Monday, 30 March 2015

Africa Data Consensus: power & politics, not tech

It was a real privilege to be asked to help facilitate a group on what the data revolution could and should mean for Africa last week. A High Level Conference in Addis Ababa hosted by UNECA convened civil society, innovators from business and elsewhere to hammer out what an African position could look like. Groups included those looking at peace and security, public services and data for development.

Working with colleagues from Hivos our own group was reassuringly one of the largest and looked at what harnessing the power of data could mean for human progress in the coming generations. Frankly I was blown away by the power of the ideas that flowed, many of which are reflected in the final document (above). Participants included two young guys from openstreetmap in Cote D'Ivoire, a woman human rights campaigner from DRC and the former Speaker of Parliament in the Comoros.

What was particularly reassuring for me was that so much of the debate centred on the problems of real life, rather than the "there's an app for that" discourse so frequently found in tech or 'innovation' based conversations and programmes.

What did it mean for security and privacy? How could we harness the power of business at the same time as guarding against abuses? Could 'data' end up being the new extractive industry - with business making huge profits while not releasing data as responsible citizens. Huge questions with no easy answers but we arrived at a hard fought consensus on the key action points for the Ministers of the African Union meeting this week to consider. It will be intriguing to see which way that goes.

UPDATE: 2nd April: The AU statement is out and it makes for underwhelming reading, I'm afraid. Highly state-centric, it concentrates on the role of national statistical agencies and "existing pan African inititatives. This is despite the civil society participants pointing out repeatedly that national government agencies could only ever capture a partial picture of people's lives and services, while there was an absence of any meaningful and holistic pan African data initiatives. Here's what the powerful had to say:
"High-quality statistical information and data are essential for the proper planning and measurement of development outcomes. Africa should generate its own data to enable it to better monitor and track economic and social targets, including the goals and objectives of Agenda 2063. A data revolution in Africa would afford our continent the opportunity to interact with diverse data communities and to embrace a wide range of data sources, tools and innovative technologies, which would enable the continent to produce disaggregated data, including gender-disaggregated data, for decision-making, service delivery and citizen engagement. An African data revolution should be built on the principles of openness across the data value chain and a vibrant data ecosystem driven by national priorities and inclusive national statistical systems. In this regard, we underscore the importance of strengthening existing pan-African statistical institutions, as well as other similar institutions agreed to by Heads of State and Government, to support the implementation of the first ten-year plan of Agenda 2063."
Disappointing, is my verdict.

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