GODAN hosted the session “Open Data for Sustainable Food Security and Nutrition” at the Committee for Food Security 44 Event at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy on October 13, 2017.
The session focused on results and recommendations of the recently launched Donor Open Data Policy and Practice report. The report was commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), USAID, and DFID to critically analyse their donor open data policies and provide recommendations to improve policy based on feedback from implementing partners and researchers.
Panelists included Dan Gustafson (Deputy Director General of the FAO), Ruthie Musker (Strategic Projects and Partnerships Lead, GODAN Secretariat), Stanley Wood (Senior Project Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Reid Porter (Director of Transparency and Open Data, InterAction), Fiona Smith (International Development Manager, Open Data Institute), and Emily Hogue (Division Chief for Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, USAID).
A number of strong themes emerged in presentations and discussion. All panelists supported open data but were candid about a range of risks, obstacles, and opportunities that they and their organizations faced when trying to make it a more central part of their institutional cultures..
Reid Porter (InterAction) spoke of why open data would result in better science, ROI, and decision making, through what he termed ‘the three Es’:
Efficiency - A large amount of time and money is spent on landscape assessments at the beginning of each new project. With open data, assessments would be accessible to all new projects, speeding up project start up and providing opportunities for collaboration and accountability.
Effectiveness - When data is open and of high quality, researchers can more quickly to identify successful projects, strategies, and methodologies. Additionally, flawed methods and strategies can be quickly identified and held accountable.
Engagement - Open data is about improving people’s lives, especially open data for food security. Everything is, and must be, connected to user needs.
(L-R) Sangita Dubey (FAO), Emily Hogue (USAID), Stanley Wood (BMGF), Fiona Smith (ODI), Ruthie Musker (GODAN)
"Decisions made with data are better decisions" - Stanley Wood (BMGF)
Stanley Wood emphasized the importance of accountability and transparency to BMGF, and candidly confessed that they in the past they have often struggled to track down data assets that they have funded. “We don’t see promotion of open data as a cost-free exercise for the foundation...open science of the future includes open data", as he went on to explain that the foundation and scientific institutions must both adapt to the open data revolution and as implementation partners ideally require training and assistance to integrate open data by default that would have cost implications for what is funded.
“The power of open data is that you don’t know who is going to innovate, and you can’t predict what kind of projects will come forth" - Dan Gustafson (FAO)
The value of open data as public good was a strong theme in discussions and was particularly highlighted by Dan Gustafson. The FAO considers information and data that it both creates and shares as a global public good. When data is shared in this way, projects and innovations that none would have thought possible can emerge and flourish. This adds value for the data provider as a potentially implementing partner and the funder, to yield higher return on investment.
What is getting in the way?
FAO and BMFG both consider that non-technical obstacles to open data policy and practice were arguably more difficult to overcome than technical ones. Dan Gustafson stated that nobody in FAO is in favour of keeping data closed but in order to make it open, they must deal with a range of complex and often cultural issues. However he also stated that although it may take time, “we will make it happen - opendata is a vital tool to help ensure global food security.” He also spoke specifically on the opening of FAOSTAT data. “FAOSTAT is moving towards open data policy commitment but to do it this is mostly a licensing, legal, and ethical issue.” Emily Hogue (USAID) and Stanley Wood mentioned that when implementing partners carry out funded projects, it's increasingly beholden to BMGF to help point them to tools to overcome these obstacles and reduce the risk of data being lost, underexploited or used inappropriately.
Questions from the floor introduced a private sector perspective: businesses may be keen to release data but feel that there is a perception that barriers such as anti-trust law can stop them. trust and collaborations to overcome these barriers. Fiona Smith (Open Data Institute) recalled ODI’s experience of working the private sector and their success with advising private companies to not be too easily disheartened instead calling on them to “start where you can.” The importance of building trust and cross sector collaborations was also emphasised.
USAID, Gates, and DFID all welcomed the results and recommendations of the Donor Open Data Policy and Practice report. All committed to building a donor dialogue to accelerate adoption of open data in agriculture programmes they fund, more detail of which will follow shortly.
Click here for more images of GODAN's CFS44 side event.
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