'Peer learning network' banner

As part of our partnership with Microsoft, we ran a second peer-learning network with seven established organisations whose primary purpose is to steward open data that anyone can access, use, and share.

The initiative ran between October 2021 and March 2022, with the aim of providing knowledge-sharing opportunities and other support from the ODI and Microsoft.

This blogpost will share who participated in our peer-learning network, what we learnt from the process and where we’re headed next.

Who participated in the peer-learning network?

Following an extensive interview and user research process, our second peer-learning network cohort included mature organisations that we felt had the most in common, as well as the experience to offer on the selected challenges for exploration. They were:

  • Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) – an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments, aimed at providing open access to data about all types of life on Earth.
  • MetaBrainz Foundation – a non-profit organisation and global community creating and maintaining an open encyclopaedia of music and arts metadata, such as MusicBrainz.
  • Open Apparel Registry – a neutral, free, and open-source data tool mapping garment facilities worldwide and allocating a unique ID to each.
  • Open Contracting Partnership – a silo-busting collaboration across governments, businesses, civil society, and technologists to open up and transform government contracting worldwide.
  • OpenStreetMap Foundation – a non-profit foundation whose aim is to support and enable the development of freely-reusable geospatial data, closely connected with the OpenStreetMap project.
  • Wikimedia Foundation – a non-profit charitable organisation dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, such as Wikipedia.
  • WikiRate – a not-for-profit organisation which supports the largest open-source registry of environmental, social, and governance data in the world, providing an open, collaborative tool for asking and answering important questions about corporate impacts.

The programme

The second peer-learning network aimed to facilitate knowledge transfer and peer learning through monthly roundtable sessions related to pressing issues and challenges for mature open data organisations. Throughout the peer learning network, four roundtables were facilitated based on challenges arising within the user research phase. The roundtables covered the following topics:

Value and impact of open data on people’s lives

Setting the tone for why the participating organisations chose to be an open data organisation, the first roundtable focused on unpacking the value and impact of open data on people’s lives. With primary contributions from Open Apparel Registry, MetaBrainz Foundation, and OpenStreetMap Foundation, participants discussed what impact looks like within the work they do, the challenges they have found, and any advice for other organisations.

A summary of the key points and video clips from the session can be found in our blogpost Stewards of open data: what impact have they had?

Developing the right governance model for your organisation

The second roundtable focused on unpacking the different organisational models open data stewards use to achieve their core value proposition. With primary contributions from GBIF, OpenStreetMap Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation, participants discussed how their respective organisations are set up to deliver the core value proposition, paying particular attention to team structure, resourcing, leadership and infrastructure.

A graphic representation and summary of the various governance structures can be found in our blogpost What does effective organisational governance look like for open data organisations?

Developing a sustainable business model without compromising commitments to open data

The third roundtable focused on unpacking how organisations that steward open data can create revenue while remaining truly ‘open’ (as described in the ODI’s Data Spectrum). With primary contributions from MetaBrainz Foundation, Open Apparel Registry and Wikimedia Foundation, participants discussed the variety of revenue and financial models organisations use to deliver open data commitments.

We unpack the three organisations’ business using our Sustainable Data Access workbook in our blogpost Developing a sustainable business model without compromising commitments to open data

Making data accessible to a wide community of users

The final roundtable focused on unpacking how each organisation makes data accessible to different communities of users. With primary contributions from GBIF, Open Contracting Partnership, and WikiRate, participants discussed how organisations who steward open data create and support access to data, by looking at both at the role that stewards play and how engagement with users can play a role in shaping data access.

A summary of the key points made by each organisation within the roundtable can be found in our podcast The importance of community engagement to data collaborations

What we learnt

There is value in convening organisations bound by a common role. This year we focussed on mature organisations which steward open data that anyone can use, access, and share. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to open data stewardship, the organisations had numerous shared challenges and common approaches, which added value to the peer-learning network. It is also clear that finding the right mix of personnel within organisations is key, with participants stating that they learnt from not only the participating organisations, but also the people – developing lasting one-on-one relationships.

The structure of a peer-learning network offers value for participating organisations. The biggest change we made between the first and second peer-learning networks was shifting from a focus on support and workshops, to a focus on roundtables and shared learnings. This allowed participants to not only share learnings, but also ask and respond to reflective questions during the roundtables about factors that influence and impact their work. Testament to the success of this approach has been seen in some of the participants identifying the need to initiate their own peer-learning networks with relevant peers.

There is a need for more diverse geographic representation, particularly for the Global South. While all of the participating organisations operate globally, all individuals taking part in the peer-learning network come from predominantly white, northern-hemisphere countries. While we did put in considerable effort to seek interested participants from diverse geographies, the final participating organisations were chosen due to their maturity and willingness to participate – speaking volumes to the geographic data disparity between the Global North and South. As we initiate a third peer-learning network, it is clear that more representation from organisations within the Global South needs to be prioritised.

What’s next?

Moving into the final year of our three-year partnership with Microsoft, we will take on a third cohort of data collaborations later in the year, providing them with support and enabling them to share and learn from each other. We will also aim to develop an alumni network for previous peer-learning network participants to share their experiences. Details and ways of how to apply for the new peer-learning network will follow soon – watch this space!