Moving towards a “New Deal on Data” for Africa
Accelerating Open Data and Data Collaboration in Africa through Policy
Posted on 10th of May 2023 by Andrew Zahuranec, Sampriti Saxena, Adrienne Schmoeker, Hannah Chafetz, Charlie Martial Ngounou, Stefaan Verhulst
This blog was originally published in the blog for Data & Policy, a peer reviewed, open access venue dedicated to the potential of data science to address important policy challenges. It details the proceedings of the first of two Open Data Action Labs focused on advancing open data and data collaboration in Africa through Policy, hosted by The Open Data Policy Lab and AfroLeadership. Learn more about the initiative by visiting the Open Data Policy Lab website or reading our blog posts about the Data Sharing Agreements Action Labs One and Two.
Generating access to data for public good remains a significant challenge across the world, including in Africa. As African countries continue to transform digitally, they too must develop new policies to ensure data is managed responsibly. The need to increase openness and re-use across the African continent was brought up with the release of the African Union (AU) Data Policy Framework and the Eighth Meeting of the Statistical Commission for Africa at UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis-Ababa. More broadly, advancing open data and data collaborations could help accelerate responsible data use across the African continent as well as make progress towards Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
On March 24th, The GovLab, Open Data Policy Lab, and AfroLeadership co-hosted our first Open Data Action Lab on accelerating open data and data collaboration in Africa through policy. The Lab included experts across several domains including the African data ecosystem, the law, and public policy. Our discussion focused on the current state of open data and data collaboration across the African continent. We discussed what has been achieved to date and some of the key challenges in accelerating open data and data collaborations across the continent.
Specifically, we aimed to answer the following questions:
- What is the current state of play in terms of open data policies, frameworks, and strategies?
- How can open data and data collaboration be accelerated through policy, by enhancing or implementing existing policies or developing new policies?
Current State of Play: Policies, frameworks, and recommendations across the African continent
Below we provide a few recent efforts to advance open data and data collaborations that were identified through our research. During Lab One, we unpacked the current state of these efforts and others and discussed how they could be built upon.
African Union I Data Policy Framework 2022 acknowledges that data has the potential to provide the basis of a new social contract and create tremendous innovation and societal value that benefits both the economy and people. The framework also makes clear that there are risks associated with the irresponsible collection, processing, and storing of data and that the right policies and regulations are required to ensure that personal data is managed, used and reused in responsible ways.
African Economic Research Consortium I Policy Brief: A Data Governance Framework for Africa 2022 discusses the key features of an effective data governance framework within an African context. The paper recommends a continental data governance strategy and that governance frameworks should maximize the use of data, ensure productive cross-border data flows and protect individual rights.
Bridging the Data Policy Gap in Africa: Recommendations to national statistical offices and governments to enhance the production and use of data for evidence-based policymaking 2021 discusses the statistical capacity across Africa. The authors find that African national statistical offices often lack adequate financial and human resources and struggle to provide accessible and available data due to capacity challenges. They also find that a culture of using data to make policy decisions is not well developed. The report concludes by recommending a six-point roadmap for bridging the gaps.
Africa Data Revolution Report 2018 examines the state of open data and Open Government Data across African communities. The report finds that there is large diversity across governments in their adoption of open data and several governments are willing to publish their data for public good. The report discusses the important role of intermediaries in advancing the ecosystem as well as how data-driven journalists can accelerate open elections. It recommends having increased political commitment (beyond one-time initiatives) and releasing relevant data while still timely–even if not fully processed internally.
The Africa Data Consensus 2015 provides a strategy for implementing the data revolution in Africa. The aims within this strategy include strengthening national statistics offices, championing open data practices by creating an inclusive data ecosystem involving government, private sector, academia, civil society, local communities and development partners and adopting a needs-centered approach to data collection. The Consensus was adopted in response to calls for a framework on the data revolution in Africa and its implications for the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The African Charter on Statistics 2009 is a code of professional ethics for members of the African Statistical System, African statisticians and other professionals working in the area of statistics in Africa. Out of 33 signatories, 24 countries have ratified the Charter.
Key Takeaways from Lab One
Our discussions included several topics including aligning the supply and demand of data, moving from policy to practice, and increasing collaboration and coordination across the continent. The key takeaways from our discussion are summarized below:
- Increasing the supply: Much progress has been made in advancing access to open data in Africa. However, this progress has not been equal across countries and regions. Challenges remain in collecting and sharing quality data and maintaining open data portals. Additionally, many stakeholders do not have access to the data they require. There is a need to increase the supply of relevant, quality, and timely data across sectors and for priority purposes.
- Cultivating demand: There are often challenges prioritizing and expressing the demand for data re-use. As a result, significant gaps remain between the supply of open data and what data users are looking for (i.e. the demand). There is a need to solidify who is looking for open data and for what purpose.
- Aligning incentives: Those looking to accelerate open data often struggle to align stakeholder incentives. Preconceived notions of it being harmful or dangerous often supersede the potential for positive impact. In the face of complex challenges that continue to impact the momentum of the open data movement (e.g. COVID-19), there is an urgent need to strengthen the value propositions of open data for key stakeholders.
- Accelerating implementation: Several open data policies have been developed across the African continent. The challenge is determining how to implement those policies within different sectors and levels of government. Many stakeholders are unclear on the value of open data and where impact could take place. Additional expertise, resources, and capabilities are needed to transition from policy to practice in a meaningful way.
- Advancing coordination: There are several context-specific challenges in coordinating data rights, policies, and open data implementation across African countries. There is a need for a distinctive Africa specific approach to accelerate the open data movement.
Lab Two Approach: Next steps towards a “New Deal on Data”
In what follows, we provide our approach for the next Open Data Action Lab. During Lab Two, we hope to build on the learnings from Lab One and co-design solutions to the key needs identified. Lab Two will focus on the following question:
What are the contours of a “New Deal on Data” in Africa : In particular, how can open data and data re-use across the African continent be made more purpose-led, practice-led, and people-led?
The discussion will focus on three areas:
- Purpose-led: how to strengthen the value proposition of and incentives for open data and data re-use, and become purpose-led? This discussion will explore the incentives, tools, and resources that could help reinforce the value proposition of open data and data re-use for key stakeholders within the African data ecosystem, while taking the risks and possible weaponization of data into account. These stakeholders might include private data holders, policy makers, and data users. The discussion will involve assessing the demand for open data and conducting a value-risk assessment of the factors that are hindering data re-use across African countries. Additionally, we will aim to identify the types of outputs that could increase data re-use (e.g. additional use cases or economic studies).
- Practice-led: how to accelerate the implementation of open data and data re-use policies, moving from policy to practice? The focus of this discussion will be the mechanisms that can help accelerate the transition from policy to practice. We will evaluate how we can build further momentum around open data and increase the supply and improve the quality across the African continent. We will unpack the barriers to implementing open data policies and explore what is needed to execute a policy at the country and local levels. Lastly, we will assess who needs to be involved and when in the process they are needed.
- People-led: how to trigger engagement, collaboration and coordination with communities and stakeholders toward advancing data rights, community interests, and diversity of needs and capacities? During this discussion, we will explore what is needed to advance engagement, collaboration and coordination across the African continent. We will discuss what distinctive tools, technologies, and resources countries and communities across Africa need to advance the open data and data re-use ecosystem. We will brainstorm what a distinctive African approach might look like and possible models for engaging local communities with the goal of advancing data rights across African countries.
Those interested in collaborating or attending our next Open Data Action Lab are encouraged to send an email to Stefaan Verhulst at [email protected]. To learn more about the Open Data Policy Lab, visit https://opendatapolicylab.org/.
About the Authors: Hannah Chafetz, Sampriti Saxena and Andrew J. Zahurane are Research Fellows at The GovLab; Adrienne Schmoeker is a Senior Fellow at The GovLab; Stefaan G. Verhulst is Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer as well as Director of The GovLab’s Data Program; Charlie Martial Ngounou is Executive President of AfroLeadership.