Recently I was referenced on our favourite development social media tool, Twitter. The quote was put into the Twittersphere by UNDP Indonesia during a panel I spoke on about data at the launch of the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy workshop in Jakarta. This quote summed up exactly what I have been trying to say and to express through this work, and I guess it looks like I finally said it to a room of 150 philanthropists. In the panel I “called for philanthropists to share data to help all parties work toward achieving the post-2015 development agenda”. I didn’t just call for this I genuinely believe data is a catalyst for change and achievement.
Whilst on the combined topic of Twitter, Indonesia and data, let me share with you a little anecdote. According to UN Global Pulse who also spoke on this panel, Indonesia is one of the most social-media dense countries in the world today with Indonesia Tweeting about food prices that closely resemble official figures. This has led to the development of a technology that extracts daily food prices from public tweets to generate a near real-time food price index. Pretty impressive use of data I would say.
Over the last three or so years that we have worked on the Post-2015 development agenda as a global community, data has been a big focus, especially with the data revolution but I still don’t think we have made it explicitly clear why philanthropic data is important and why there may be resistance to providing this data.
The problem may be that data is viewed as a dirty word, because data is overwhelming, there can be too much or not enough depending on whom you talk to, it can vary in quality significantly and can be expensive to obtain and make sense of. Data can mean anything and everything. The Data Revolution Group is even telling us that “the volume of data in the world is increasing exponentially: one estimate has it that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years”. That is a lot of data in a very short space of time, no wonder we are all feeling a little overwhelmed. When we talk about philanthropic data, what exactly is the most useful data right now? When it comes to philanthropy, there are two data sets that would be particularly useful to the world, philanthropic financial flow data and philanthropic programmatic data. We need the finance data to see where money is being spent in terms of projects and recipients. We need program data to track development progress by goal, country and population group. We need this data, and according to SMERU, we need it to be free, easy to get and easy to use with guidance and support from the respective data provider. . This data will help not only funders, but all stakeholders to make strategic partnering and funding decisions to achieve the goal that we are all working towards, eradicating poverty.
The thing is there is a lot of data out there and we live in a data rich world, but what to do with the data or how to use it is not clear to many and not surprisingly so. It is also important to remember that data does not just come in the quantitative form of numbers, but in the form of qualitative data, which is equally important for all of us across the development community to learn from and improve upon. From case studies we can learn lessons, improve projects and tell stories to advocate a cause. Focusing back on Indonesia, the key data take away of the day to ponder was that if you have data, the best thing you can do is share it because someone out there will know what to do with it and the more people that use the data, the more useful it will become. However, if the data is of poor quality and subsequently used incorrectly, then the effect may in fact end up being detrimental to the cause. So the question is what is better, to have a lot of data and sift through it, clean it and eventually make sense of it for all to benefit, or have a smaller pool of select high quality data and possibly miss out on less ready but vital pieces of information?
There are many reasons that organisations are not yet comfortable to share data, which seem to center around privacy concerns, accountability concerns, technical ability to process data, uncertainty of what types of data is useful, uncertainty about what format to provide data in, unsure as to who to share data with, and unsure as to how the data will be used. These are all legitimate concerns of course but ones that I believe are resolvable through trust, partnership building, discussions and explanations and of course strong relationships with country national statistical offices. During my time in Jakarta, while actually on a mission to collect qualitative data, I discovered there is an NGO who is even working behind the scenes with the government statistical office right now to assist them in making their data open. The issue is not that the government doesn’t want to share the data but that they do not know where to start.
The Foundation Center is currently building SDGfunders.org, a platform that will act as an accessible voluntary public hub for philanthropists to share and use data, engage with other philanthropists and the development community and see their contribution to achieving global development goals against MDG and OECD data and we would encourage you to share your data or carry on the data sharing conversation with us.
Data is not a dirty word or a scary word but an opportunity to improve the lives of all people around the world to ensure ‘nobody is left behind’. So yes this is a call on all philanthropists to share your data to help all parties achieve the post-2015 development agenda. Remember ‘the goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight’ – Cathy Fiorina.
For more information on the recent Indonesia workshop and data sharing, please click here
All views are my own