As part of the G8 Summit agenda, the ESI was a jury member of an exciting ‘data hacking’ competition hosted by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Revenue Watch Institute, and the World Bank Institute.. The purpose: To find new ways of mining existing data on the extractive industries and use technology in order to increase transparency.
International government support for more ‘open’ data has been growing since the launch of the Open Government Partnership in September 2011. Global efforts to increase transparency in the extractive industries have learned that the availability of more and better data, while a fundamental condition for better governance, does not necessarily guarantee greater accountability. Who uses data, for what purposes, and how, is at the root of the challenge. Could ‘apps’ and technology have a role to play?
The competition: From London to Lagos
The first ‘hack-days’ took place on the 4th and 5th of May at the Hub Westminster, in London. Transparency of data in the extractives sector, ranging from production figures to financial values and tax revenues, has long been a focal point of the open data agenda. The Follow the Data hack days brought together top web-developers and designers. In three teams, they are competing to create a web-based application that can enable data to be shared with, and used by, a wide range of stakeholders.
The jury was composed of: Justine De Davila- Senior Extractives Adviser, Department for International Development (DFID); Tim Davies- Founder, Practical Participation Ltd; Naomi Smith – Earth Security Initiative; Luke Balleny- Commentary Editor, Thomson Reuters Foundation; and Marinke van Riet- International Director- Publish what you Pay.
On May 5th, after working for 24 hours (non-stop, for some) the three teams of developers presented their different apps to the judging panel. While they displayed great technical ingenuity and potential, what resonated above and beyond the apps themselves, was the fact that the three teams chose very different points of engagement in order to tackle the challenge. These varied approaches highlighted that managing this open data tidal wave will be best met by a process with a series of essential and complementary steps. What the three groups found, at a glance:
• Team 1: “first thing’s first”: The first group to present highlighted their focus on a crucial first step: achieving synthesis and coherency in the sea of data that is available They suggested the development of an Application Programming Interface (API), which enables different software components to communicate with each other. With the impending influx of available data, we need to make sure we have the processes and tools in place to synthesise the data arriving en masse and in many different formats, before we expect audiences to engage with it.
• Team 2: “Users must ‘get it’”: The second team presented the next stage in the process: the importance of user comprehension of, and engagement with, the data. This team focused on creating interactive maps and graphs with a sample dataset to show possible ways in which users can better understand and engage with the data, a necessary step to create demand and action.
• Team 3: “Spread what you find”: The third and final group focused on the effective dissemination of findings. They presented an app that allowed users working with the data to capture their main findings in a flash card form that could then be shared with a much greater audience through social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Whether the developers intended for this or not, their apps, taken together, presented an overarching point of guidance for this challenge and for how the design process will continue in the coming sessions in the run up to June. The overall message: There is no silver bullet answer to the issue of how to create the greatest value and impact from the open-data revolution. The best approach will be that which offers a series of steps and processes along the three stages identified. Whether this is done through one single app or a collection of complementary ones remains to be seen, as the competitive juices kick-in and the teams of developers take the design challenge to the next level.