Being a new entrant into the open data and data journalism space, IODC2018 was a summit of many firsts for me. It was my first time attending an international open data conference or summit, and it was my first time in South America.
My experience was sponsored by a vibrant community of women in civic tech and open data, the Open Heroines community.
The journey from Nigeria to Argentina was an arduous 27-hour long one (longer if we account for my flight delay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), so I unfortunately missed out on some of the pre-IODC events. Nevertheless, I made it to the main event!
At IODC, there was a good representation from Nigeria and Africa, and naturally I was inclined towards discourses on open data in Africa, particularly Nigeria, because our data is not really open.
I attended a panel discussion on the 2018 African Data Revolution Report by the World Wide Web Foundation, which rightly observed that there is not enough literature on open data. Some of the report’s findings showed that:
In Africa, there is a very mixed approach and perception of open data, and how people look at going about opening it;
The criteria we measure open data by in Africa varies from that of the rest of the world.
Making a case for open data in Africa is a complex undertaking — relevant policy areas and capacity issues must be prioritised. Additionally, more partners will need to work together to engage governments in the conversation to make data open and accessible.
Looking back, what lessons have stuck with me?
The entire IODC 2018 programme was impactful to me both personally and professionally. Here are some highlights from the conference that resonated with me, nearly a year after the conference:
- As the data community grows, we are becoming more polarised. Some groups are interested in making data open, others are focused on how the date is used and concerns of the dangers that may come with data being open. As a community, we can take this as a warning sign and a reference to the idea that we have many paths ahead of us, but that we must focus on working together to achieve truly open data.
- A striking comment from one of the panelist was that, “There has been a 15-fold increase in consumption of the World Bank’s data.” This implies that there is indeed a demand for data so we must increase the momentum in making data more accessible.
- One quote that stuck with me during the opening plenary session themed ‘The Future is Open’ was — “A truly open future means open for everyone.”
I appreciated the emphasis the conference placed on female representation and participation in the open data space. One of the speakers during the session on gender and open data, called on our male colleagues in the data space to actively strive to ensure women have a seat at the table.
Ensuring women’s participation is a big — but achievable — goal. Simple gestures like introducing female colleagues before you introduce yourself is a step in the right direction. This speaker also iterated that, irrespective of where you are, when a women makes a point, echo their opinion. This is to reinforce their credibility, as often times people don’t take note when women are speaking.
Bringing Lessons Back to Code for Africa
Tying the entire experience to my work as a project manager with Code for Africa and working directly with journalists, it is important to note that beyond open data, we must think about open knowledge. Data only matters when it’s used. It was rightly said during the conference:
“There is too much uselessness in the abundance of data, if you can’t get the message across.”
In working with journalists on a daily basis and training them on how to use data and technology to improve their storytelling, it is clear that coding and statistics have become more important for journalists — especially for investigative journalism. Data is a safer way of doing investigative journalism, and has allowed journalists to publish stories without fear.
I returned to my work desk with fresh insight and a rekindled interest in encouraging journalists, especially female journalists, to do more with data in their storytelling. I learned that collaboration is key to achieving success and I worked on securing key partnerships for my organisation to make data more accessible to the journalists we train.
The coming together of open data practitioners and enthusiasts is indeed as necessary as it is important, because the open data ecosystem is a burgeoning one. It is still a novel idea to many countries across the world. As we push for a more open world, we can work hand-in-hand to learn best practices from each other when we come together in gatherings like IODC and communities like the one I belong to, Open Heroines.
About the Author
Andie is a project manager at Code for Africa, one of the Open Heroines and a Mandela Washington Fellow passionate about development and improving livelihoods in her country Nigeria. She’s social! — you can connect with her on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.