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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 onexperimentation and innovation opportunities and needs by and for the Global South.

This is part 1, which focuses on drivers and needs around innovation and experimentation in data policy and practice.

Supply chains and data supplies

In ‘Archaeologies of the Future’, Frederic Jamison characterised speculative fiction as the literary genre preoccupied with utopia and dystopia. Afrofuturism, speculative fiction inspired by African culture and heritage, gives us valuable critical tools to conceive of a Fourth Industrial Revolution with data policies and data practices that don’t repeat existing global inequalities. As Afrofuturist author Octavia Butler put it in her parables: ‘there is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns’.

On 20 September 2021, the ODI in partnership with the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance (FoSDA) and Delta 8.7 convened an online roundtable of international representatives from government, academia, business and civil society for a candid and constructive exploration of experimentation in data policy and practice around ESG data and global supply chains, with particular focus on data about climate risks and modern slavery risks. We’re sharing some of the insights from the meeting here to open up the learnings and broaden the discussion as we prepare a more substantive report later this autumn.

Roundtable provocations

Provocation 1: Octavia’s data parables – Dr Mahlet ('Milly') Zimeta, Head of Public Policy, ODI

Some key questions:

  • Can data practice or data policy, as a new field, avoid reinforcing existing global inequalities? Can it even ameliorate them?
  • What is the role of trust – assurance – in the work that needs to be done?
  • What is the role of innovation and experimentation in the opportunities that lie ahead?

Provocation 2: Experimentalism and ESG – Dr Jeni Tennison OBE, Vice President and Chief Strategy Adviser, ODI

Some key questions:

  • Should the high stakes around climate risks and modern slavery risks make make experimentation more important or less important?
  • Is there a difference between reporting that measures change, and reporting that changes behaviour?
  • How do you learn and iterate from measuring what's working and what isn't?

Provocation 3: Addressing data gaps in anti-slavery policy – Alice Eckstein, Project Director, Delta 8.7

Some key questions:

  • Do all data gaps have the same causes?
  • What could a win-win culture for accessible ESG data look like?
  • How do we encourage an environment that shares information even when it’s not flattering?

Provocation 4: New data sources for ESG – Dr Luis Fabiano de Assis, Stanford

'Experimentalism and the Fourth Industrial Revolution', Dr Luis Fabiano de Assis, presentation slides

Some key questions:

  • How can 'bad data’ be put to good use?
  • How can we be sufficiently assured about the quality of data from different sources?
  • How can we improve data collection for actionable insights?

Provocation 5: New analytical methods for ESG – Leon Saunders Calvert, Head of Research and Portfolio Management, London Stock Exchange Group

Some key questions:

  • Are there approaches to ESG that might impact trust in data, or trust in data practices?
  • How can we balance the need to act iteratively with the need to act ambitiously?
  • What new methods could help counter the costs of collecting ESG data at scale?

Provocation 6: New societal expectations around ESG – Jeremy Stimson, Partner, Data Science & Strategy, Control Risks

Some key questions:

  • Is there a role for communities in improving ESG data policies and practices?
  • How can PR considerations be used to drive change?
  • How do we know if we’re measuring the right things?

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 provocations and summary note from our Asimov workstream in this project are available here.

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 any of the event partners, or in collaboration with us together, we'd be keen to hear from you.

Some immediate practical opportunities might be around ODI Research Fellowships, or the ODI’s Data Assurance Programme. FoSDA welcomes firms to become supporters, including the opportunity to influence recommendations promoted to industry and policymakers. Delta 8.7 welcomes organizations to become partners of Alliance 8.7, a global initiative against forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking.

We'd also be open to co-developing case studies, projects, or activities; and if there are projects or resources that you'd find useful but that don't seem to exist, do let us know in this document – we or others in this community of practice might be able to develop them.

There’s more about the project here where you can also sign up to the project mailing list for updates and opportunities, contact the team on [email protected], or look out for our news on Twitter: @ODIHQ.