Octavia and data games

Fri Jul 22, 2022
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The Open Data Institute (ODI)’s Public Policy team is undertaking an ambitious international project, called ‘Experimentalism and the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. We are exploring how data policymakers and data practitioners can work in more innovative and experimental ways to adapt to, and leverage, the fast-moving societal and economic challenges and opportunities around new data availability and associated digital technologies.

The project runs in three parallel workstreams named after sci fi writers. This workstream is named after afro-futurist author Octavia Butler and focuses on experimentation and innovation opportunities and needs by and for the Global South. 

This is part 3, which explores the evaluation and assessment stage of data policy and practice, and how innovation and experimentation here might support better questions and therefore better answers.

Shaping the game

As Octavia Butler wrote in Parable of the Sower (1993): ‘They help us to shape God and to accept and work with the shapes that God imposes on us. God is power, and in the end, God prevails. But we can rig the game in our own favor if we understand that God exists to be shaped, and will be shaped, with or without our forethought, with or without our intent.’

On 13 June 2022, the ODI, in partnership with the the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) and the network Tierra Común, convened an online roundtable of international stakeholders in data policy and data practice to explore opportunities for experimental approaches to valuation, evaluation, and the nature and criteria of evidence. The focus was on the challenges and opportunities around monitoring and evaluating the digital economy and development in the Global South. We’re sharing audio clips of the guest speakers’ provocation presentations with some discussion questions to prompt critical creative exploration of the topic.

Roundtable provocations

Introduction – Dr Mahlet (“Milly”) Zimeta, Head of Public Policy, ODI

Some key questions:

  • What is the role of MEL (Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning) in shaping digital economies in international development?
  • How might new forms of measurement enabled by digital technologies be used by policymakers and communities of the Global South to their international advantage?

Keynote – Professor Chidi Oguamanam, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Some key questions:

  • How can policymakers identify and learn from disruptive outliers that can help develop alternatives to the status quo?
  • How can we measure progress to uncertain outcomes?
  • What might be some of the underlying international development logics on which technological deployment is often based?

Provocation 1: Evaluation – Dr Angeline Wairegi, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), Strathmore University, Kenya

Some key questions:

  • What are the ways in which importing technology can also involve importing values and narratives around that technology? What could be done differently?
  • Are the drivers for developing and adopting digital technology the same in the Global South as in the Global North?
  • How can policymakers in the Global South innovate with assessment to support the development of digital technology ecosystems that reflect local values and local priorities?

Provocation 2: Valuation  – Nai Lee Kalema, Member, Tierra Común; doctoral researcher, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

Some key questions:

  • How might quantified ways of knowing benefit us, and how might they harm us?
  • What has contemporary data extractivism inherited from historical colonialism?
  • How can story-telling be used for international solidarity in data practices and data policy?

Provocation 3: Evidence – Jessica Kiessel, Senior Director, Learning & Impact, Omidyar Network

Some key questions:

  • How can different sports metaphors help us think differently about emerging digital economies in international development?
  • What should be the role of international development organisations in emerging digital economies?
  • How can robust and rigorous institutional planning be combined with adaptive mindsets, cultures and ways of navigating uncertainty?

Get involved

We’ve created a short summary note with a distillation of the high-level themes and observations that emerged in discussion. It’s available here as a ‘living document’, and we welcome and encourage reader comments on it, as part of a community of practice, and to inform how the project develops.

The summary note also includes a Resource Guide that we hope you find useful, and that you can contribute to. If you would like to explore any of these ideas and opportunities further with the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), with Tierra Común, or with the ODI, we’d be keen to hear from you. Some immediate practical opportunities might be around ODI research fellowships, the ODI’s Data Skills Framework, the ODI’s data institutions programme, and the ODI’s work around data assurance.

Find out more about the project and sign up to the project mailing list here, contact the team at experimentalism@theodi.org, or look out for our news on Twitter: @ODIHQ.