Problem-Solving with Open Data: A Caribbean Perspective (Part 2)

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A guest post from Maurice McNaughton

Maurice McNaughton is actively involved in the emerging open data movement in the Caribbean as a founding member of the Caribbean Open Institute (COI). The COI is a regional coalition of Caribbean organizations that engages and works with regional governments, researchers, journalists, technologists, NGOs, and academics, to raise awareness, strengthen capacity, and foster collaborations towards the adoption of open development approaches.

In Part 1 of this two-part entry, we talked about a set of problem-centered initiatives being implemented by the Caribbean Open Institute (COI) under the global OD4D project, highlighting four cross-cutting themes central to the Problem-Solving Action Area:

1. Targeted, sector-specific initiatives that seek to harness collaborative, participatory approaches
2. Emphasis on realizing the economic potential of open data
3. Engender active private sector engagement and participation
4. Design for scalability and/or replicability in reach and impact

In this follow-up post, we present the scope of these initiatives and outline four specific upcoming projects.

Our overarching goal is to provide tangible evidence of impact opportunities for Open Data in the Caribbean. Although each sector study identified several use-cases, the final selected initiatives and overall portfolio was designed for balance across the following criteria:

  • Representation: Breadth across the sectors under study: Agriculture, Fisheries/MPAs, Tourism, Education, Official Statistics)
  • Components: A mixture of interventions that include: Capacity building, Inclusion/Active Citizenship, Standardized platforms to enable reuse/scalability, Innovation/Co-production around public service delivery
  • Alignment/linkages: Alignment with existing country initiatives and stakeholder interests
  • Scalability/replicability: Striving to span across sectors and countries in the Caribbean, and to go beyond regional borders and one-time efforts

It was also important that the Initiatives should help the COI to build resident capabilities and develop a portfolio of services and resources that could be re-used across the Caribbean region to support emerging open government data programs.

To ensure consistency and comparability, we needed a structured framework for defining and scoping each initiative. We found the recent open data case study research done by The GovLab to be extremely useful for its impact taxonomy and key success factors (many thanks to Stefaan Verhulst @sverhulst, Chief of Research at The GovLab, for his insightful presentation at ConDatos 2015).

Of course, within the articulated enabling conditions for maximizing open data impact, is premise #4: “Open Data Initiatives That Have a Clear Target or Problem Definition Have More Impact.”

Below are summary descriptions of four open data initiatives being undertaken, with the problem statements that define their relevance and importance:

Towards a Data-Driven Agriculture Sector in Jamaica
Agriculture continues to be a critically important sector in the Jamaican economy. It represents 9% of Gross Domestic Product and employs close to 19% of the Jamaican population. However, while the agriculture value chain is acutely sensitive information availability, limited resources constrain public agencies’ ability to collect, maintain and supply the high quality data assets necessary to effective operation the sector. This result is data gaps that inhibit effective service delivery and information asymmetries that disadvantage the most vulnerable sector contributors.

This initiative will seek to demonstrate the impact of an agriculture sector data partnership to overcoming these structural challenges in data access and management. Applying emergent best practice around government digital services this initiative will facilitate a shared data commons that lowers the barriers to accessing agricultural data, while sharing the costs of data collection and maintenance across multiple participating agencies and information services.

Establish the Caribbean School of Data
The Caribbean region is generally regarded as “data poor,” not just because of limited access to high quality, locally relevant data, but also cultural and institutional habits and capacity limitations (both in the public and private sectors) often forego the use of data, and other forms of evidence, for policy and decision making. There is general civil society and media apathy towards demanding access to, and use of open data for more critical investigation and analysis.

A comprehensive and sustainable “data literacy” program will seek to develop greater awareness, attitudes, competencies and capacity to build a stronger data culture across the Caribbean.

Open Data and Interactive Community Mapping: Empowering Local Community Tourism
The Tourism sector in the Caribbean faces a number of systemic challenges, including the dominance of the sector by large properties. Small operators have an inherent disadvantage due to lack of financial resources, organizational capabilities and visibility. Indirect consequences of this marginalization includes high leakage rates and diminished linkages with other sectors in the domestic economy.

Community Based Tourism provides a unique setting for a bottom-up, demand-driven Open Data Initiative, that engages the local actors in the community as major contributors to the production and publishing of crowdsourced open data and indigenous content that could become a catalyst for participatory economic development.

Visualizing the Structure and Linkages in the Domestic Economy Using National Statistics (Administrative Data)
Several important data sources, collected for the purposes of official statistics, could be of value in re-use by businesses, media, analysts and academics. However these data sources are often not readily accessible or comprehensible by non-statisticians. For instance, data used to produce the Input/Output Tables are collected on a regular basis by NSOs but these tables are only produced periodically (~ every 5 years after the economy has been rebased) because of the resource constraints and the effort required to conduct this activity on a continuous basis.

The specific goal to be addressed by this initiative is to enhance the visibility, relevance, re-use and utility of national statistics and related data in data-driven engagement/assessment and policy/decision-making, with a specific focus on the Input-Output Table and other related Administrative data.

Each of our case studies will test one or more “Theories of Change” about Open Data in the Caribbean. These assertions (not hypotheses), derived from the ongoing action research and experimental work of the COI, include:

  • Intermediaries will play a significant role both as catalysts and enablers of open data initiatives.
  • Innovation fellowships provide an important mechanism for collaborative government-civil society co-creation in key developments.
  • The value sustainability of the open data initiatives in the region will rely on a vibrant, coherent Caribbean open data ecosystem of actors including: Government agencies, technologists, academia, private sector, media, NGOs, and Multilateral support.
  • Governments’ role will require active participation on supply and demand sides of the Caribbean open data ecosystem.
  • Multi-sector approaches will drive the greatest economic returns on open data.
  • Scale limits and resource deficits will require common resources and shared use, i.e., the Caribbean Digital Commons.

To learn about the scope and details of these initiatives and to follow their ongoing progress, readers can visit the COI website: caribbeanopeninstitute.org. Our website itself is also being upgraded as part of this program, to become a more effective knowledge repository on all things open data in the Caribbean, using the emerging best practices of semantic web technologies (we thank our colleagues at W3C Brazil, particularly @yaso, for their guidance in this regard).

These interventions are timely, given the significantly increased interest in open data by Governments across the Caribbean, bolstered by the joint efforts of the World Bank and UK-DFID. Countries such as Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic and Antigua have recently completed Open Data Readiness Assessments (ODRAs) and are now actively engaged in the development of government open data portals (see datos.gob.do) and policy frameworks.

We anticipate that the emerging open data policies will reflect the spirit and guiding principles of the recently launched International Open Data Charter. Hopefully our efforts with these demand-side interventions will amplify the effectiveness of those government-led initiatives, and provide practical, justifiable evidence of the significant opportunity that open data represents for the Caribbean community, by the time we arrive at IODC16 in Madrid, Spain.

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