Knocking on data’s doors: open data portals for development cooperation

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  • Knocking on data’s doors: open data portals for development cooperation

Data has risen in importance for international cooperation, as development organizations are feeling the pressure to capture quantifiable evidence of social impact but also to predict and make informed decisions. The desire to become data-driven is not new for nonprofits. For instance The Guardian reminds us that, in 1858, a data visualization designed by social reformer Florence Nightingale demonstrated the importance of hygienic camps and hospitals with a diagram that showed that the main cause of mortality in the Army during the Crimean war was sickness, rather than wounds. Although nonprofits are well positioned to transform data into insights and social change, they don’t always have the means or knowledge to collect, aggregate and analyse meaningful data in a limited time. Luckily data has become an abundant resource and there are now many open repositories that collect relevant datasets for development cooperation projects in machine-readable formats.

Within the United Nations ecosystem, UNdata collects a variety of statistical resources compiled by the UN statistical system and other international agencies. It was launched in 2005 and it includes official statistics produced by countries, as well as estimates and projections. For timely humanitarian data the go-to portal is the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), an open platform established in 2014 by OCHA's Centre for Humanitarian Data. Its goal is to make humanitarian data easy to find and use for analysis, by centralizing relevant datasets coming from diverse sources, including NGOs and research centres. Open SDG Data Hub, released in 2018 and containing over 1 million observations, provides information on indicators for the follow up of the SDGs and the review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The World Bank has instead created the DataBank, an online web resource which provides simple and quick access to collections of time series data. Besides downloading the datasets, it’s also possible to generate online tables, charts, and maps. Major donors are also endorsing the open data movement: for instance, in 2018 the US stipulated that all USAID-funded data must be submitted to a central data repository, the Development Data Library (DDL), and made publicly available to the most responsible extent possible. Regarding regional initiatives, OpenAfrica is an independent repository maintained by Code for Africa: it is a grassroots initiative of datasets on the African continent, where contributors can upload data and submit open data requests.

In recent years, several aggregators of datasets have also emerged, collecting links and metadata coming from different repositories. DataPortals, established in 2011 by a group of open data experts, allows users to search among almost 600 portals. Google has also created a search engine for open data, called Google Dataset Search.

Several portals have also been created on the premises of a closer collaboration between data experts and different organizations, private and nonprofits, consuming and producing data. For instance, both on DataHub and DataWorld users can create accounts to discover data, share analysis, and team up on projects.

These portals offer a great potential for nonprofit organizations to onboard into the data-driven ecosystem with a focus on building their capacity to work with data. Most of all, data openness is seen as the only way to support global collaboration on the issues that matter.

What do you think about open data portals in international development? What is your experience? If you have 10 minutes for us, we would love to hear your opinion through this short questionnaire. Thank you!!