The Caribbean Open Institute (COI) is a member of the OD4D network and the Caribbean hub for the Global Data Barometer with 8 countries. The COI offers a platform for Caribbean researchers and organisations invested in open development, advocacy and capacity building through the use of open data. As part of its capacity-building mission the COI runs youth training programs in digital literacy and data skills through the Caribbean School of Data—they are currently executing a tourism data community mapping program with young people in various communities.
We had a chat with Maurice McNaughton and Lila Graham who are GDB regional hub coordinators. They shared more about the work of the Caribbean Open Institute and their involvement in various data capacity building initiatives.
The state of Open Data in the Caribbean. Your work is centred around 3 pillars, advocacy, evidence and capacity. Can you please share more about your capacity building efforts related to open data?
For much of the early part of the COI’s existence, there was a lot of emphasis on advocacy, engaging with various governments and policy-makers across the region around open data and its importance. We have shifted our primary focus to capacity building. Disappointing and unsustained responses to advocacy have led us to conclude that we really need to invest in capacity building before advocacy work.
As part of its capacity-building mission the COI runs youth training programs in digital literacy and data skills through the Caribbean School of Data—they are currently executing a tourism data community mapping program with young people in various communities.
What are your thoughts on the recent Open Data Barometer scores in the Caribbean?
If you have looked at the last ODB for the Caribbean, you would see that the Caribbean has gone backwards a little bit. The 2016-2017 open data conversations were propelled by some amount of political expediency to open up data and launch open data portals. However, as political administrations change, political agendas and priorities move to something else, then efforts wane and portals languish. This is why it is so incredibly important to have a national policy framework that transcends politics. When there is policy, it is more difficult to ignore or neglect. Our region has regressed a little, but I am still quite optimistic, especially because now we’re focusing on capacity building, and also because we’re engaging with other actors, like the private sector, and academia.
On working with the Global Data Barometer. Looking at the work you are doing now, how will the data collected by the GDB help you meet some of your goals?
We are particularly looking forward to the pillar that emphasizes data capabilities which was not there previously, in the ODB. It is going to be interesting to see how the metric can help to inform some of the understanding of context and help to focus and direct capacity-building efforts.
We are also looking forward to the GDB as it is a kind of broader landscape that changes the narrative, we can just focus on data as an asset that can generate economic value. Sometimes the open data dialogue gets a little bit stalled, because, you know, people are thinking primarily about accountability and transparency. The GDB brings forward opportunities to discuss economic value and innovation. The GDB gives us an opportunity to sort of remove some of that stigma. Making it more about the data for development and value opportunities.
One of the key pillars of the GDB is data capability. We intend to map capabilities of governments, civil society, and the private sector to collect, manage, share, and use data. Initiatives such as the CSOD empower young people and their communities to use data for the public good. For example, the Caribbean Open Institute is training young people to map their community and capture data about cultural and tourism assets.
The Caribbean School of Data is one of your flagship projects, can you share more about this?
For the Caribbean School of Data, the mission we have crafted for ourselves is increasing employability for Caribbean youths through digital and data skills. So the basic idea here is that we create new opportunities that are increasingly becoming assets for the digital future. The genesis of the CSOD was an IDRC-funded project that we collaborated on with a number of regional and local partners in Haiti. The rationale of the project was that digital skills would create employment opportunities and help accelerate Haiti’s economy as it continued the recovery from the 2009 earthquake.
Are the courses offered at the Caribbean School for Data offered free of charge?
Yes they are free. Google Foundation is one of our funders for the current deployment, and they had set a target to impact 1500 students. We have also attracted funding from the FLOW Foundation, one of the major regional telecom providers, and they want to fund 4000 more students. Looking into the future, we intend to expand the School of Data to impact more of the Caribbean Islands beyond the 6 that are already participating. This is a significant part of our objectives to develop not only learning content, but a delivery model that is scalable.
Within your capacity building work, what are some of the key winning moments you have had over the last few years?
Every student that completes the program is a success story for us. Our digital skills capacity-building program for young women in Haiti had a very low attrition rate (<3%) and a high graduation rate of 84%, which is unusual for this kind of self-paced online administered training program. We also have a number of testimonials from young women who have attended the Caribbean School of Data, and more who have expressed interest in returning to the program as facilitators.
Photo shared by Caribbean School of Data.