The need to provide better access to timely and accurate data for policy makers, farmers and the private sector to inform agriculture and nutrition interventions and activities, has been widely acknowledged as part of the solution to ending malnutrition.
It is with this in mind that the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network, with support from the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), implemented a 2-day workshop on open data for nutrition and agriculture. Held on 11-12 March 2019 in Harare, Zimbabwe, the objective of the workshop was to develop the skills and knowledge of agriculture and nutrition stakeholders to understand what open data is, the value and benefits of open data, and the intellectual and copyright issues around it.
Twelve participants were selected from key major national agriculture and nutrition institutions, such as the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate Change and Rural Settlement, the Food and Nutrition Council of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health, the Scaling Up Nutrition Programme, the Department of Research and Specialist Services, the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe and the Commercial Farmers Union. The diverse backgrounds and expertise of attendants facilitated interesting discussion and the sharing of open data experiences from across multiple disciplines.
The facilitators used a mixed-learning methodology, combining theoretical frameworks with practical work, such as group activities and brainstorming. They drew on the open data experiences of participants through a participatory framework, which helped to guide activities and improve participants’ skills to effectively access and use open data. Trainees were encouraged to critique their own and others’ existing skills and knowledge, and to identify areas for improvement. A reflective approach was adopted throughout, which ensured that participants understood how to apply the learning to their own contexts in a practical and meaningful way.
Although all participants had not previous received training in open data, 80% of them claimed to have used open data portals and databases. Almost all participants (98%) found the modules on the principles of open data, the value of open data, and licensing and ethical use of open data, the most beneficial to their professional work. Most participants (65%) indicated a requirement for a separate training workshop on repositories and metadata management, since this subject area is more technical.
A new network
A National Working Group on Open Data for Nutrition and Agriculture was formed, consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Climate Change and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, as well as the Food and Nutrition Council of Zimbabwe, the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DRSS), and the Commercial Farmers Union. The objective of this working group is to promote open data initiatives in Zimbabwe’s agriculture and nutrition sector to support institutional processes and systems that facilitate the use of open data in policy and practice.
The following action plans were proposed:
- DRSS will develop an open data policy, but needs support in working on institutional processes and systems that facilitate the use of open data in policy and practice. DRSS also needs further support on how best to work with GODAN and ZeipNET in developing skills and knowledge in setting up open data repositories;
- The Food and Nutrition Council of Zimbabwe proposed the development of an open data repository to enhance access and use of nutrition open data by its stakeholders;
- All institutions agreed to have open data champions who will advocate for the use of open data for policy and practice within the nutrition and agriculture sector.
According to ZeipNET, meaningful promotion of open data within the agriculture and nutrition sector in Zimbabwe will require the following:
- Advocation for open data issues to be incorporated within relevant policy and legislative frameworks;
- Engagement with and sensitisation of institutional leadership regarding open data;
- Demand for open data, especially among policy makers and practitioners;
- Modest institutional-level initiatives to start with, to address practical and tangible open data challenges so as to demonstrate value;
- The development of skills and capacities in the use of open data in key organisations and sector networks;
- Continued conversations around open data i.e., reflection and sharing of knowledge and ideas including new trends for continued improvement in quality and use of open data;
- The linking of institutional initiatives to create functional open data collaborations and networks;
- The provision of open data by the government and quasi government institutions for enhanced transparency and accountability, and increased good governance.
It is envisaged that the development of the National Working Group will be the first step in raising awareness of, generating demand for, and instigating the implementation of open data initiatives in Zimbabwe’s agriculture and nutrition sector.