The East West Management Institute, Inc. (EWMI) is one of the regional partners for the Global Data Barometer project coordinating research in 11 countries in Asia. The organisation manages the Open Development Initiative (ODI) which is a Mekong region initiative aggregating credible information to describe current development issues with a transboundary perspective within the regions they work in. The goal of the ODI is to drive engagement in dialogue and policy reforms through data literacy and ensuring that marginalised communities are represented in data.
Mia Chung and Pyrou Chung who are coordinating research for the pilot edition of the GDB share more about their work with the ODI.
The work of ODI and how it intersects with the GDB
Q: Can you tell me about the East West Management Institute and the Open Development Initiative?
The Open Development Initiative launched in 2011 in Cambodia, with the support of EWMI. Since 2003, EWMI has supported grassroots and human rights groups in Cambodia and the Mekong. With a focus on building grassroots movements through peace-building, forestry and Indigenous Peoples’ networks, we have modeled information collection and analysis through the Open Development platforms across the Mekong. The OD platforms aggregate credible information to describe current development issues with a transboundary perspective, thereby contributing to more rational planning and fact-based dialogue across all sectors. This is done through its regional online platform Open Development Mekong and its national platforms Open Development Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Since its launch in 2011, Open Development’s platform has been a leader in the data rights movements within Asia. These platforms have demonstrated measurable impact through mapping and tracking programs incorporating data for development.
Q: Where does the work you do and the work of the GDB intersect?
The GDB is trying to understand the state of data for the public good across the world, by defining data for good using international standards it helps to uniformly assess the sector. The shift from the Open Data Barometer offers an opportunity to track and monitor progress of data for development within the Mekong that is more relevant to the local context. This is of great benefit to less developed countries trying to reform their data ecosystems, since these data ecosystems have yet to be assessed. Through our work across the Mekong we have been tracking and monitoring all forms of data releases and publications within the Mekong for over 11 years from various stakeholders.
Our current engagement with the GDB is in partnership with the Sinar Project (Malaysia), and together we work to create a network of development-focused open data advocates in the Asia region, which we call the Data for Development Asia Hub.
As long term advocates of open data and data rights we have seen that the scale of ‘openness’ is broader than in the dominant developed context. In this way our work really brings forth and highlights these aspects of the assessment that were previously under represented or misunderstood. Our work looks into what data means and its relevance for citizens. It also hopes to critically assess and evaluate whether the data is actually representative of the population. This is vital in highly constrained, data insecure and high digital risk environments, as in the Mekong. Civil society has yet to formalise coordinated actions to lobby and advocate for greater data governance because they are not familiar with what data is available, which parts of the public data are relevant, or need attention.
Spearheading data literacy for open development
Q: Can you tell me more about some of the projects you are working on?
While ODI began with an eye on opening data, ODI’s focus has shifted towards building greater data governance that promotes responsible and equitable use of data and information. In that respect, ongoing aspects of our work include supporting Asia Indigenous People’s Pact to connect with Indigenous Peoples in the region to draft an Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) framework for Asia. The framework will help to build a starting point for dialogue on policy reforms that shape the way indigenous data and information are currently being managed and utilized. This work also includes sector-specific data literacy training to marginalized communities in the Mekong Region, including forest advocates in Thailand, and communities in Laos and Myanmar. Our data literacy program has also been made available online.
Other work has included our Women’s Storytelling Project via Open Development Vietnam and our Vietnamese partners CSDM, in which Thai and Tho ethnic minority women were provided with training on photo and video storytelling and mapping with the goal of producing stories on their cultural practices. More information about this is available here.
In addition, the ODI team, alongside Sinar Project, are stewards for greater data governance in Asia through the Data for Development Asia Hub. As the primary partner of the Data for Development Asia Hub, ODI connects open data initiatives across the region to support open data network expansion. This is all done so that more Indigenous Peoples, women and other marginalized communities see data as relevant to them; see more relevant data; and are able to engage with data.
Q: Do you believe that data has a role to play in developing marginalised communities?
It is undeniable that openly available data is a useful tool, but making data openly available, without addressing the digital divide or basic accessibility issues, is insufficient for data to be of any use to marginalised communities like women, rural communities and indigenous and ethnic minorities. These are people who are confronted by much more basic issues, including gender-biased cultural practices limiting women’s access to ICT (tools and education) and a lack of physical infrastructure including electricity, Wi-Fi and cell phone services (see for example, some of the research that ODM has done with regard to gender and data). We have written about these issues here.
Marginalized populations are also typically not well represented in data, if at all, meaning that data is not relevant to them. At the same time, the reality is that society is rapidly digitizing. Thus, as a first step to making data useful, it is important to work with marginalized populations to see what their capacity needs are, as well as what their data needs might be. What language should data be collected in? What metrics are we collecting on? From the perspective of some of the groups that we have worked with, data is at its most useful as evidentiary support for their advocacy efforts.
In addition, open data can be directly at odds with the needs of Indigenous groups, for whom rights are collective rather than individual, and for whom long-term discrimination and exploitation of their knowledge may mean that open treatment of their data is contrary to their rights. In the context of Indigenous Peoples it is necessary to reconsider how data can work for them.
More about their work
Q: What are some of the data-related projects you have worked on that have made contributions to long term goals of the ODI?
ODI began as an initiative to simply open data and make it more usable for citizens of the Mekong Region. The platforms in and of themselves are evidence of the longevity of the work, as well as the relevance of our long-term goal of opening access to data, information, and data products.
Our present work which focuses upon broader data rights and governance is intended to redistribute the current imbalances on how data and information is being utilised to perpetuate ongoing discrimination and policy discourses that neglect marginalised populations within society. We support this through providing data literacy support to Indigenous Peoples and women’s networks so they can capture and utilise data within their own advocacy to assert their rights.