The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Global Conference attracted 1300 people from around the world to a surprisingly rainy Sydney. Luckily, many of them were not put off by the weather and joined the #followthedata event ‘Making the most out of Data on Extractives’.
The cavernous Powerhouse Museum, with its exhibits of technical innovations, proved an appropriate place to be talking about the potential of the huge amount of data that is emerging in the Extractives Industry. There is clear excitement about the potential to better harness this data and to make it more relevant to citizens. This theme has carried over into the EITI conference itself. Clare Short, Chair of EITI, noted the coming ‘avalanche of data’ through not just the updated EITI standard, but also new rules in the US and EU. Marinke van Riet, International Director of Publish What You Pay, noted that finding ways to make this data more accessible and relevant to those communities affected by oil, gas and mining is a new priority for the PWYP coalition, of 700 plus civil society organisations worldwide.
Some of the lessons learned from the EITI experience to date have also reflected the importance of the Follow the Data agenda, including the need to unlock information from PDF reports and move towards more standardized data reporting. Dani Kaufmann, President of Revenue Watch Institute, rightly warned us that we shouldn’t be ‘frozen’ by the serious standardization issues, but should inform standardization conversations by demonstrating the value of data already available, for example by using it to create prototypes.
The event highlighted the following priorities that need to be taken in order for the wide range of data stakeholders to use data to its full potential:
– The importance of intermediaries to help sift out what is relevant to users and to make data accessible;
– The need to contextualize information, building capacity to use it; and
– The importance of having the raw data made available for anyone to use, play with and mash creatively – one cannot presume to know how it might be used.
Perhaps, the real value of the Sydney event lay in the chance to test some of the prototype applications resulting from recent hackathons. Many were impressed by what was possible to be developed within 36 hours. Among the feedback – a caution not to overload apps by trying to achieve too many things, and the need to back up the impressive visualizations with the underlying numbers/percentages. We got most excited about apps, such as Impact Project NG, that provided information but then connected the user to the related policy challenge, such as by asking the user to select how it would spend revenues across a range of priorities, and then compare to the reality. It was a good reminder that interesting and quality data is not the end goal in itself but a tool to illuminate and inform tough decisions and prioritising action across many needs.