Open data is a buzzword, or more accurately a buzz-phrase, these days. In certain segments of the humanitarian community, there seems to exist an energy behind making data more openly and publicly available. Whether looking at UN OCHA’s impressive new HDX data-sharing site, the IATI registry, or a bevy of individual organizations’ online data portals, one could come to the conclusion that open data has fully arrived.
But moving beyond these portals and networks, a series of major questions still remain. Who can actually access this “open” data? With whom is it actively being shared? And, ultimately, what is this data doing to directly improve the resilience of affected populations from which it is so often drawn?
In preparation for a presentation at the upcoming Humanitarian Innovation Conference to be held at Oxford July 19-20, we decided to look into these questions by discussing the concept of open data and affected communities with humanitarian organizations themselves. Over the course of the past few weeks, we’ve chatted with over a dozen representatives from UN departments, NGOs, and other inter-governmental networks and organizations to get a better sense of what the open data landscape really looks like as it relates to affected populations.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll write more about these frequently candid and insightful conversations, but suffice it to say at the moment that we’ve been provided with almost as many new questions as answers. The concept of open data is nowhere near settled as it is, and once affected communities are brought into consideration, the practices and philosophies of humanitarian organizations become even more differentiated.
This is not to say that there are not common themes, or even common ground, between the answers given to us by these NGOs and inter-governmental agencies. In fact, as later posts will highlight, there are quite a few crucial lessons that we can draw from these conversations. But it seems fairly clear that there isn’t a single humanitarian-wide approach to open data and its connection to affected communities.