by Amy Johnson

ILDA is a Latin American research organization based in Uruguay that promotes ethical uses of data to address public policy issues. Current projects include Empatia, a partnership with Latam Digital Center that investigates the use of AI to solve public problems; the regional standardization of femicide data; a Latin America and Caribbean edition of the Open Data Barometer; the Abrelatam+Condatos forum for civic tech; and developing the next generation of data researchers.

In addition to being involved in the original Open Data Barometer, ILDA is both a founding regional hub for GDB and an organizational partner. I asked the team at ILDA some questions to learn more about their involvement with the two Barometer projects and their work more broadly.

Why research?

Q: Perhaps we could start with research itself: why did you decide to focus ILDA around research activities? 

This is a good question. We face several pressing issues in Latin America and by engaging as directly as possible with them through a research lens, we aim to have a better understanding and contribute to solving them. We believe that there is value in working at the intersection of policy, knowledge, and action, and in getting your hands dirty when tackling complex problems.

Q: And how does the Global Data Barometer—and the Open Data Barometer—fit into ILDA’s broader research agenda?

ILDA has long advocated for the use of data to inform policy, as well as for the release of open data. We have supported several open data policies in the region in partnership with several allies across the world. Supporting and engaging with the Data Barometer projects was a natural step in our evolution, as we are also tackling more complex issues around the use of data and emerging technologies such as machine learning (AI).

ILDA and the Open Data Barometer, past and present

Q: ILDA, of course, was one of the regional nodes for the original Open Data Barometer, initiated by GDB project director Tim Davies while he was at the Web Foundation. Why and how did ILDA initially get involved with ODB?

ILDA is an instrumental part of the Open Data for Development Network (OD4D). Since the creation of the OGP Open Data Working Group back in 2013, the OD4D network has worked with the Web Foundation and the Open Knowledge Foundation to measure the evolution of open data efforts around the world. This has included, for example, helping establish the Open Data Charter, working to align specific open data assessment metrics, and the International Open Data Conference series. The different OD4D regional initiatives have also worked with the ODB team to collect the project’s data and support governments and civil society in building more robust open data ecosystems. 

Q: This year ILDA is running a dedicated Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) edition of the Open Data Barometer. What made you decide to undertake this project?

The last global evaluation of the Open Data Barometer was carried out in 2016, with a special edition focused on leading countries in  2017/8. Knowing the current situation in Latin America and the Caribbean is of vital importance. At the request of the OD4D program, and with contributions from IDRC, BID, CAF, the World Bank, and Luminate, ILDA has been developing this regional edition. We have also had the invaluable support of the Caribbean Open Institute for a particular set of countries.

Building on the core ODB methodology, this LAC edition measures progress on open data policies and practices in the region in order to inform, improve, and extend current open data policies and projects. The results of this assessment will also be valuable for policy forums such as the Organization of American States, the Open Government Partnership, and the LAC E-Government Network.

Q: What are some of the specific features of the LAC open data landscape?

In the last 10 years LAC has been at the forefront of adoption, innovation, and use of open data. Countries like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay are recognised globally for their commitment to this agenda. Experimentation and innovation in the Caribbean has led to a network of practitioners and universities able to advise policymakers and contribute to sustainable growth. 

Nevertheless, Latin America is experiencing a significant change in terms of government and citizen relationships—as well as changes in government administration due to the electoral cycle in the region. Thus, the current status of the open data agenda is uncertain. Decision-makers, civil society organizations, and private sector entities need updated evidence to understand and assess the current shift, as well as to sustain the agenda in the future.

Q: With everything that has happened in 2020, where does the project currently stand?

2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us. In spite of difficulties we have managed to stay focused on the many tasks that this type of project entails. We have faced some delays but, while meeting these obstacles with understanding, we have also focused on moving forward. We are currently in the final stages and, with the support of David Zamora, who acted as coordinator of the local researchers, we are producing the final report. 

Q: Any insights to share so far?

We are currently working on final details. Methodological changes over the past editions have pushed us to rethink and adapt previous results to the current methodology. Also, as this is a very important and useful resource for governments, civil society organizations, academia, and other stakeholders, we need to be extremely careful with the data. We have implemented several rounds of review and invited prominent actors in the field to contribute their opinions on certain countries or particular sets of countries. Thus, even though there are some important trends to discuss, we will wait until we’ve checked all the details, assessed all the different opinions, and are ready to release the report.

Q: Do you plan to conduct future LAC editions of the Open Data Barometer?

This is still to be determined. This research added value because the previous global edition of the ODB was from 2016—and after five years the state of the art had moved in Latin America. As the Global Data Barometer advances we will have a closer look at whether this kind of assessment is needed, and if so, we will run it.

Being a Global Data Barometer regional hub

Q: Why did ILDA decide to become one of GDB’s founding regional hubs? 

It was a natural step as a steward and strategic partner in this process. Measurement instruments like the Barometer need to be designed and stewarded by a diverse group of stakeholders. We like to think that by hosting the Barometer we help to deliver a global instrument that is able to reflect the complexity of the data issues we are tackling.

Q: How do you expect GDB to be different from ODB? What sorts of impact do you hope for GDB to have?

We hope the GDB reflects a changing and broader data ecosystem. The ODB has been a benchmark for governments, civil society, and other actors and we expect the GBD to cover not only more sectors but also more aspects well beyond openness. Further, given all the inputs that the ODB has provided to the open data agenda, we expect the GDB to be a benchmark for actors in the data and emerging technology fields to make decisions and provide better services to society.

Q: Based on your experience with ODB, do you have any advice for other regional hubs?

Running the 2020 LAC edition of the ODB has taught us about the many aspects that these types of projects entail. Our advice could be put briefly as plan, communicate, and review. More detailed, practical advice would include:

  • Coordination: First of all, you need to have a coordinator who can follow up on all the details related to the data-gathering process. If a hub doesn’t have enough human resources in their staff, we would suggest considering working with a consultant as the process is time-consuming and requires  attention to detail.
  • Materials: Hubs should provide clear steps for researchers to follow and implement. Though written materials are needed, online training sessions in different languages are essential so that all researchers will be on the same page and can discuss doubts and questions before starting.
  • First question and follow up: The research coordinator should provide feedback after the local researcher has completed their first question in the survey. This step is  key to avoiding future problems—and for the researcher to know exactly what types of answers are expected from them.
  • Review: All the data collected should go through several rounds of review. Each hub should be confident about the quality of the data that is provided to the core team. Additionally, it could be a good idea to ask some local experts to write a few paragraphs on some key countries, if possible.  

Q: Why is it important for people—in Latin America and around the world—to think not only about open data, but also about data for public good?

As previously mentioned, the data field is expanding well beyond openness.  Data availability is key to develop other technologies, policies, and applications but other concerns also need to be taken into account.  From infrastructure and governance to privacy and inclusion, there are many aspects to be considered when thinking about public and private data for public good.

What’s next for ILDA?

Q: What’s next? Where do you see yourself as an organization in 5–7 years? 

ILDA will keep contributing to key debates about the use of data for a fair and open Latin America. We will expand our research, researchers, and community and deliver value to our region, shaping the data landscape of both the present and future. ILDA’s mission is to explore, to generate evidence, and to take a stand for the shared values and traditions Latin America offers the world.

Q: Finally, if you had to choose one thing you wanted more people to know about the data landscape of Latin America, what would it be?

The enormous talent that Latin America has to offer and the possibility to work outside the box, challenging our assumptions on how data affects for better and worse the development of our societies. Working in Latin America is working at the edge, where wealth, inequality across several dimensions, and freedom are all in the mix for our policies. Data is no exception. To achieve the right balance for an inclusive development is part of the journey.