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The GODAN Action project: an innovative approach

August 3, 2016

Open data is changing the way we live our lives and interact with each other. From transporting information, to improving education, government accountability, and access to healthcare, open data affects our everyday lives. Through a new project – GODAN Action – CTA and partners will build the capacity and diversity of open data users to tackle food security and nutrition challenges.

inline GODAN action okkkVarious moments of the Open data workshop for data-driven journalism in Africa, held as part of the GODAN Action project in July 2016, in Nairobi.

Simply defined, open data is data that anyone can access, use and share. Recent high-level interest has drawn attention to open data's importance in light of growing and critical global challenges. The potential impact of open data is huge: increasing 40% each year, according to the International data corporation. Yet, many people, organisations and governments face exclusion from this new world of open data innovation. The different reasons vary from lack of resources, knowledge, capacity or opportunity.

However, it is encouraging that leading international development organisations are championing momentum gained by open data. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are set to guide the next 15 years of global development efforts until 2030. According to the UN, in order to achieve the SDGs, integrated actions on social, environmental and economic challenges are required, with a focus on inclusive and participatory processes. With this in mind, in 2015, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, together with Open Data Watch and other partners, carried out a cost assessment of the core statistical tools needed to measure sustainable development: Data for Development: A Needs Assessment for SDG Monitoring and Statistical Capacity Development. The study estimates that at least €1 billion a year is needed to maintain and upgrade the statistical systems of 77 of the world's poorest countries, as well as to ensure there is sufficient data collection to monitor the SDGs.

Agriculture and nutrition sectors in ACP countries can benefit from open data. Providing smallholder farmers with accessible and accurate data can increase agricultural productivity and improve nutrition. But to fully realise these opportunities requires insight to ensure that access to quality data is widely available and linked to local solutions for improving food security and nutrition; not least the ability of people to engage with open data practically.

Challenges and opportunities

Open data has proven benefits for our economies and citizens. The McKinsey report on open data - unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information - estimates that a global market powered by open data from across seven sectors would create between €3tn and €5tn a year.

And indeed, good, available, reliable and well-used data makes a difference to people's lives. Open data can reach the most vulnerable groups, respond to their specific needs and track progress. Data are also important to businesses and individuals who use information to make daily decisions that affect their well-being.

Open access to reliable information allows citizens to acquire information and track service provisions that affect their lives, such as information on education and healthcare; hold governments to account; and, to better participate in democratic processes to ensure their needs and concerns are considered. Data also informs government policies by providing inputs for accurate planning. Mobile devices, biometric data, and crowdsourced citizen reporting have already changed official data collection processes and the design of programmes monitored.

Nevertheless, there are still many challenges and barriers constraining the use of open data. These include: institutional; task complexity; technical readiness; risk of violating legislation by opening data; difficulties with data ownership; and unintentional violations of privacy. These barriers can easily translate into inaccurate, outdated, incomplete or inaccessible data due, for instance, to costs related to statistical surveys, insufficient capacity, methodologies and tools. In terms of agriculture and nutrition, there is a further risk associated with not enough involvement of key agricultural and rural development actors.

The GODAN Action project

GODAN Action is a 3.5 year project led by Wageningen UR–Alterra together with international partners with a strong agriculture, nutrition, data and ICT record including AgroKnow, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the Land Portal, the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Open Data Institute (ODI), AidData and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). 

Supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the project aims to enable effective uses of open data in tackling food security and nutrition challenges. The project will do this by building capacity of potential stakeholders to both understand the potential of open data in these two fields and to engage with it practically. The project is a response to the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative: Open Data Research and Capacity-Building. Specifically, CTA will take the lead in building the capacity and diversity of open data users.

Building capacity of open data users

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CTA' approach will focus on the following thematic areas:

1) Building sustainable communities of practice with special attention on the capacity of journalists as digital storytellers. The project will collaborate with existing networks and organisations such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme journalists network, supported by NEPAD. CTA and partners will produce and customise open data training materials, including infographics, charts and maps. The main objective is to create an open data learning repository to create awareness and maximise the use of open data within this group of stakeholders.

2) Addressing the digital divide. This means not only reaching communities excluded by no internet access, but also addressing the needs of those who have potential access but where this does not translate into access and use of digital services.

3) Strengthening participation of women and young people. Focal points of CTA's gender strategy are: women's access to knowledge and skills; gender sensitivity of products and services; improving the information, communication and knowledge management capacity of women and women's organisations; and, access to women beneficiaries. The GODAN Action project will follow this approach ensuring an effective mainstreaming of gender throughout the project.

The project will begin with an assessment of existing training needs, incentives and barriers, and will map the capacity building landscape to identify key partners. In this respect, a capacity building group will be developed in partnership with GODAN, to make the most of the significant contribution and resources of its international members working with open data.

The assessment produced within this group will provide a platform for longer-term actions and scaling up the use of capacity building materials. As a result, a range of capacity building activities will take place, with a specific focus on Africa. The project will focus on building capacity using four approaches and will assess their efficacy.

The four approaches are:
1) Face to face: to promote open data training with existing ICT training providers and help improve open data materials.
2) 'Workbench' activities: with multiple stakeholders on an open data project building their applications and learning about key success factors.
3) E-training: to develop online training courses based on existing approaches with FAO.
4) Self-learning: in particular, innovative approaches to learning using mobile phones.

All materials produced for each training event will be uploaded in the 'open data learning repository' to ensure efficiency and knowledge sharing among capacity development activities. This will enhance capacity on data production and data curation amongst different stakeholder groups such as data producers and researchers. Building on existing training and capacity building initiatives, the project aims to learn more about constraints to open data use and scaling up efforts to overcome these issues. By combining research with practical capacity building approaches, it hopes to bring the benefits of open data to a broader community of people working in agricultural and nutrition.

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