Challenges, Opportunities and Responsibilities: Part 3 of 3
The Data Revolution and the Importance of Information Ecosystems
Tackling the assumptions that shape the “big/open data” narrative takes courage. Does “open” or “big” data actually make a meaningful difference in the lives of the most vulnerable? Do these terms genuinely influence what people think and consequently guide how they might act? Who knows? Regardless, we need the means to start asking these questions.
This is where knowledge of local information ecosystems – how information moves, reaches, engages and impacts individuals – can add value. Data is transformed into information, then knowledge, as it flows through different points and channels in a dynamic, non-linear, networked system. The function or role of any node or point within an information ecosystem changes depending on the context. A farmer can be a consumer of information received through a mobile phone alert, a producer of information as she transcribes the information on a bag of rice, and a mover and influencer of information as she shares it with the rest of her community and at the market.
Investigating the information ecosystem through deep human-centred research and synthesis provides insights on experiences and impact at both the individual and community levels. It also provides a holistic lens for understanding how to inclusively design and co-create approaches for those we seek to support. There’s nothing new or complicated here; marketers have understood the need to find unmet needs at a granular level for a long time. But, somehow, development communities have been a bit slow to let go of collectively-held assumptions that are so deeply ingrained that they are often viewed as absolute truths. It is time to own up and let go.
The information ecosystem model offers a powerful way to understand information flows in a community.
Understanding data/information ecosystems is a critical factor in supporting, catalysing, and embracing the data revolution. This approach does not simply empower voices “from the ground”. It accounts for needs, challenges, and opportunities at all nodes within a system to be appreciated and valued, be they governments, community leaders, telcos, epidemiologists, technologists, patients, farmers, or others. Trust, transparency and better control of the flow of data and information are all supported as feedback loops are created that continually feed the flow of data, information and impact.
Simply put, establishing and promoting healthy data/information ecosystems with a human-centered focus is integral to promoting a true data and information revolution and ensuring all related elements within a system have the means to achieve utmost benefit and potential. This journey has just begun, but together we have the opportunity to redesign the data ecosystem – to do things differently and to do them better. That’s a bit radical. That’s a data revolution.
Amanda Noonan is the Director of Research, Design and Innovation for Internews and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Data-Driven Development Global Agenda Council