Access to information is key to holding our governments accountable. And to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years that accountability is indispensable.

At this year’s Africa Open Data Conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dozie Ezigbalike, chief of the data technology section at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, underscored the importance of giving people access to information to help hold their governments to account.

If a contract is awarded to build a road, Ezigbalike explained, and then five years later no road has been built and the contract is reissued, people need to be able to hold their government to account on the lack of progress. Data, in this case, can facilitate that monitoring and accountability, he said.

“It’s only when the people who are supposed to benefit have access to data that the government will be held accountable, that’s the theory. The practice is that for all these data, open data, big data, to work, it requires a lot of analytic,” he said. “We still have to build the skills and capacity to work with this data, but that should not stop us from embracing the new concepts and technologies.”

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To end poverty, measure poverty & progress properly

Data should be should be the bedrock of the SDGs. Donors, governments, implementers and community members all need to know what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, how we’re doing it and what we’re planning to achieve.

There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of data from the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the year 2000 to the launching of the SDGs by the UN General Assembly in September.

There has been a buzz about the “data revolution” for a long time, but this year the talk got serious. It is a simple truth that if we want to end poverty, we need to be able to measure poverty properly. We need to collect and make sense of the right and reliable pieces of development data if we hope to meet the targets of the 17 SDGs.

World leaders seem determined to end poverty, protect our planet from degradation and ensure economic, social and technological progress so that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives. They have committed to fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence.

To make these visions a reality, we need right and reliable pieces of information.

Democratizing data

At the recent Global Goals Community Data Event 2015 at the OpenGov Hub in Washington, D.C., I joined members of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data—a group of policymakers, data scientists, statisticians, application developers and others dedicated to finding solutions to fill SDG data gaps and identifying new or existing data sources, analysis and sharing methods for sustainable development data.

As an action item from the event, my team at Creative Associates International—in collaboration with the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data and other partners—is developing the SDG Youth Action Mapper.  This tool puts GIS mapping in the hands of youth leaders and organizations globally to help young people map the places and opportunities where they can contribute to fulfilling the 17 SDGs.

Between now and Global Youth Service Day in April 2016, we aim to roll out the SDG Youth Action Mapper in a mobile app so young people can map in real time places where members of the community are taking action on the SDGs and places where others can join in to help.

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During the event, I had the privilege to facilitate a session on “building a government-sustained open data portal.” My presentation drew lessons learned from my work at iLabLiberia. In my role as the Director of Training at iLab, I was involved with the KnowmoreLIB project which is working to build an open data platform and ecosystem across the Liberian government and citizens to improve effectiveness of government, participation of the public, and quality of life for all Liberians.

In partnership with the Accountability Lab with initial support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the project is drawing lessons from relative initiatives: School of Data, U.S. open data portal, Kenya open data portal and open data handbook.

When we set out to do this project, we identified a few key assets that motivated us to keep going: Community interest in government information and service delivery, iLab trainings and cohorts of committed technologists and expressed interest by the Liberian government to join global movement on open data. However there are numerous challenges that we cannot underestimate. History of graft/lack of accountability in government, country-wide IT infrastructure and management systems of government, literacy on the concept of open data and technical capacity to use and improve.

OUR APPROACH TO BRIDGING THE DATA GAPS IN LIBERI

  •  Build an open source government navigation portal to help Liberian citizens  understand and use government services more effectively.
  •  Partner with and train government’s public information officers.
  •  Focus on service delivery to improve daily life for citizens and government.
  •  Train and empower storytellers using low-tech solutions to support the government navigation portal by using popular chalk billboards to convey information to citizens on the side of the digital divide, in the language they understand.

The data imperative

What is the value of investing in these kinds of activities? Why should we build partnerships & trainings between local government and innovators to increase data literacy and open data availability?

If we can’t measure it, then how do we know we’re making progress?

Our success in achieving the SDGs hinges on improving the collection of good development data and getting it into the hands of millions of community development practitioners and citizens. The SDGs are touted as goals “for all people,” so all people must be a part of keeping the global community on track.

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