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Give It Up!

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Access is the big topic when people discuss ICT on this blog. The digital divide is still the biggest obstacle for using ICT in development effectively. The access issue has more than one side: It's not only about access to the technology, it's also about access to content that feeds into the technology.

A while ago the World Bank hosted an event on open source technologies in disaster response. There was quite some twittering about this event, and several tweets were concerned with the availability and accessibility of data. Open source relies on people investing their expertise and time into building applications, and many of those applications need current data to be useful at all. Think of Open Street Map, a database of geographical data that feeds into maps of every place on this earth. Imagine relief workers using those maps to get help into a disaster zone. Now imagine that truck with engineers and doctors on board running smack into a river because that bridge on the map is just not where it's supposed to be. Open Street Map needs a current flow of data, highly technical data actually, that people - usually technical experts themselves - can upload into the database. Science Commons is another example. This is a project that, among other things, builds open source platforms for knowledge and data management. Considering the limited resources of scientists in developing countries, wouldn't it make a lot of sense to make research results available on an open source platform so that the groundbreaking findings from well endowed University West benefit the struggling researchers at University South?

If you're working in a large organization, think about the huge mountain of data and knowledge on all kinds of things you are sitting on. How much of this data and knowledge do you think could help people working on the ground getting help to the people that need it? Of course, there are many good reasons for not making data available. Privacy is one, security another, or you don't want it to be used commercially (there are copyright forms that could take care of that). So put aside the stuff that you really can't publicize. How much is left? And how much of what's left could make a substantial change in development?

So - why are you sitting on it?

Picture credit: Flickr user Gideon Burton


Submitted by Zeeshan on
Anne, so true. It's all about the access to data/information. But what we dont discuss is the fact that the infrastrcuture in so many parts of the world just does not make this info accessible to anyone. Electricity hinders this access, as does basic literacy. So much needs to improve to get billions online and in the know. Till then - the struggle continues!

Submitted by Kay on
I have to agree with both of you, Anne and Zeeshan. Indeed data should be made available and, yes, data is only useful if you have people who can access it (physically or virtually) but also have the capacities to use it. Therefore, putting all the data into one big central point is just the beginning. While it is a great idea to have everything on the internet, we need to consider that this might not be useful for everybody in the short run - where I live, downloading even 5MB can take quite long at times (as long as downloading 1GB in the US). I think the question why the data is not always shared is because of the sheer costs to get this data in the first place. Of the 100+ research studies that I did I can only see a bit more than a handful of reports actually published on the internet. If one pays a substancial amount of money for the data I see a tendency to keep it for oneself rather than to share it. In some instances the donors, who fund a specific research, actually insist that the results are shared with the public, which I find applaudable. Another issue is user-friendlyness of data (once it is published). I see two extreme tendencies (besides publishing a report, which is quite static): - the will to publish the raw data only, which is catered to experts and therefore have quite high costs of entry (experts only) and a high risk of making mistakes if used "for a quick analysis" - and the tendency to keep things very simple and give a prefabricated (yet interactive) analysis tool (such as This can serve as an excellent tool for advocacy, but also lets one jump to conclusions very quickly if issues are analysed that are not necessarily connected to each other (but yield "interesting" findings anyway). I think one good first step to combine the two is DevInfo as it strives to get all available data in a country into one database and enables people to analyse and publish them in various ways.

Submitted by DevInfo on
Hi Kay, Although I may sound a bit biased while agreeing with your thoughts but the truth is that the need to disseminate quality data is increasing with each passing day. Web is going user-centric and in the age of Web 2.0, advocacy of data can be immensely improved by providing the public with fair access to data (barring connectivity issues). Also, thank you for recommending DevInfo. We are glad our efforts are being noticed.

Submitted by Kay on
Hello DevInfo, no disagreement from my side here. Therefore, I find it applaudable when organizations insist that the data gathered by them need to be published. In addition, data is only useful for advocacy purposes if it can actually be accessed by people (rather than only by experts, hence my argument that publishing data does not mean in itself that it is accessible!). I think this goes in line with your Web 2.0 argument. Aside from this, I want to stress your point for "quality data". I think this is key (bad data cannot lead to good decisions). Best Kay

Submitted by Kay on
"(The World Bank) launched the 2010 World Development Indicators today, except this year we launched it on—the Bank’s new open data site that frees up more than 2,000 indicators previously available only to paying subscribers. We’re pushing to share our data with the world, and the WDI is a wonderful platform for this. " (source: ... considering our recent discussion, this is great news indeed!!! Best Kay

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