Five Reflections as ODW’s New Director of Policy and Partnerships
Director of Policy and Partnerships,
Open Data Watch
31 January 2024
Nearly five months ago I joined Open Data Watch as their inaugural Director of Policy and Partnerships, embarking on a new chapter in my career dedicated to advancing global data capacity initiatives. As I consider my time in this role, I am eager to share five key reflections that have emerged during this period:
1. Shifting Importance: The Rise of Civil Society Organizations
In the landscape of data and statistical development, I have witnessed a notable shift in the importance of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). While international organizations played a predominant development role in the 1990s, today, CSOs are recognized as equals in influencing data policies and strategies. This evolution signifies a positive change, highlighting the democratization of data-driven decision-making. CSOs bring unique perspectives and grassroots insights, enriching the discourse on global development. Open Data Watch surely fits this bill as they’ve been instrumental partners in advancing the open data agenda within the UN system.
2. The Rise of Citizen-Generated Data, Inclusive Data, and Data Stewardship
The substance of our work has evolved significantly, mirroring the dynamic nature of the data landscape. The rise of issues related to citizen-generated data (CGD), inclusive data, and data stewardship has elevated their importance in our work program. ODW continues to bring an important perspective in discussions around operationalizing data stewardship as an active member of the UN Working Group on Data Stewardship while also embarking on new collaborations to leverage the potential of citizen-generated data for decision and policy making. While gender data has remained an important component of ODW’s work, we continue to evolve our approach by considering how to apply that expertise to further the inclusive and intersectional data agenda. Addressing these aspects is crucial for shaping effective policies and strategies. As we delve into these areas, it is essential to recognize the interconnectedness of data issues and their impact on sustainable development.
3. The Power of Small Organizations and Agility
One of the important revelations since taking on this role has been the power of small organizations. Their quick and agile nature contributes significantly to advancing the data agenda. In a rapidly changing environment, the ability to adapt swiftly is invaluable. Small organizations, such as Open Data Watch, stand out for their agility in navigating complex data landscapes, positioning them as drivers of impactful change within the sustainable development agenda. Their strength lies in initiating new developments and launching movements, qualities I witnessed firsthand during my tenure at the UN. This underscores the pivotal role that such organizations play in sparking change and creating opportunities for collaboration with larger organizations.
4. CSOs Play a Key Role in the “Use and Impact” Stages of the Data Value Chain
Another reflection revolves around the pivotal role that CSOs play in the data value chain. Beyond their traditional advocacy role, CSOs are actively and increasingly involved in facilitating greater use and impact of data. Their contributions are essential for translating data into meaningful actions and influencing positive change on the ground. For ODW, since I joined, this has certainly been the chance with our latest endeavor—the Gender Data Compass. The tool, designed to enhance global gender data systems, goes beyond the mere collection and production of gender data. It looks at the underlying capacities and policies, ensuring they facilitate meaningful use and impact.
5. Capacity Development: The Heart of Progress
Capacity development emerges as a central theme in my reflections. It is evident that the magic in advancing data and statistical systems happens when there is a robust focus on countries’ priorities and needs. As we look to the future, partnerships that prioritize capacity development, placing countries at the center, will be instrumental to ODW. Closer collaborations with countries and a deep understanding of capacity issues, coupled with effective monitoring and sustainable financing, will drive our agenda forward.
What comes next?
In contemplating the horizon, I am excited about the potential partnerships and opportunities that await us. Closer engagement with countries will allow us to tailor our approaches at Open Data Watch to diverse contexts, ensuring our interventions are impactful. The research and understanding of capacity issues will be our compass as we navigate the ever-evolving data landscape. The Summit of the Future in September, the UN World Data Forum in November, and the celebration of ODW’s 10-year anniversary are just a few of the moments that await us this year. While I may have taken on a new role, my collaboration with colleagues from the UN continues and I look forward to our continued work in areas like open data, data governance, and the latest endeavors on citizen-generated data.
The collective expertise and commitment within the team inspires confidence in our shared mission. Together, we will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of statistics, ensuring data is used to drive positive change.