Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Will data be the new oil of the 21st century?

Mobile phones and digital tools are offering incredible opportunity for developing countries to enter and shape digital economies. But how can we keep technology and development players from becoming extractive industries, so that people’s data becomes the new oil of the 21st century? 
This question (and other provocative questions that you can see here) were posed at the January 21st Technology Salon on Will Digital Economies Empower or Enslave the Next 4 Billion Mobile Users? at the FHI 360 offices. While Mark was invited to be a lead discussant, his severe case of the flu meant that I had the chance to channel his thoughts and the Center’s collective wisdom to speak on this topic. Here’s a summary of my points on ensuring that data has a positive impact on the development of communities:
  1. Data collection, data analysis and data communication (the formatting, the sharing, the presentation of data) needs to be inclusive. The development community must design their data activities with local communities and include them in the process.
  2. Build local capacity to collect, analyze, and use data. This enables empowered participation in data ecosystems and digital economies.
  3. Understand what kind of data is relevant for making decisions. Ask people what they need to know and want to know. Don’t assume that data useful for development practitioners is useful for individuals or communities.
  4. Understand how to communicate this data so that it is comprehensible and usable. Don’t assume that access is the same thing as impact.
  5. Data can be a valuable legacy that you leave behind, particularly for communities that may have just experienced a crisis or previously lacked systems or baselines. Communities have a right to information collected on them and employed in decisions that affect their lives. 
These points are just a beginning, building upon the experience of the Center and Internews. Internews’ role as a leader in digital convergence has enabled us to investigate strategies to take advantage of the vast amounts of data being made available around the world, explore the tools essential to clean and analyze data, and identify effective methods of disseminating this information to society. Internews in Kenya’s Data Dredger and our broader data journalism efforts around the world reflect our belief in the importance of empowering local media to work with data and create stories that inform and empower communities. Data literacy and graphicacy remains a key research interest for the Center, and we hope to attract funding this year to investigate the creation and use of visual representations and manipulations of data. We will also continue to advocate that humanitarian open data efforts truly advance accountability to affected populations, building upon our initial research from last summer.
In 2015, the area of “data for development” is going to be a big one for us, and data ethics will be a component of this. We already have a few big events in the pipeline on this topic, so watch this blog for more!