2023 Year in Review
A summary of The GovLab Data Program's work over 2023
Posted on 18th of December 2023 by Stefaan Verhulst, Hannah Chafetz, Natalia González Alarcón, Sara Marcucci, Sampriti Saxena, Andrew Zahuranec, María Esther Cervantes
During 2023, The GovLab's Data Program continued its dedication to transforming how we solve public problems, design public services, or develop policies by unlocking and advancing the responsible use of technology, including data and artificial intelligence. With tools, reports, and training opportunities, we sought to empower decision-makers across diverse sectors to tackle evolving societal challenges.
Before we ring in a new year, we want to take a moment to take stock of the past year and look back to a selection of our efforts below. We sought new ways to make the responsible use of technology for public good more :
Systematic: by developing new tools, courses, and guidelines to enable organizations to help individuals institute the processes and roles needed for systematic data reuse;
Innovative: by Identifying how new methods and tools, such as generative AI, are transforming how we understand and interact with data;
Responsible: by outlining what is required to uphold rights and responsibilities across the data and decision lifecycle.
We also took part in multiple events throughout the year (listed at the end of this document).
We are grateful for the continued support of our partners and funders, namely (in no particular order) UNICEF, IOM, the European Commission, UNHCR, the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft, Data2X, the Paul Ramsay Foundation, the Smart Flanders program of the Government of Flanders, the Henry Luce Foundation, the World Health Organization, the Swiss Government, Kluz Ventures and others without whom none of this would be possible.
The Open Data Policy Lab
The GovLab’s Open Data Policy Lab (ODPL), run in partnership with Microsoft, is a “resource hub supporting decision-makers at the local, state and national levels as they work toward accelerating the responsible reuse and sharing of open data for the benefit of society and the equitable spread of economic opportunity.” Throughout the year, the Open Data Policy Lab produced a variety of resources meant to advance this mission, of which we list a few below:
How to Master the Practice of Defining Problems: Problem Definition Tool: Derived from a model developed through practice by The GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young, the Problem Definition Tool guides practitioners on how to develop a useful research question. The tool includes several stages to ensure that the work individuals embark upon is as actionable as possible. It offers guidance, brainstorming exercises, and supplementary resources. It also includes a set of fillable worksheets.
Facilitating Data Flows through Data Collaboratives: This guide proposes a methodology and a set of common elements that facilitate experimentation and creation of collaborative environments. It is intended to help users establish clear governance principles to foster impactful collaborations, develop comprehensive governance frameworks, cultivate data stewardship capabilities, invest in robust data infrastructure and standards capacities, foster a widespread data culture, build sustainable governance processes, and cultivate a social license for data re-use.
Data Sandboxes: Managing the Open Data Spectrum: This white paper supports responsible and innovative data collaboration practices through the design, adoption, and governance of data sandboxes. It provides the reader with six unique characteristics that make them a strong tool for facilitating open data and data re-use. These six characteristics are: controlled, secure, multi-sectoral and collaborative, high computing environments, temporal in nature, adaptable, and scalable.
Moving from Idea to Practice: Three Resources to Streamline the Creation of Data Sharing Agreements: A set of three tools meant to guide data practitioners in the process of developing a data sharing agreement. It includes a guide on principled negotiation, an update to the contractual wheel of data collaboration, and a readiness matrix.
Some other publications:
Moving towards a “New Deal on Data” for Africa: An action plan, co-developed with AfroLeadership, to make open data more purpose-, practice-, and people-led across the African continent. The plan includes recommendations about increasing data supply, cultivating demand, aligning incentives, acceleration implementation, and advancing coordination capacity.
Data Collaborative Case Study: NYC Recovery Data Partnership: In March, the Open Data Policy Lab published a case study exploring an innovative approach to data collaboration in New York through the NYC Recovery Data Partnership. It describes how the partnership gave city agencies access to non-traditional data — data that is digitally captured, mediated or observed using new instrumentation mechanisms, often privately held and used for purposes unrelated to its initial collection — to respond to COVID-19, it examines how cities can establish trusted intermediaries to facilitate innovative research and policymaking while simultaneously noting the challenges this presents in terms of resources, expertise, and complexity.
The State of Open Data Policy Repository: A refinement of compilation of policies launched at the Open Data Policy Summit, the State of Open Data Policy Online Repository is an interactive resource that looks at recent legislation, directives, and proposals that affect open data and data collaboration all around the world. It captures what kinds of data collaboration issues policy makers are currently focused on and where the momentum for data innovation is heading in countries around the world. Users can filter policies according to region, country, focus and type of data sharing. The review currently has roughly 60 entries.
Data Stewardship Courses and Training
One of the main ways we disseminate knowledge is through courses, webinars, and lectures on important topics related to data stewardship and data collaboration. This year, we pursued several courses and training modules:
Data Stewardship Course: Data Re-Use in Cities: This summer marked our fourth iteration of the Data Stewards Academy Executive Education Course, with this group focused on the re-use of data for cities to solve public problems. Over ten weeks, we worked with a cohort of eighteen city data leaders across sixteen countries to teach them about new strategies for re-using data to solve public problems in cities. Course participants developed a data re-use strategy for the city or cities they work in throughout the course, with coaching and support from the Open Data Policy Lab team.
Global Stewardship: LinkedIn Learning Course: The Global Data Stewardship Course was developed by the GovLab with the aim of promoting a systematic and sustainable data access culture which is critical for data stewardship. Led by Stefaan Verhulst, the course has the aim of teaching how to develop and manage data reuse initiatives as a competent and responsible global data steward. The course helps participants learn about the growing importance of data stewardship, data supply, and data demand to understand the value proposition and societal case for data reuse.
InnovateUS: Data Series: As part of InnovateUS’s course offerings, Stefaan Verhulst and the Data Stewards Academy presented a three-part workshop series, titled “Unlocking Data: Identifying Needs and Collaborative Approaches,” centered around data and its re-use by public servants to tackle social challenges. During the series, Stefaan walked participants through the fundamentals of data and its re-use, beginning with an overview of the many different forms of data before going into the science of data questions and the strategic process of building lasting data collaboratives.
AbreLatam ConDatos Training Workshop: During AbreLatam Condatos, The GovLab hosted a training workshop designed to introduce the Practical Guide to Designing Valuable, Accessible, and Accountable Data Collaborations. This guide outlines crucial requirements and standard procedures for launching data (re)use initiatives and implementing data collaborative models. The learning objectives include recognizing fundamental policy and regulatory factors to foster an environment conducive to data sharing, comprehending operational-level steps for designing and establishing data collaboratives, and applying the practical guidance in specific projects or contexts involving potential data sharing collaborations. (In Spanish).
Data Trusts: Valuable, Accessible and Responsible Data: The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Governance Lab (The GovLab) brought together multi-sector experts to discuss policies, innovation and practices for data access, collaboration, sharing, use and reuse. The conference consisted of two panels, one from the public sector perspective and one from the private sector perspective. Both panels focused on existing data operational models that provide practical examples of how the public sector can leverage private sector experiences to get the most out of data and improve their decision making processes (In Spanish).
International Network on Digital Self-Determination
In June 2023, The GovLab, jointly with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, co-organized an in-person event hosted by OGR Torino titled “Empowering Our Digital Journey: Unleashing the Potential of Digital Self Determination.” The event explored the principles and practices of digital self-determination with a goal of providing participants with ways digital self-determination can be applied as a design principle for trustworthy data spaces; recommendations on how to embed digital self-determination in the design of data; and suggestions on how to go beyond consent and embrace a social license approach to data. This event was organized as part of the International Network on Digital Self-Determination, a new effort launching this year.
Big Data for Migration
The Big Data for Migration (BD4M) Alliance, a partnership between the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography (KCMD), IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), and The GovLab dedicated to “facilitate responsible data innovation and collaboration to improve the evidence base on migration and human mobility and its use for policy making.”
In addition to hosting events in Cairo, London and Brussels, the Big Data for Migration Alliance launched its BD4M Innovation Handbook. In collaboration with the International Organization for Migration This resource highlights various new data sources that can be used to understand migration—including mobile phones, social media, and satellite data—before then delving into innovation governance, which includes data demand, data supply, data stewardship, data responsibility, and human rights.
BD4M also published a blog series exploring innovative anticipatory methods for migration policy. These included:
The Good and Bad of Anticipating Migration: This first blog serves as an exploration of the value proposition and challenges inherent in innovative anticipatory methods for migration policy. We delve into the various reasons why these methods hold promise and acknowledge the challenges associated with the adoption and implementation of these methods.
Anticipating the Future: Shifting Paradigms: The second installment of our weekly blog series dedicated to exploring cutting-edge anticipatory methods for migration policy. We propose a way of conceptualizing forecasting and foresight methods revolving around the objective they seek to achieve, regardless of the qualitative or quantitative approach they employ.
Towards a Taxonomy of Anticipatory Methods: Integrating Traditional and Innovative Methods for Migration Policy: The third installment of weekly blog series. We delineate a taxonomy of anticipatory methods, categorizing them into three distinct sub-categories: Experience-based, Expertise-based, and Exploration-based methods.
Innovation in Anticipation for Migration: A Deep Dive into Methods, Tools, and Data Sources: In the fourth installment of our weekly blog series, we continue exploring the blurring of boundaries between quantitative forecasting and qualitative foresight, as emerging mixed-method approaches challenge traditional paradigms.
How Far in the Future? Determining The Timeframe of Anticipatory Methods: The fifth blog is dedicated to navigating the intricacies of anticipating migration for policy by exploring their timeframe of anticipation.
Kluz Prize for PeaceTech
In August, Kluz Ventures, with support from The GovLab, launched the Kluz Prize for PeaceTech 2023, an initiative designed to celebrate, recognize, and propel the groundbreaking use of cutting-edge technologies in fostering peace, reducing conflict, and safeguarding human dignity and universal human rights across the globe.
After reviewing over 80 submissions from more than 35 countries, the Selection Committee awarded Commit Global with the 2023 Kluz Prize for PeaceTech, in recognition for their groundbreaking development and maintenance of a humanitarian digital civic infrastructure platform crafted to aid Ukrainian refugees. Since its launch, their platform and surrounding ecosystem have facilitated safe transit and support for over 1.6 million refugees.
Launched in 2020, AI Localism refers to the actions taken by local decision-makers to address the use of AI within a city or community. This year, 33 new cases were added to the AI Localism repository, a living curation of city- and state-level AI governance practices across the world.
Steering Responsible AI: A Case for Algorithmic Pluralism
In November, The GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst published a paper on the questions surrounding AI neutrality through the prism of existing literature and scholarship about mediation and media pluralism. Such traditions, he argues, provide a valuable theoretical framework for how we should approach the (likely) impending era of AI mediation. In particular, he suggests examining further the notion of algorithmic pluralism. Contrasting this notion to the dominant idea of algorithmic transparency, I seek to describe what algorithmic pluralism may be, and present both its opportunities and challenges. Implemented thoughtfully and responsibly, he argues, Algorithmic or AI pluralism has the potential to sustain the diversity, multiplicity, and inclusiveness that are so vital to democracy.
Data for Philanthropy
How can philanthropies leverage data in a more systematic way to improve societal health and wellbeing? In their article published in Alliance Magazine, “Modernizing philanthropy for the 21st century,” Stefaan Verhulst, Lisa Talia Moretti, Hannah Chafetz, and Alex Fischer explore how data can be used across philanthropic functions. First they provide four areas in need of innovation across the grant making decision cycle. These include: (1) identification of shared questions and priorities, (2) coordination and transparency, (3) iteration and adaptive experimentation, and (4) impact assessments and accountability. They then provide eight pathways to harness the power of data to address these areas. This was the first work part of a larger collaboration between The GovLab and Paul Ramsay Foundation.
Responsible Data for Children
2023 was a big year for the Responsible Data for Children initiative, a joint endeavor between UNICEF and The GovLab at New York University to highlight and support best practices in development and humanitarian spaces. Over the past year, the initiative embarked on new projects, published new blogs and resources, and participated in new events and webinars. Some prominent examples include:
Why Responsible Data for Children Is Different from Other Data Governance Approaches: A piece explaining the value proposition provided by the Responsible Data for Children approach, describing how it is principled yet flexible, accountability-focused, educational, and aspirational.
No Matter Where You Are, the Responsible Data for Children Principles Can Be Implemented: Also in June, the initiative produced a new graphic describing where around the world it had worked and how its principles had been realized. As the graphic demonstrates, Responsible Data for Children can be realized around the world in multiple and diverse projects and settings.
Intro to the Responsible Data for Children Principles Series: Through Fall 2023, the initiative published a series on its responsible data principles, explaining what these principles were and providing real world examples of them in action. These provided individuals in humanitarian and development settings with models and frameworks to use.
Responsible Data for Children Studio Methodology: In October, the initiative published a public-facing version of its studio methodology to help organizations better focus on the most important problems with their collaborators, break those problems into manageable components, and develop new data-driven solutions. Inspired by resources such as the UK Design Council’s Double Diamond Methodology and the 100 Questions Methodology, it allows organizations to explore and collaboratively define strategies related to child welfare and data.
Festival de Datos: Youth Takeover: On November 8th, 2023, Stefaan G. Verhulst and Francisco M. Benavides Martinez presented at the Youth Takeover session of the Festival de Datos. In addition to presenting the findings on data re-use from the Youth Solutions Labs, Stefaan also led an engagement with in-person conference participants and those attending virtually–including young people. He asked the group: How should young people be involved in decisions about their data? Several conference attendees spoke to the group and we received over 40 responses to our live poll.
RD4C Bites: Through its YouTube channel, the Responsible Data for Children initiative launched its new series of short, “bite-sized,” and easily digestible videos about responsible data. This series of three-minute video interviews, conducted with data-focused practitioners from multiple sectors, highlight real-world examples of promising practices, challenges, and lessons learned in effective data-driven approaches for responsible handling of data for and about children.
Imagine the Future: The Youth Solutions Labs
The Second Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The GovLab developed a new initiative that aimed to accelerate the health and wellbeing of young people across the globe—Youth Solutions Labs. In addition to sourcing solutions to specific issues impacting health and wellbeing, the initiative aimed to understand how young people feel about the re-use of data for or about them–aligning with the RD4C participatory principle.
Through six Youth Solutions Labs (or remote co-design workshops), we engaged over 120 young people to answer questions including what does should be re-used for specific issues impacting youth health and wellbeing, why such data should be re-used, who should gain access, and what ethical and responsible data re-use should entail. The preliminary findings from this work were presented at the Festival de Datos in Uruguay. The blog post summarizing these findings can be found here.
AI Ethics: Global Perspectives
In its third year, the AI Ethics: Global Perspectives course continued its work bringing together diverse perspectives on the urgent need for ethical approaches to AI and data. The site now offers over 60 lectures by expert faculty from around the world with the goal of raising awareness of the societal impacts of technology, and giving individuals and institutions the tools to pursue the responsible and ethical use of AI and data. In 2023, we added a number of exciting lectures exploring a range of topics from the role of AI in the art world to the challenge of ethics dumping and the potential for AI to advance environmental sustainability.
Data2X and Data Collaboratives
To address the care burden and its spillover consequences on women’s economic autonomy, well-being and political participation, in October 2020, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López launched the Care Block Initiative —centralized areas for women’s economic, social, medical, educational, and personal well-being and advancement. They provide services simultaneously for caregivers and care-receivers. As the program expands from 19 existing Care Blocks to 45 Care Blocks by the end of 2035, decision-makers face another issue: mobility is a critical and often limiting factor for women when accessing Care Blocks in Bogotá.
In the summer of 2023, The GovLab, Data2X, and the Secretariat for Women’s Affairs, in the City Government of Bogotá co-hosted a series of studios that aimed to scope a purposeful and gender-conscious data collaborative that addresses mobility-related issues affecting the access of Care Blocks in Bogotá. The blog post summarizing key takeaways from the first studio can be found here.
Informing the Global Data Future: Benchmarking Data Governance Frameworks
“Informing the Global Data Future: Benchmarking Data Governance Frameworks” by the GovLab’s Sara Marcucci, Natalia González Alarcón, Stefaan G. Verhulst and Elena Wüllhorst provide information about the conditions when a more holistic, coordinated transnational approach to data governance may be needed to responsibly manage the global flow of data. It does this by considering conditions specified by the literature that may be conducive to global data governance, and analyzing and comparing existing frameworks, specifically investigating six key elements: purpose, principles, anchoring documents, data description and lifecycle, processes, and practices and providing recommendations.
Selection of Events
The GovLab’s work was also featured in a number of conferences and roundtable discussions on data re-use and responsibility. Some of the events we had the pleasure of taking part in for instance:
The Diversity of Open panel hosted by the Open Data Association
Data Science & Society Symposium hosted by the University of Groningen
The Methodology of Statistical Research Conference 2023 hosted by Statistics Poland
The Data Collaboratives: Enabling a Health Data Economy Through Partnerships panel hosted by IE University
The FARI Conference hosted by the AI for the Common Good Institute in Brussels
The State of Open Data Roundtables hosted by Data for Development
Data Stewards: The Missing Profession in the Digital Economy? Panel hosted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
Responsible Data for Children: Fostering Responsibility Across the Data Lifecycle hosted by Festival de Datos
Designing Valuable, Accessible, and Responsible Data Collaboratives hosted by Festival de Datos
mAIndshift hosted by the Flanders AI Academy