In January 2023, we kicked off our data for climate resilience peer-learning network, in partnership with Microsoft, and with support from Arup and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The aim of the network was to convene organisations which are working with data, to solve climate resilience and sustainability challenges, to share learnings, learn about and adopt tools and methodologies around access, use and sharing of data, and to hear from other expert voices in the space of climate resilience. Participants also received a small amount of funding to enable their participation.
This blogpost will reflect back on who participated in our peer-learning network, what we all learnt from the process and what we plan to do next in this space.
Who participated in the peer-learning network?
Following our open call for participation, six organisations were selected to take part in the climate resilience peer-learning network. The cohort included a mix of participants from around the world, from locally based community initiatives to organisations which operate and maintain global networks, all with the objective of improving climate resilience in their respective work.
- Women Income Network – A community based organisation in Kalagala, Luwero district, Uganda, which supports the use of maggot farming technology as a solution to waste management challenges, while creating economic opportunities for marginalised communities. Learn more about their experiences as participants.
- South African Cities Network – Based in South Africa, working with cities and partners to encourage the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management. Learn more about their experiences as participants.
- DataKind – An organisation based in the US, which helps others to develop evidence-based decision making, increase efficiency, and enhance their data literacy, in areas such as climate resilience. Learn more about their experiences as participants.
- Gender and Environment Data Alliance (GEDA) – A co-convened programme between the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which aims to get gender-environment data into the hands of decision makers and data users, which are working to advance climate resilience and environmental policy. Learn more about their experiences as participants.
- PlanAdapt – An independent global network-based organisation that provides knowledge services in support of effective, economically just and socially inclusive climate change adaptation and climate risk management around the world, with a particular focus on the Global South. Learn more about why the team chose to participate, and what they learnt as participants.
- The International Centre of Expertise in Montreal on Artificial Intelligence (CEIMIA) – One of the lead organisations in the Global Partnership for AI (GPAI) initiative, which aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities. Learn more about their experiences as participants here.
Activities in the network were designed to give participants the opportunity to speak about experiences, learnings and challenges relating to a series of data topics, and to learn from one another’s contributions. Some of the sessions were designed to allow for exploratory conversations around a particular topic, others aimed to give participants a practical framework to guide the discussions in a more structured fashion, and two of the sessions were delivered by external experts, to provide examples of how data is currently being used to address climate resilience in different sectors. Additionally, participants were given a list of resources to digest before each session, to give them the opportunity to learn more about a particular topic, and to encourage them to think about how each topic
This session focussed on exploring how each participant organisation considers the idea of value in their work with data, with a particular focus on the benefits of accessing data from other organisations, and sharing data with others.
Participants were asked to speak about how they are currently accessing and using data from other organisations, how this brings value to their work, and what challenges they face in gaining access to data. All participants felt that accessing data from other organisations was a critical component to achieving their respective missions, as the challenges that they face relating to climate resilience require expertise from many different organisations. The data being accessed came from a range of sources, such as national governments (e.g. census data), humanitarian organisations (e.g. data about impacts of environmental disasters) and research organisations (e.g. microscopy data). Challenges surfaced included the quality and accuracy of the data, which affects what can be discovered through analysis, and the time required subsequently to clean the data. The granularity of the data was also raised as a key issue, such as being able to determine how women are impacted by climate issues, compared to a whole population, or across different geographies. Availability of data at different scales, for example how national statistics compare to local statistics, was also flagged as a key concern.
Participants were then asked to discuss how they are currently sharing data with other organisations, what benefits they see to doing this and what blockers they currently experience in being able to share data. By reflecting back on the first part of the conversation, all participants recognised that other organisations could benefit significantly from having access to data that they collect in their work, in the same way that they do from accessing data from organisations which they work with. There were some concerns raised around opening up oneself to criticism by sharing data, in line with the earlier points raised about quality and accuracy of data. Additional blockers raised included trust in organisations that might use the data, knowledge and skills to prepare data so that it can be shared effectively and safely, and the cost of sharing data sustainably. Participants were left with questions to reflect on regarding how data sharing relates to their mission
Further reading and resources on the topic of the value of data are available here.
Our data ecosystems session explored how each of the participants are working with different stakeholders across their respective data ecosystems, to create the types of value which were discussed in the first session. A data ecosystem consists of 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.
Each participant used the ODI’s data ecosystem mapping methodology to practically explore the makeup of their ecosystem, and to better understand how tangible value exchanges, such as data or money, and intangible value exchanges, such as feedback, are created between the actors within. Participants found the process of creating a data ecosystem map to be useful in helping them to understand the big picture of how organisations in their domain are working together, and to identify barriers to how data flows, as well as opportunities to improve ecosystem collaboration. Following on from the session, some of the organisations also suggested that they found the output useful as a communications tool, to help them have more effective conversations with other ecosystem stakeholders.
You can find out more about how data ecosystem mapping can benefit your organisation, and access the data ecosystem maps that each participant organisation has produced, in our recent blogpost.
Our third session explored ideas of responsibility for how data is collected, maintained and shared, considerations for how communities are empowered to participate in these activities, as well as how organisations can think about making these activities sustainable. For this session, participants were split into breakout groups, to encourage direct exchanges with other peer learners.
On the topic of responsibility, peers discussed the importance of being ethical in how data is used, considering diversity and equity in who is represented in data to avoid biassed outcomes, and protecting people’s right to privacy and anonymity where possible. An interesting thread in the discussion also focussed on how climate data stewards have a responsibility to make data as open and transparent as possible, to ensure everyone is able to access data to help them solve climate resilience challenges.
All participants felt that community collaboration and participation is an important part of their work, with many working on the ground to support communities in addressing local challenges. Trust, understanding of the local context and ensuring communities have the skills to meaningfully contribute, came out as strong themes in this part of the conversation.
The topic of sustainability proved to be one that each organisation is grappling with, but where there were more questions than answers to be shared. As a follow up activity, participants were asked to consider what sustainability should look like in their respective organisations by using our Sustainable Data Access Workbook to reflect on their own circumstances.
Further reading and resources on the topics of responsible, sustainable and participatory data stewardship are available here.
The final session facilitated by the ODI focussed on the importance of building and maintaining good data infrastructure, including the standards, technologies, guidance, policies, individuals and communities that all play a role in making data accessible and useful.
At the beginning of the peer-learning network, we asked participants to complete a data maturity assessment, using Data Orchard’s data maturity framework (an earlier version of which was developed in collaboration with DataKind, one of the participants). The maturity framework helps organisations to reflect on where they are on the journey to data maturity, in areas such as skills, tools, leadership and culture, and how to prioritise areas for improvement. Part of the intention of this exercise was to help participants identify where they are currently investing in internal data infrastructure, such as employee data skills or a clear data strategy, and to see how their participation in the peer-learning process would help them to improve, or at least identify paths for improvement, in their data maturity as an organisation.
The first part of the session focussed on reflecting on participant’s data maturity assessments and areas which they had identified for development. Participants found the framework useful in helping them to identify these areas, be more intentional in how they plan for impact with data and identify areas for investment. There was an interesting challenge presented by a couple of participant organisations whose teams are distributed globally, to identify how to adapt and plan for a more decentralised way of working.
The second part of the session focussed on how participants are contributing to data infrastructure which benefits their wider data ecosystem, and where other organisations might be required to take responsibility for building or maintaining new data infrastructure. Participants had a good awareness of the existing data infrastructure in their field of work and where there were clear gaps in infrastructure, such as missing data sources, a lack of clear data licences and standards, and a dearth of tools to support data collection and analysis. Participants could identify where they had a clear role to play in supporting the development of new data infrastructure, but were cognisant that other organisations needed to be engaged in the process. National and local governments, and local community groups, were referred to in particular as key stakeholders.
Further reading and resources on the topics of data infrastructure are available here.
In addition to the ODI led sessions, the peer-learning network participants were invited to learn from two organisations working practically to build climate resilience in their respective sectors, through better access, use and sharing of data.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) team presented to the group about their work to use data to drive sustainability in the built environment, measuring and benchmarking carbon in how assets are built and maintained, and their Building Cost Data and Built Environment Carbon Database. Participants found the session valuable in seeing how standards are built in a community driven environment, and how these standards scale globally.
ODI partner Arup presented to the group on how they are using open data, to support water resilience in cities, including ‘sponge’ cities in Africa, and to address the sea level rise in Bahrain. Participants were offered the opportunity to collaborate with Arup going forward, so it will be exciting to see what comes next of the relationship.
Key learnings from the peers
Women Income Network (WIN)
- The team found the core focus of the network around data sharing and collaboration to be an important consideration for their organisation’s work. Through interactions with the facilitating team and the other peer learners, the WIN team were able to explore new ways of thinking about collaborative data collection and maintenance, which have helped to shape their practical approach to collaborating with other ecosystem stakeholders. This is evident with a new collaboration forged with Busiika town council, address poor waste management approaches through better sharing of data, which will increase awareness and adoption of maggot farming technology as a tool for fostering a culture of environmental responsibility.
- The Data Orchard Data Maturity Framework proved to be a helpful tool for WIN, enabling them to assess where they are in their own data journey and to plan actionable steps to improve. The team also shared the tool with their wider stakeholder network, with the aim to improve the data maturity of the ecosystem, so that stakeholders can more effectively talk about data and how sharing data can help to address local waste management challenges.
- As a result of the team’s participation, they have identified a clear set of next steps around improving the organisation’s approach to applying data driven approaches to their work, strengthening stakeholder engagement across their ecosystem, investing in an internal learning culture, with a view to extend this to their work with external stakeholders, and considering how to scale successful practices with data to other local communities across Uganda.
South African Cities Networks (SACN)
- The team found the Data Ecosystem Mapping methodology to be a helpful framework for considering how to identify areas of priority within the urban data ecosystem. The mapping process has helped them to consider how to utilise resources more effectively when working city and government stakeholders
- The ODI’s Sustainable Data Access workbook is a tool which the SACN team have identified as a critical supporting framework to help them consider how to establish sustainable revenue streams, whilst maintaining a commitment to steward data and provide contextual insights from data, for public benefit
- Using what they have learnt from their involvement in the peer-learning network, the team have made a commitment to continue to build both internal capacity and that of city stakeholders, by developing better approaches to reporting, improving data collection across the urban environment, improving the usability of the open data they publish and advocating for better data practices and sharing across South African cities.
- The DataKind team found the ecosystem mapping approach to be a valuable tool for creating a visual picture of the environmental justice domain, showing how knowledge and resources are shared between different stakeholders. The mapping activity helped the team to identify gaps in how the ecosystem works that DataKind could fill, through activities such as toolbuilding.
- During the peer-learning network, the team worked to refine their theory of change for how organisations like DataKind, which focus on developing tools to support organisations working to address climate and other challenges, can be positioned alongside community actors for impact.
- One of DataKind’s key highlights was the opportunity to participate in conversations regarding standards for data, and tools that help to share and use data, that can create enable community-driven solutions, whilst protecting the communities of people who contribute to the data, are represented by it, and are affected by how it is used.
Gender and Environment Data Alliance (GEDA)
- As an emerging initiative, the GEDA team derived a lot of value from learning exchanges with the other participants. In particular, a key observation included a need to consider how data collection approaches must be adapted to local norms and practices, languages, and capabilities, to ensure that the data collected accurately represents the local communities in question and enables them to have some ownership of what is collected, how it is collected and how it will be used. In addition, the team observed that all organisations presented challenges around sustainably collecting and publishing data, beyond the funding limitations of a particular project or initiative.
- The team found great value in using the Data Ecosystem Mapping methodology to map out their membership structure, and to better understand the opportunities for recruiting new members to the initiative. The process helped them to establish what data and knowledge exchanges would be desirable at different membership levels, and how to prioritise recruiting in each area. The GEDA ecosystem map is now used as a key communication tool to describe the initiative’s structure.
- The Data Maturity exercise proved to be a timely tool for the team, given that the initiative is still young, to help them identify areas for improvement around topics such as data collection and management, and communication.
- The Data Maturity Framework helped the PlanAdapt team to consider how a decentralised organisation can still take a holistic approach to building mature data practices. Their assessment results highlighted opportunities to build on their approach to the use, management and governance of data, with a focus on improving their organisational data governance and building more data and evidence driven decision-making processes.
- The team saw the Data Ecosystem Mapping methodology as key to their considerations of how social, environmental and economic value is created from data and how to identify opportunities to improve the value that is being created. As part of their ecosystem mapping output, they shared detail on how stakeholders in their ecosystem could use the ecosystem mapping methodology to better understand how they can contribute to positive change with data for the benefit of the wider ecosystem.
- As well as continuing to monitor their progress on their data journey through continued application of the Data Maturity Framework and the Data Ecosystem Mapping methodology, and sharing these resources with the stakeholders they work with, the team also have a keen focus on ensuring that their data practices maintain ethical integrity. They have committed to invest time and effort into assessing the ethical risks of working with data in project work, and beyond, through the use of tools like the ODI’s Data Ethics Canvas.
The International Centre of Expertise in Montreal on Artificial Intelligence (CEIMIA)
- The team found the Data Maturity Framework to be helpful in shaping their thinking around their work on creating a Trustworthy Data Institutional Framework, which intends to help organisations to assess their standing in building trust in their data practices. The framework has provided inspiration for the team to help them build their own assessment tool. The team will continue to develop the Trustworthy Data Institutional Framework, and hope to test this going forward with the other peers from the network, as well as a wider range of climate and data stakeholders.
- The peer-learning exchanges helped the CEIMIA team to build their understanding of why data should be made as open as possible, and how data can serve a number of public good causes. The team noted the importance of ensuring communities are well represented in data that is made available, and are able to contribute to the process of collection and sharing, through the provision of open data infrastructure. In addition, they also took many learnings from conversations around the value of protecting people who are represented in data, through the application of data ethics.
- The team made a noteworthy suggestion for future peer-learning networks to be run bilingually, and for resources to be made available in other languages where possible, to extend the impact that can be created from the exercises and tools to their audiences which have English as an additional language.
What we learnt as facilitators
It was exciting to be able to work with a diverse range of people as part of this peer-learning network, with participants based in North and South America, Europe and Africa, and many of those working directly with communities in other regions of the world. We learnt a lot about the ways in which each organisation works and the unique challenges they face, such as South African Cities Networks efforts to encourage cities to make more data openly available through the South African Cities Open Data Almanac (SCODA), to DataKind’s work in supporting shifts in public policy at a national level and beyond. Despite the differences in both organisational and data maturity between each organisation, we found that all participants found something interesting and new that they could learn from other peers, whether that be new tools or methodologies to help use data more responsibly, such as CEIMIA’s new Trustworthy Data Institutional Framework, or invaluable information about how a data ecosystem works in a particular local context, like PlanAdapt’s work with communities in urban settlements in India and Colombia. Many of the organisations shared overlapping concerns, but at different scales, such as the Gender and Environment Data Alliance’s focus on reflecting women accurately in environmental data, and Women Income Network’s efforts to ensure women feel empowered in their local communities.
The ODI’s tools and methodologies were well received by participants, with the Data Ecosystem Mapping session and approach being a particular favourite for those who participated. Despite this, some participants found it difficult to engage with their communities due to resources not being made available in their first language. We will reflect on this for all of our future international work, to ensure that participants are able to take our resources and make an impact for their own audiences.
This has been our largest peer-learning network to date, in terms of the number of people participating in sessions from each organisation, with up to 25 people joining regularly. Participants found it much easier to discuss their experiences through breakout sessions, where they were allowed more space to get to know each other and more time to share their perspective, when compared to larger group discussions. Collaboration is a key objective of any peer-learning network approach and we found that using a whiteboard tool such as Jamboard during sessions helped participants to make detailed contributions beyond what was captured in discussion.
As this peer-learning network comes to a close, we hope to be able to invite other organisations, from the climate space and beyond, to participate in future iterations. Please keep an eye out for any announcements about future peer-learning opportunities on the ODI’s tender opportunities page.