Discussions about open data, big data, data protection and data for development have been a growing theme in both civil society and public sector dialogue over the last decade. Yet, for all the arguments about the value of data, the importance of good public data collection, the need for robust protection of private data, and effective sharing of open government data, we know relatively little about how different countries are performing in practice. 

How far are governments and public institutions around the world going beyond talk, to deliver the policies, capabilities and data infrastructure needed for the effective management of data for public good? Where should governments, campaigners and entrepreneurs focus their energy if they want to truly advance data for development? Which sectors are adopting a data-driven approach? And which are lagging behind?

It’s the need to answer questions like these that brought a dozen organizations together in the second week of January 2020 in Washington D.C. to be part of a workshop to create a new and robust framework to measure the capacity and governance structures of countries across the world to create, manage, share and use data for public good. 

Enter the Global Data Barometer: a global study of data for public good, tracking open data and data sharing policy and practice around the world through an expert survey and secondary data analysis. The goal: to take a broad look at the extent to which national and sectoral data ecosystems around the world are promoting effective, well governed, use of data. Through in-depth discussions and group exercises, the workshop, facilitated by Tim Davies, Michael Canares and Oscar Montiel, drew out and explored lists of challenges and benefits of this new initiative. 

Our opening workshop sessions sought to map the scope of such an ambitious enterprise. By recognizing current research “blind spots”, we were able to focus in on knowledge gaps around the data lifecycle, how data governance is operating in practice, the features of key datasets and data infrastructure, subnational data practices and how data can address or increase power inequalities. This grounds the shift from an Open Data Barometer, to a Global Data Barometer, that will look more deeply at both the content and quality of data. This also provides an opportunity for the project to respond to the wide range of stakeholder needs identified in our second session, which surfaced the different ways in which governments, the private sector, journalists, researchers and other stakeholders might use both quantitative and qualitative data generated and collated by the Barometer. 

Through the rest of the workshop sessions, we explored an updated research framework, covering data governance, capacity, availability and use & impact, and explored the design constraints for the study: from how far rankings should be prioritised, and how far the project should allow for addition of extra questions in different regions. You can see a sketch of the components of the revised framework below, and the high-level concepts each component will seek to assess. 

Draft structure of Global Data Barometer Components (Jan 2020)

As the end of the workshop approached, one thing seemed clear: the shift to a sectoral focus (following the approach of  The State of Open Data book) is crucial. As the Barometer develops further, we will need to work with sectoral experts to map the sector-specific indicators the study should include, and to link to existing sectoral frameworks and standards that can set the bar for what data for public good looks like. 

You can read a full report from the workshop here.

In the coming weeks we’re going to be building on the diverse and collaborative conversations that took place in Washington to:

  • Draft and share an updated research framework for the study;
  • Develop our funding and partnership proposals;
  • Pilot new survey tools and question types ; and
  • Create a guide to support partners to develop sector modules. 

Any international initiative that seeks to take an inclusive, globally aware, and impact-oriented approach needs to engage widely. Following this month’s Global Data Barometer design workshop, the cornerstone for a potentially successful partnership with key stakeholders was set. The challenge ahead is not small, but the workshop was a step in the right direction for the study of data governance and the use of data for public good.