Laura Manley: Open Data for Sustainable Development

 On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Young Initiative welcomed co-founder of the Center for Open Data Partnership Laura Manley to campus. Manley’s presentation focused mainly on targeted group work, where students were asked to create teams to analyze some of the challenges facing the use of data to measure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 

She began the talk by emphasizing that while she is more passionate about development than data, data is usually the "missing piece" that hinders development work. Currently, most of the data people need is either expensive or hard to access. For example, one farmer in Ghana relayed to her how he would tune into the radio every day for hints about the weather and the markets; with new technology such as the Farmerline app, he was able to more effectively plan and grow his crops.

Therefore, focusing on open data is critical to development. All data is characterized by its source, its size, its structure, and its accessibility, with each of these characteristics limiting or enabling its use and reliability. Open data is free, accessible, structured data that can come in any size and from any source, from governments to crowdsourcing. 

Four global trends have emerged as a result of increased access to data. Transparency, accountability, and participation has increased, which strengthens governance. Increased information sharing with governments and between governments has also increased. Efficiency has gone up, allowing for improved service delivery in many different economic sectors. Finally, open data has enabled economic growth and job creation. 

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All of these impacts have been beneficial for both the implementation and measuring of the SDGs. To illustrate this, Manley encouraged the students to form groups and select one of the SDGs and discuss different metrics that could be used to measure its success and to figure out what data would need to be collected in order to do so. This activity highlighted the challenges still facing international development organizations as they strive to work with data, but it was also an empowering framework through which to view the possibility of development using data as a tool. 

Click here to watch the lecture.