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Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most prominent issues that society faces. The impacts of our changing climate are felt by communities all over the world, from increased drought affecting global food production and water availability, to rising sea levels leading to flooding, displacing people and wildlife from their homes. It is important that we not only try to combat the changes to our climate, but also build resilience against the effects of climate change that are already impacting society, through building better global, national and local infrastructure.

Data plays a key role in ensuring we build better infrastructure, as managed and built environments are increasingly becoming dependent on access to historical and real-time data. For example, in order to create a digital twin – a digital environment that reflects on, mirrors, and evolves ahead of the physical environment – we might require access to a range of types of data, such as data that helps us understand the built environment (e.g geospatial data, or data about the building stock within a given area) as well as data that helps us understand the problem we are trying to address (e.g. pollution data, or data about floods). The Breathing Cities project, a digital twin initiative that originated in Leeds, required access to geospatial data, pollution and traffic data and footfall data to simulate different scenarios in which changes to city infrastructure could have a significant impact on the effects of air pollution.

Without access to the appropriate range of data, it is very difficult to build effective infrastructure that addresses the unique challenges presented by the climate crisis. In many cases, it is likely that the data that we need access to is collected, maintained and stored by other organisations than our own. To help organisations think about who these stakeholders are, and how they can work more effectively with them, we encourage people to consider mapping the data ecosystems within which they work.

What are data ecosystems and why do we map them?

A data ecosystem consists of all the people, communities, and organisations that are stewarding data, creating things from it, deciding what to do based on it, influencing any of those activities, or are affected by any of those activities. A data ecosystem map illustrates the data and other value exchanges in an ecosystem.

Creating a map of a data ecosystem can help us to understand and explain where and how the use of data creates value. It can help to identify the key organisations collecting, stewarding and using data, the relationships between them and the different roles they play. Representing ecosystems in detailed maps can be particularly useful when contexts are complex, not well understood or not yet fully developed.

Mapping requires you to consider different people, organisations, relationships and ideas in the system, and can generate useful insights and talking points. As a collaborative process it can build understanding of a data ecosystem across different stakeholders. The end product is useful as a communication and planning tool to support engagement with organisations in your data ecosystem, who you may be looking to build new relationships with.

To support organisations in mapping their data ecosystems, the ODI has a Data Ecosystem Mapping tool and methodology, which are openly licensed and available on our website.

Applying the data ecosystem mapping tool to climate resilience projects

As part of our climate resilience peer-learning network, in collaboration with Microsoft, we have been working with organisations to help them better understand their data ecosystems, and where there might be opportunities to improve the way that they work with different ecosystem actors around data.

In country initiatives

Women Income Network, a community based organisation in Uganda, are working to promote the economic and environmental benefits of maggot farming technology as a tool to create sustainable waste management solutions and generate economic opportunities for marginalised communities. The team have created a data ecosystem map which demonstrates how others can access the Women Income Network database, and have established a set of key messages to communicate with different stakeholders around building awareness, increasing adoption, and maximising the benefits of this technology for local communities.

South African Cities Network, which represents a group of South African cities and their partner organisations, are working to produce urban research that relies on access to publicly available city data. Their data ecosystem map has helped them to better understand different value exchanges happening between city stakeholders and partners, and to identify gaps where they could improve data capacity.

Organisations working in specific country or local contexts may gain valuable insights from the way which Women Income Network and South African Cities Network are thinking about their ecosystems, and how to more effectively align with other stakeholders who play important roles in solving challenges to climate resilience.

Global network support

PlanAdapt, an independent global network-based organisation, has created a data ecosystem map to explore one of their use cases on socially just and adaptive community spaces in poorer urban settlements in India and Colombia. The team identified opportunities for future improvement such as engaging national governments in similar projects, which would help in more effectively advocating for pro-urban poor communities’ policies which help vulnerable people build resilience against climate-induced risks such as floods at short and long-term time scales.

The International Centre of Expertise in Montreal on Artificial Intelligence (CEIMIA), one of the centres of expertise responsible for delivering the Global Partnership for AI (GPAI) initiative, are exploring how data institutions – organisations that steward data on behalf of others, often towards public, educational or charitable aims– and AI applications could make a difference in climate migration and empowering local organisations & communities. Their data ecosystem map focuses on organisations communities in Cameroon which are impacted by climate-induced migration, and how each of these actors engage with, and are responsible for, data and the infrastructure that supports data to be shared effectively and in trusted ways.

Both PlanAdapt and CEIMIA play a key role in supporting on-the-ground initiatives, so being able to map these differing contexts is important in ensuring that they have the full breadth of information required to provide meaningful support to these communities. Organisations working in a similar capacity may find value in examining the different approaches these two organisations have taken to mapping these external data ecosystems.

Data skills and capacity partnerships

DataKind, a global nonprofit organisation, helps organisations to make evidence-based decisions and improve their data literacy, with a view to addressing local and large scale humanitarian challenges. Their data ecosystem map explores a use case which focuses on the United States national point source environmental pollution advocacy and justice ecosystem, including the established roles that represented organisations play in making the ecosystem work effectively and how new organisations might add value as they enter the ecosystem.

Organisations such as DataKind provide valuable support to a wide range of stakeholders across many different ecosystems, by providing tools and skills that can help others to use data more effectively. Understanding what each of these stakeholders needs and how they work with others can be critical in informing the type of support that is relevant in the given context. If you are developing tools and other resources for organisations working in the climate space, consider looking at DataKind’s ecosystem map to see how they provide support to others.Each of these unique organisations has seen benefit in mapping the data ecosystems in which they belong, such as gaining a better understanding of who else is working in the ecosystem, to considering where data and other exchanges could flow more effectively, and even for the purpose of internal and external communication. For organisations working in the climate space, this approach can help you to better engage with the stakeholders in your ecosystem and work to identify ways to work more effectively with data, to address shared challenges.

Let us know how you’re using the Data Ecosystem Mapping tool

We encourage any organisation working with data in the climate space to consider how they could work more effectively with others, by mapping and understanding their data ecosystem, and to publish the results of the mapping exercise publicly, for others to learn from and engage with.

If you would like some support with mapping your data ecosystem, why not get in touch?