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Data institutions in low- and middle-income countries

Fri Feb 19, 2021
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The Open Data Institute (ODI) is working with the World Bank to explore the growing data institutions landscape across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The global data institutions landscape

Data institutions’ are organisations whose purpose involves stewarding data on behalf of others, often for public, educational or charitable aims. Data institutions take many forms in different countries. They may have been set up specifically to manage data, or may be existing organisations that have taken on the role of stewarding data in addition to their other activities. For example, AfricaArXiv is an example of a data institution set up specifically to manage an open scholarly repository, and the Counter Trafficking Data Collective is an example of a data institution that was set up by the International Organization for Migration which now also has a role stewarding data through the Data Collective.

At the ODI, we tend to think about the different roles that data institutions can play, such as:

  • Protecting sensitive data and granting access to it under restricted conditions.
  • Combining or linking data from multiple sources, and providing insights and other services back to those that have contributed data.
  • Creating open datasets that anyone can access, use and share, to further a particular mission or cause.
  • Acting as a gatekeeper for data held by other organisations.
  • Developing and maintaining identifiers, standards and other infrastructure for a sector or field, such as by registering identifiers or publishing open standards.
  • Enabling people to take a more active role in stewarding data about themselves and their communities.

We say more about the definition of ‘data institutions’ in our blog post ‘What are data institutions and why are they important?’ And we’re now launching a new project in partnership with the World Bank to explore how different forms of data institutions are developing in LMICs.

Data institutions in LMICs

Each year the World Bank publishes a list identifying which countries it classifies as LMICs, based on criteria including economic growth, inflation, exchange rates, and population growth. LMICs can also face some common obstacles around data. For example, in many LMICs, international digital platform companies – such as payment providers and social media companies – collect data from local citizens so they can develop their own commercial products and services. But the data that is enabling these large-scale commercial developments might also have the potential to be used to solve local civic challenges or to foster local businesses.

Data institutions can play an essential role in LMICs. Formal data governance systems like data institutions can help establish agreement on appropriate data collection and sharing. Data institutions can also reduce the disparities in accessible data for local community use – for example by implementing data standards or making datasets more interoperable so that local citizens and organisations can build more products and services using data.

LMICs can also experience ‘value extraction’ – where data is used by external stakeholders for benefits away from the country or region in question, rather than to support local ecosystem development. Data institutions can play a role in addressing these imbalances by increasing community control of data so there is more opportunity to build local networks of skills and expertise about local data.

Our new project in partnership with the World Bank will explore the role that data institutions already play in different sectors in LMICs, as well as how new data institutions are emerging to collect, manage, share and reuse data on behalf of communities, the public sector, civil society, and businesses. We plan to publish a working paper in May 2021.

Get involved

We’d love to hear from data institutions based in LMICs, or that are active in these countries. If you are a data institution like this, or if you know any, we’d be grateful if you could complete this short online survey to help us map the landscape.

Your responses will help inform our research, and with your consent we’d be keen to include your work in our mapping. The survey will be open until 12 March 2021. We use the World Bank’s classification of LMICs.

If you’d like to know more about this project, or receive a copy of the final report, you can contact us on [email protected] or on Twitter @ODIHQ.

Read more about our work on data institutions