Data Practices in The Global South






Access to Knowledge

Information Technology

2021-05-06 19:18:58 366 0

The research team at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center[1] (A2K4D) at the American University in Cairo School of Business, led by Dr. Nagla Rizk, conducted an exploratory study of Open Data Practices in the Global South. The research study identifies gaps in open data practises and highlights the different ways in which efforts to promote data for development have been conceptualized in the region. The aim of this study is to fill knowledge gaps in the literature, particularly as they pertain to capacities, resources and skills in the development of data practices. In order to achieve this aim, our research team adopted a purposive sampling approach, whereby research subjects are chosen based on suitability to predefined target-sample characteristics. For the purpose of this study, the Open Data for Development network node in the MENA served as a community of active organizations, from which potential organizations were chosen as case studies. Our sample characteristics were defined as follows; organizations working in the field of data for development in the MENA region that were collecting, releasing, or utilizing data to tackle socio-economic challenges in the region. Our team conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with the four organizations in order to explore the specific adoptions of data practices for development in the region. Expert sampling was used in data analysis. Interviewees were asked to describe what they meant by using ‘openness’ in relation to data. As addressed elsewhere in the study, there is a significant variety of what is contextually interpreted as ‘open’. It was revealed that this variety has recently become an important part of the core culture of many companies. Due to the limited sample size of this study, its findings cannot be said to be representative of all Information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) in the region. However, the advantage of qualitative research methodologies such as ours is that the findings can shed some much-needed perspective and invaluable local insights into the open data practices of some long-standing organizations in the field. Prior to conducting our qualitative research, this research was framed around the issue of technological data practices and the use of technology for development. However, after conducted expert interviews with organizations, the study was reframed to become a review of regional data and ICT utilizations for achieving development objectives. Three key themes are addressed in this study; the issue of selecting suitable technology to meet development objectives, the challenge of finding and maintaining tech-skilled labor in the region, and the crucial role that communities of practice and partnership play in fostering sustainability in development objectives. The study reveals the emergence of a culture that has approached the implementation of data practices from various backgrounds. Information and communication technology for development (ICT4D), for example, is highlighted as an interdisciplinary area which has benefited from the skills of such experts as economists and computer scientists. The interdisciplinarity of ICT4D allows the different stakeholders and community members to renegotiate a number of theoretical and practical approaches to development, popular data practices, as well al ethical standards. This liberal exploratory nature of the field has led to various convergent and divergent approaches. It is through these approaches that this study investigated how data on development practices is produced in the region. Our data analysis revealed the need for more contextually relevant technologies in the field, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The research further emphasized the importance of aligning technology with local development goals and contexts. Furthermore, the study interrogated the concept of openness in the region. The debate around openness gave rise to another key finding in this study; the role of collaborative development and networks of practice, which was shown to be of great importance to promoting knowledge in the region. Even more interestingly, informal groups were found to be essential in knowledge and skills exchange. Ultimately, this study highlights how open access and data are moving at an accelerated pace and gaining incredible momentum in the MENA region. However, a number of challenges identified by this this study continue to prevent the region from unlocking the full developmental potential of data and ICT. Our research provides a framework for understanding how companies in the region are pursuing technology and order to recommend context-specific development efforts. This study could serve as a pilot for another with a more comprehensive sample that would further perfect our understanding and utilization of technology and data in the region. Stay tuned for the release of the full study on our MENA Data Platform! [1] A2K4D is the founding node of OD4DMENA- Open Data for Development Network for the Middle East and North Africa.