new mandates but also how other actors in the national statistical system are engaged. 

The aim of data governance must speak to the specific needs of people at the heart of data and provide a framework for protecting and sharing data for public good. As Patricio del Boca from Open Knowledge Foundation explained, working together to create data ecosystems and governance frameworks helps improve the quality of and access to data for public good.

Sustaining regional collaboration

International and regional dialogue and collaboration are critical as national statistical offices progress into a new realm of shaping data governance frameworks, while maintaining confidentiality, privacy, and data quality. 

Over the coming months, DANE and the Global Partnership will continue exploring data governance and related issues with actors across LAC through a series of activities, including:

  • Creating opportunities for LAC leadership, consultation, and engagement in the Data Values Project, a policy consultation and advocacy campaign that aims to unlock the value of data for all.
  • Reinvigorating partnerships between cities, local organizations, and national-level actors to jointly assess and rethink how data governance can enable policy solutions.
  • Delving into new frameworks, concepts, and experiences through a new working group on data stewardship under the Statistical Conference of the Americas - United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and strengthening knowledge exchange with the UN Data Stewardship Working Group, under the joint leadership of DANE and Statistics Poland.
  • Fostering regional and South-to-South knowledge exchanges on inclusive, intersectional, and participatory data practices through the Inclusive Data Charter.

We look forward to collaborating with a breadth of organizations across the region and welcome ideas and feedback. Get in touch at datavalues@data4sdgs.org.

 

Camilo Mendez and Daniel Peñaranda from Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) and Jenna Slotin and Fredy Rodriguez from the Global Partnership contributed to this blog post.

Notes: Colombia’s National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) and the Global Partnership are bringing together statisticians, researchers, and activists across Latin America and the Caribbean to explore the norms that should guide data governance and the role of national statistics offices. This regional dialogue will feed into a global policy and advocacy process – the Data Values Project

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Avanzando en el diálogo sobre la gobernanza de datos en América Latina y el Caribe

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La gobernanza de datos habla de quién tiene autoridad y control sobre los datos y a la forma en que estos pueden ser utilizados, pero el término tiene diferentes significados y dista de ser claro en su aplicación. Como explicó un participante en la conversación inicial de una serie de diálogos regionales, "la cuestión es cómo integrar la democracia" en la gobernanza de los datos.

Las oficinas de estadística de América Latina y el Caribe (ALC) cada vez más se enfrentan a la necesidad de establecer marcos de gobernanza de datos en medio del rápido cambio tecnológico, las nuevas necesidades de información, aunado a una creciente preocupación en torno a la privacidad de los datos. Representantes  de la región están buscando encontrar su lugar en el creciente ecosistema de demanda, producción y uso de datos.

Compartir conocimientos e ideas entre los proveedores y usuarios de datos es el primer paso para navegar por los cambiantes ecosistemas de datos y replantearse sus competencias, prácticas y responsabilidades. El fortalecimiento de la colaboración regional es fundamental para crear mayor claridad en torno a la gobernanza de los datos y abordar la complejidad y la urgencia de estas cuestiones. 

En noviembre, líderes de las oficinas de estadística de Colombia y República Dominicana, organizaciones de la sociedad civil e instituciones de investigación intercambiaron perspectivas sobre la gobernanza de datos durante un evento paralelo de la Undécima Conferencia Estadística de las Américas. El debate puso de manifiesto algunos de los principales retos y recomendaciones que ayudarán a orientar las futuras conversaciones entre los líderes regionales.

Los institutos de estadística se enfrentan a leyes obsoletas, bajos niveles de confianza pública y recursos limitados.

Los marcos legales obsoletos y débiles obstaculizan la capacidad de las oficinas de estadísticas para avanzar en la gobernanza de los datos. A menudo, la legislación estadística se remonta a años atrás y está desfasada respecto a los últimos avances tecnológicos, así como a la emergente economía de los datos. Este tipo de leyes limita la capacidad de los institutos nacionales de estadística para estar a la vanguardia de la gobernanza de datos y coordinarse en todo el ecosistema de datos. En los casos en los que no es posible cambiar el marco jurídico a corto plazo, los institutos de estadística están tomando medidas para alinearse con las estrategias nacionales y hacer que la gobernanza de los datos ocupe un lugar más central dentro de estas estrategias.

Además, la falta de marcos jurídicos sólidos que promuevan eficazmente la independencia técnica de los institutos de estadística repercute en la percepción de confianza sobre las estadísticas oficiales. La ausencia de un mandato definido, de un ámbito de aplicación y de limitaciones para las oficinas estadísticas como administradores de los sistemas estadísticos nacionales ha dificultado la creación de confianza entre los nuevos usuarios y miembros del ecosistema de datos. Los participantes destacaron que la promoción de una cultura de la eficiencia y la innovación dentro de las oficinas estadísticas podría contribuir a reforzar la confianza en la institución.

Los participantes de las oficinas nacionales de estadística también explicaron que se enfrentan a un creciente desequilibrio entre las demandas y los recursos. Las capacidades y los recursos institucionales de las oficinas de estadística rara vez están a la altura de las crecientes expectativas y demandas de los nuevos productores y usuarios de datos , así como de la rápida evolución de los debates en torno a la gobernanza de los datos.

El camino a seguir

Los productores de datos deben asegurarse de que los datos representen los intereses de los sujetos de los datos, es decir, las personas que los proporcionan. "Nuestro papel es basar los marcos de gobernanza de datos en la realidad con un enfoque ascendente", explicó Julia Zulver, de Ladysmith.

Los participantes señalaron desarrollos y enfoques prometedores para los desafíos compartidos, acentuando la importancia de localizar las normas y los marcos, mejorar la transparencia y fomentar la colaboración. A continuación, se presentan las ideas principales que fueron el resultado del diálogo sostenido:

1. La privacidad de datos debe adaptarse a las necesidades locales y a los contextos políticos.

La preocupación sobre la privacidad cambia entre países y las expectativas de los individuos sobre el uso de sus datos por parte de los gobiernos son variables. Por ejemplo, en los países nórdicos las declaraciones de impuestos de todos los individuos son registros de acceso público, pero esto no es la norma en los países de AL&C. El contexto específico de la privacidad y las preferencias de los individuos hacia sus datos requieren de enfoques y soluciones a la medida. 

Fabrizio Scrollini, Director Ejecutivo de La Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos (ILDA), destacó en el evento que se debe ir más allá de la consideración de la privacidad a nivel individual para reconocerla como una cuestión comunitaria y un fenómeno colectivo. Esto es especialmente importante cuando se consideran los grupos históricamente marginados y los riesgos potenciales de una mayor discriminación a través de las prácticas de datos. 

2. Promover la transparencia y los sistemas de gobernanza de datos inclusivos genera confianza y credibilidad pública.

Patricio del Boca, desarrollador de software senior de la Open Knowledge Foundation, destacó que las oficinas estadísticas deben mejorar la transparencia de datos, metodologías y procesos para fomentar un mayor uso de los datos y fortalecer la confianza de los ciudadanos en la recolección, acceso y uso de información por parte de los gobiernos. Sin transparencia, tanto en los datos, como en los procesos de recolección y análisis de estos, explicó, puede generarse una falta de credibilidad derivando en una obstaculización en el aprovechamiento de los datos.

Las oficinas nacionales de estadística también pueden aumentar la confianza adoptando modelos de gobernanza de datos recíprocos, en lugar de extractivos. Los modelos recíprocos implican la recopilación de datos de diversas fuentes (públicas y privadas) a la vez que se devuelven a esas fuentes de datos. Este enfoque ha ayudado a la ONE de la República Dominicana a obtener acceso a datos meteorológicos y sobre el agua. A cambio, la ONE refuerza las competencias de los productores de datos, y les ayuda a reorganizar y actualizar sus procesos de recolección de datos y sus bases de datos. 

3. La colaboración de múltiples actores interesados es fundamental para lograr la equidad y la inclusión a través de la gobernanza de los datos.

Al trabajar con mujeres en situaciones vulnerables, Julia Zulver, investigadora principal de Ladysmith, reconoció que la recolección de datos puede poner en peligro a las personas. Para proteger a los sujetos de datos, explicó que es importante evitar la recopilación de datos por el simple hecho de hacerlo. En su lugar, la recolección de datos debe tener una finalidad específica y estar vinculada a las preocupaciones y los cambios que las comunidades afectadas desean abordar. Este objetivo requiere que los investigadores co-diseñen programas y trabajen estrechamente con organizaciones de base para garantizar que los datos aborden las necesidades de las comunidades y se utilicen para amplificar las voces de las personas que son sujetos de datos.

Juan Daniel Oviedo, Director General del Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) de Colombia, explicó que el DANE tiene el mandato legal y constitucional de mejorar la visibilidad de las minorías en la producción estadística y ha trabajado estrechamente con los ministerios sectoriales para lograrlo. Esto requiere considerar no sólo la forma en que las oficinas de estadística responden a los nuevos mandatos, sino también la forma en que se involucran otros actores del sistema estadístico nacional.

El objetivo de la gobernanza de los datos debe responder a las necesidades específicas de las personas que están en el centro de los datos y proporcionar un marco para protegerlos y compartirlos para el bien público. Como explicó Patricio del Boca, de la Open Knowledge Foundation, trabajar conjuntamente para crear ecosistemas de datos y marcos de gobernanza ayuda a mejorar la calidad y el acceso a los datos para el bien público. 

Mantener la colaboración regional

El diálogo, así como la cooperación regional e internacional, son fundamentales a medida que los institutos nacionales de estadística avanzan hacia un nuevo ámbito de configuración de los marcos de gobernanza de los datos, manteniendo al mismo tiempo la confidencialidad, la privacidad y la calidad de los datos.

En los próximos meses, el DANE y el GPSDD continuarán explorando la gobernanza de datos y temas relacionados con actores de toda ALC a través de una serie de actividades, incluyendo:

  • La creación de oportunidades para el liderazgo, la consulta y la participación de AL&C en el Data Values Project, una campaña de consulta e incidencia de política que tiene como objetivo desbloquear el valor de los datos para todos.
  • Reforzar las asociaciones entre ciudades, organizaciones locales y actores a nivel nacional para evaluar y replantear conjuntamente el modo en que la gobernanza de los datos puede permitir soluciones normativas.
  • Profundizar en nuevos marcos, conceptos y experiencias a través de un nuevo grupo de trabajo sobre la administración de datos (data stewardship) en el marco de la Conferencia Estadística de las Américas - Comisión Económica de las Naciones Unidas para América Latina y el Caribe, y reforzar el intercambio de conocimientos con el Grupo de Trabajo sobre la Administración de Datos de las Naciones Unidas, bajo el co-liderazgo del DANE y de Statistics Poland.
  • Fomentar los intercambios de conocimiento regionales y Sur-Sur sobre prácticas de datos inclusivas, interseccionales y participativas a través de la Carta de Datos Inclusivos (Inclusive Data Charter-IDC).

Deseamos colaborar con una amplia gama de organizaciones de toda la región y agradecemos las ideas y los comentarios. Póngase en contacto con nosotros en datavalues@data4sdgs.org.

 

Camilo Mendez y Daniel Peñaranda del Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) de Colombia con Jenna Slotin y Fredy Rodriguez del Global Partnership contribuyeron a este blog.

Notas: El Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) de Colombia y la Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, han reunido a estadísticos, investigadores y activistas de toda América Latina y el Caribe para explorar las normas que deberían orientar la gobernanza de datos y el quehacer de las oficinas nacionales de estadística. Este diálogo regional se integrará en un proceso global de política e incidencia: el Data Values Project.

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Avoiding extremes in data governance: An interview with Dr. Adedeji Adeniran

Data governance remains a difficult concept to unpack even as efforts to understand what good data governance looks like have recently multiplied across the world. The Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) is leading a number of research activities aimed at clarifying what data governance means for the continent and what should be done to set up governance frameworks in African countries. These include a recent event on African data governance (recording available here), a project and subsequent report on Strengthening Data Governance in Africa, and the African Digital Preparedness dashboard.

The Data Values Project spoke with CSEA Director of Research Dr. Adedeji Adeniran to learn about the current state of thinking on this topic and research priorities and needs for the coming years:

Data governance is a broad concept. What's your working definition of governance?

In the context of CSEA’s work, we define data governance as a set of rules, laws, and strategies used by governments and private organizations to manage, share, and analyze data. This concept also encompasses the ecosystem of players and relations that are built around data, especially those generated by new technologies. Technological innovations produce vast amounts of data and generate significant aspirations in terms of digitalization across the continent. The purpose of data governance is to make sure that these aspirations are effectively channeled and to stay away from two possible extreme scenarios: one in which the private sector has the free rein to do what it wants with these new technologies and another in which governments over-constrain innovation by means of regulations. 

Why has CSEA focused on data governance as a primary area of research?

It is precisely the need to find the middle ground between the two extreme scenarios I mentioned which is the impulse for all these activities. Further discussions on data governance are needed in Africa to find our pathway. Our continent is characterized by weak governance and institutions which allow private companies and platforms to enter the market and reap the benefits of the data economy while facing few constraints. However, these institutional challenges make Africa quite vulnerable to threats linked to digitalization and also lead to violations of rights and negative externalities which would not so easily appear in other geographies. 

If we do not start talking to private players now, they will gain too much power and influence, and it will be too late to counter possible negative consequences of their operations. At the same time, Africa has a lot of potential when it comes to the expansion of the data economy, and we want our continent to benefit from the rapid digitalization currently occurring. This means that we should not fall into the other extreme and overregulate companies which will then be pushed away and not encouraged to come into our markets. Data governance must be able to establish some rules of the game, to avoid negative externalities linked to data exploitation while at the same time enabling benefits to emerge for citizens and economic players. 

In this respect, what we have learned from the European experience on data governance is that, to establish suitable rules for the game, you must be sitting at the right table. The European Union is trying to regulate companies which are mostly based in the United States and struggling to do so because decision-makers do not sit at the same table as these large platforms and Europe does not have the right software champions to join the debate. We must learn from this experience and make sure we create a seat at the right table when it comes to establishing data governance rules.

CSEA’s African Digital Preparedness dashboard shows significant differences among African countries in data governance laws and frameworks. What are some lessons from national experiences in African countries and what can the world learn from them?

There are several lessons that can be drawn from the data collection and analysis we performed for the African Digital Preparedness webpage. Maybe the most important is that establishing good data governance frameworks is not a prerogative of the biggest countries. As our analysis shows, countries such as Mauritius, which are among the smallest of the continent, have set up better data governance frameworks than many larger countries. In this domain, it seems that the size of the country really does not affect the quality of the rules adopted.

A second key takeaway concerns the explanation of differences between countries. Our analysis suggests that the main driver of country differences in terms of rules lies in their human resource capacity. To establish good data governance frameworks you need human and social capital. This is because you need rule-makers who understand technological development to be able to adopt rules that steer and don’t prevent innovation. Human capacity is distributed unequally across Africa, which leads me to a third lesson.

Besides the growing Global North-South divide, we are also witnessing increasing inequalities across African countries. Only a few of them are truly benefiting from the rapid development of the data economy although a vast majority of countries are experiencing sustained economic growth. This considerable gap and these differences across countries also reflect a disconnect between national priorities and regional priorities. To ensure that the data economy benefits us all, we need to strengthen our African approach from a regional perspective and to act as one on the international scene. In the context of the data revolution and to grow the data economy further, Africa needs the world, but the world also needs Africa. 

What are the most important emerging trade-offs in data governance (i.e. between allowing unrestricted data flows and ensuring citizens’ data are not misused by corporations) and how can we tackle them? 

I believe that there are two major trade-offs which deserve our attention at this stage. One concerns the balance of power between the public and the private sectors. There is a fine line between giving free rein to private sector players and empowering the public sector to overregulate the economy. I am not entirely sure that we want to replace private sector failures with public sector failures. Recent examples of state intervention from different African countries show that governments might be tempted to impose unnecessary and anti-democratic (although often temporary) restrictions on the data economy (i.e. the recent Twitter ban in Nigeria or the limits on Facebook and Twitter in Uganda before the elections). Taking this into account, we should be careful about what we ask for from governments, and we should not empower governments to make bad decisions on data governance.

A second important trade-off relates to the debate between data localization and data protection. The option of relying on data localization rules as a form of data protectionism to allow the emergence of a local data economy should not be blindly followed. Africa is not Europe and formulas imported from other continents might not work well here. We need to find a good balance between enabling data flows and protecting citizens’ rights. This is particularly important as we know that the development of AI systems requires vast amounts of data which begs for cross border data sharing. One way of solving this trade-off is through a differentiation of types of data depending on their sensitivity: cross-border flows of health or financial data might need specific rules in terms of privacy which might not be needed for less sensitive data. 

Ultimately, succeeding in establishing the right data governance in Africa requires nailing down which roles the public and the private sector must play in setting up an adequate framework for the data economy.

 

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Data from phone companies: The future of public-private data sharing

This is the third in a series on data-sharing between public and private sectors focusing on emerging approaches and uncovering key lessons for regions and stakeholders around the world. Last time, Martina wrote about the identity crisis facing Mobile Network Operators around the world that, despite similar opportunities and challenges, are developing diverse approaches to sharing data with governments and private companies.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are at a crossroads: They have data that governments can use to make better decisions but no clear models for sharing that data. This post  looks into a hypothetical crystal ball to imagine how solutions that MNOs are considering might evolve and translate into real-world scenarios for data sharing. If we specifically consider data sharing between MNOs and the public sector, a number of scenarios or trajectories appear: 

  • Regulatory or legislative data sharing mandates: If MNOs in the coming years strongly resist voluntary data sharing with the public sector, governments may be tempted to create legislation to gain access. This is already happening in the European Union where proposed legislation would mandate business-to-government information exchanges through the proposed Data Act. It’s easy to envision other governments following this path. The regulatory approach gives certainty of access to the public sector but raises a number of questions in terms of proportionality and data protection. 
  • Collaborative routes: If more MNOs decide to share data for public good with the public sector, the number of public-private partnerships (PPPs) will increase substantially. The proliferation of such partnerships will require more in-depth discussions about operational and business models, incentives and resourcing for these initiatives as well as long term strategies for sustainability. Along this route, many different types of partnerships will emerge depending on how challenges are addressed. 
  • Profit models via the business highway: To increase efficiency of investments and economies of scale, an increasing number of MNOs could also build data platforms and pipelines aimed at selling data and related services to the private sector. In this case, the public sector will face pressure to use these same infrastructure systems and conform to the rules and business models created for private players. Public authorities could then have less freedom to negotiate specific data sharing agreements and would likely face greater pressure from MNOs to adopt commercial models. MNOs, in fact, may struggle to justify to private clients why public agencies should get the same access to data at lower costs. 

These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. In fact, most are already happening to different extents depending on where MNOs are operating in the world. While we can’t predict the future, here are likely consequences of these scenarios for the public sector:

  • Public sector entities will have to strengthen data-related capacity. Whether public authorities follow regulatory or collaborative routes to sharing data, local public agencies will have to considerably strengthen their capacity to understand and put in place adequate pipelines to share data with MNOs and the private sector more broadly, both via sustainable business models and through legislation. 
  • Legislators will have to carefully define what data is most needed. While the importance and usefulness of MNOs’ data for the public sector is likely to increase in the coming years, public authorities will have to walk a thin line between asking too much and asking too little from MNOs if countries pursue legislative measures to mandate data sharing. Proportionality of measures must be ensured for the public sector not to disproportionately affect MNOs in their business models and digital transformation.  This is currently reflected in the debate around the Data Act currently taking place in Europe. 
  • Public officials and institutions will have to improve or rebuild public trust. Regardless of which data sharing scenarios emerge as dominant in the future, citizens’ trust in governmental use of data collected by MNOs will be a paramount concern. As governments’ data driven-responses to COVID-19 have highlighted, people do not automatically trust their governments to use MNOs’ data. The public sector needs to start building trust now by engaging with citizens in dialogue around data values and putting the right safeguards in place to protect people from government abuse and misuse of data. Ensuring that benefits of data use are felt by people and that feedback loops exist could also contribute to increasing trust. 

It’s clear from this thought experiment that the public sector should step up efforts to build capacity in this domain. No public authority will be able to take advantage of opportunities for data driven decision making without understanding the governance, legal, and operational challenges underpinning public access to privately held data. This is especially true for MNO data. These skills are crucial for the modernization of the public sector and for addressing the growing data power imbalances between public and private stakeholders. 

  • Martina Barbero is Policy Manager at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
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Questions of privacy, sustainability, and more for mobile network data sharing

This is the second in a series on data-sharing between public and private sectors focusing on emerging approaches and uncovering key lessons for regions and stakeholders around the world. See the first post on the European Commission's Data Act here.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are experiencing an identity crisis. As the digital transformation accelerates and private companies amass increasing amounts of data sought by the public sector, MNOs are asking where they fit into this rapidly-changing data economy.

It’s widely recognized that the public sector has lost the historical data supremacy it once held. Today, private sector companies hold more and better population data than governments. As a result, there’s increasing interest from the public sector to tap into privately-held data resources. MNOs hold extensive data on their customers’ movements, personal information, and activities. Developing new data sharing services and products constitutes a means to diversify their business models and adapt to changing customer needs and expectations despite the difficulty of reconciling stakeholders’ positions on ethical data sharing

This summer, the Global Partnership organized discussions in the context of the Data Values Project with officials from a diverse group of MNOs from around the world. Through these conversations, our team sought to understand how MNOs envision sharing data with the public sector in the context of broader digital transformations. We learned that MNOs, despite their many commonalities, are embarking on very different journeys to data sharing. 

Why everyone wants a piece of the MNO data pie

The common starting point for all MNOs is the type of data companies hold. All the MNOs we interviewed reported considering means to safely and efficiently share call detail records, or CDRs, which are created through calls and other telecommunication activities. CDRs include event-driven data (information on calls, messages, online traffic by a mobile phone user) and network-driven data (generated at a desired frequency by the network, i.e. by cell towers). 

This data is increasingly in demand from governments as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential uses of this data continue to increase. From a public sector perspective, for instance, such data can guide policy related to public health and energy and in humanitarian and disaster response efforts. New potential applications of CDR data appear every day. Within the private sector, companies in finance, tourism, and retail are already eager consumers of CDR data. New customers (for example, from the energy sector) are also starting to seek data-sharing partnerships with MNOs. 

But models for MNOs to share CDR data with public and private users vary considerably. MNOs that are farther along in their digital transformations have created platforms to consistently supply this data long-term regardless of the reason for sharing or the client seeking to access CDR. Others have responded on a case-by-case basis, negotiating access and creating data sharing pipelines based on individual requests and clients. 

Mediating risk in sharing mobile network data

Regardless of an MNO’s approach to sharing data or the specific challenges of regional markets, all MNOs confront similar concerns related to data protection and privacy. These remain the biggest obstacles to data sharing—especially with the public sector. 

Data protection regulations and telecommunication rules are often specific to countries or regions. The  specific fear among MNOs that data sharing will result in breaking these laws or incurring liability toward regulators and clients is geographically agnostic. 

All MNOs are grappling with questions concerning their business models and revenue approaches to data sharing. Despite the plethora of technical options for data pipelines and infrastructure, MNOs at this stage still struggle to develop profitable and sustainable models for sharing data. There’s a general consensus that demand for CDRs will continue to increase, but questions remain regarding users’ willingness to pay for this data in the long-run.

MNO leaders today are asking very similar questions about future possibilities to share data as assets or services. Responses among companies vary considerably, leading to a range of  potential future outcomes. 

Keep an eye out for Part III in this series on public-private data sharing, which looks into a “crystal ball” of possible future trajectories for MNOs’ data sharing to help public sector organizations understand what to expect and how to gain sustainable and safe access to CDR data. Reach out to the Data Values Project via email at DataValues@Data4SDGs.org

  • Martina Barbero is Policy Manager at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
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Five ways to challenge digital inequities

Since 2014, when then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a global effort to bring about a data revolution in sustainable development, it’s become increasingly clear that our personal data is not some abstract entity stored on a computer somewhere in space. To the contrary, current events have shown now more than ever the extent to which our data reflect ourselves and the ways data can be used both for and against us. Data holds power to improve lives. But people’s personal data can also be used against them. This is especially true for activists, members of minority communities and persecuted people from diverse backgrounds.

Today, while data for development remains high on the international agenda, concerns about governance and power dynamics are rising related to a range of issues—from tech monopolization, vendor lock-in and exploitative business models to regulatory gaps and the unequal distribution of the benefits of the data revolution. Yet connections between these issues and sustainable development remain vague, confusing and poorly understood. In the face of increasing evidence of the results of malicious data practices, the Data Values Project and DataReady hosted a much-needed conversation about the role of development practitioners in empowering people and reducing inequities. 

This online conversation—Dissecting Digital Power Inequities: reflections from digital rights experts for development practitioners—sought to highlight current issues related to digital rights, data governance and power inequity in the context of the data revolution for sustainable development. 

Here are five recommendations that emerged from the discussion for development practitioners to consider and use in shaping conversations and action around digital inequities and data governance:

  1. Acknowledge harmful business models to rethink data practices in development. Current data business models and practices—even in the context of development—exacerbate the digital divide,  trigger profound inequities and produce new challenges to the goals of sustainable development. The development community must rethink its data practices and approaches to avoid reproducing harmful models and further disempowering marginalized communities. 
  2. Center conversations about data justice. The principles of data justice should guide discussions around individual and community privacy rights, data sovereignty and access to key infrastructure. Dialogue is important but not sufficient: Regulations—especially at the national level—are important to protect people and lay the groundwork for a fairer data economy. Practitioners should incorporate principles of data justice into the context of data for sustainable development, including issues of inclusiveness, data disaggregation and more.
  3. Support fair data economies and responsible governance. Government actions impact public trust in the data economy. Governments strengthen trust by establishing rules and digital rights protections that give citizens control of their personal data. Governments erode trust when they take negative or repressive stances toward digital spaces, reduce individuals’ digital rights or limit freedom of expression online, as is currently happening in a number of countries around the world. The development community should monitor and highlight government abuses while sustaining country-level efforts to establish fair, rules-based data economies. 
  4. Put people at the heart of data design. Designing data systems for people and empowering citizens to control their personal data are two essential steps to addressing data inequities. People need access to the design-stage process of data collecting, analysis, dissemination and use. And, they need the skills, knowledge and agency to determine how their personal data is used. This requires investing in research, alternative models and creative experimentation to empower historically excluded communities to develop and implement local solutions for their digital future.
  5. Level up technical capacity and data practices in development. The development and humanitarian sectors must step up their game when it comes to data practices. It’s time for data awareness to be mainstreamed within these sectors. Donors also play an important role: They should take a hard look at their own policies and practices around data and digitalization to assess the roles they play in structuring incentives. Donors should take the lead in discussing best practices, sharing lessons learned and rewarding good data approaches.

We need more conversations that break down the sectoral and ideological divisions between digital and human rights activists and development practitioners. We are two sides of the same coin and as such, must work together to ensure equitable outcomes and create accountable and transparent systems. It’s our responsibility to put power back into the hands of the people whose data is being used. 

  • A full description of this online conversation is available here. The online conversation, Dissecting Digital Power Inequalities, was recorded live on June 22. Tom Orrell, founder and managing director of DataReady, organized and moderated the discussion. His blog post on the personal experiences that led to him organizing this event is available here. The session’s participants included human rights lawyer Renata Avila, digital rights advocate and consultant Linda Raftree, and surveillance and development scholar Linda Raftree, and Paradigm Initiative founder ‘Gbenga Sesan. For a detailed description of themes emerging from the event, please click hereTom Orrell of Data Ready, Beverly Hatcher-Mbu of Development Gateway, and Martina Barbero and Janet McLaren of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data contributed to this post.

 

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