'Peer learning network' banner

The ODI has selected seven established organisations who steward open data to receive guidance and other support from the ODI and Microsoft.

In August we published an open call in partnership with Microsoft for a peer-learning network for mature organisations who steward open data. Experimenting with different approaches to collecting, maintaining or sharing data can be difficult; the network’s goal is for those involved to learn from the experience and expertise of others.

Our approach

Last year we partnered with Microsoft to launch its Open Data Campaign, which aims to address the data divide and help organisations of all sizes to realise the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers.

We also ran our first peer-learning network for early-stage data collaborations. Now, we’re launching the second cohort of our peer-learning network to convene mature organisations whose purpose is to steward open data that anyone can access, use and share (which we’re terming ‘Open X organisations’). We are providing knowledge-sharing opportunities and other support from the ODI and Microsoft – ultimately enabling the cohort to more effectively address the challenges they face.

To begin, we started with a user research phase – conducting interviews with over 20 organisations who expressed interest in the network. During the interviews we asked candidates questions about their organisational objectives, their existing peers and networks, and how we could best tailor a peer-learning network to support Open X organisations.

The interviews gave us a great understanding of the challenges these organisations face, and the barriers to continued access to open data. While the list is much larger, we've chosen four of the most pressing issues to investigate further through our second peer-learning network. The questions we’ll be asking during the network include:

  • What is the value and impact of open data on people’s lives?
  • How do you develop the right governance model for Open X organisations?
  • How do you develop a sustainable business model without compromising commitments to open data?
  • What are the challenges of making data accessible to a wider audience?

We’ll be investigating and unpacking these questions through a series of roundtable discussions with eight participating organisations.

The participants

After an extensive interview process, the Microsoft and ODI teams chose seven organisations that we felt had the most in common, as well as experience to offer on the selected challenges for exploration.

These are:

Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth. Today, nearly 2 billion records documenting evidence of species occurrence are available on GBIF.org, growing daily and originating from more than 1,700 institutions worldwide.

Coordinated through its secretariat in Copenhagen, the GBIF network of participating countries and organisations provide data-holding institutions around the world with common standards and open-source tools that enable them to share information capturing evidence of where and when species have been recorded. This knowledge derives from many sources, including everything from museum specimens collected in the 18th and 19th centuries to geotagged smartphone photos shared by amateur naturalists in recent days and weeks.

The GBIF network draws all these sources together through the use of openly developed data standards, such as Darwin Core, which forms the basis for the majority of GBIF.org's index of hundreds of millions of species occurrence records. Publishers provide open access to their datasets using machine-readable Creative Commons licence designations, allowing scientists, researchers and others to apply the data in hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and policy papers each year – currently GBIF data is cited in more than three papers per day. Many of these analyses – which cover topics from the impacts of climate change and the spread of invasive and alien pests to priorities for conservation and protected areas, food security and human health – would not be possible without this.

Tim Robertson, Head of Informatics, GBIF says:

At GBIF we’re committed to working openly – openly licensed data, open development of software and standards and open discussion around our shared priorities and roadmap. Peer learning and mentoring underpin the development of our network. As we coordinate this global discussion we deal with wide ranging challenges such as language and technical barriers, biases in data and funding opportunities, building capacity effectively and fairly across the network, agreement on common data models and navigating the increasingly complex world of big data technologies. We’re particularly keen to compare our approaches to these challenges and learn from other like-minded organisations.

MetaBrainz Foundation

The MetaBrainz Foundation is a non-profit organisation that believes in free, open access to data. It has been set up to build community-maintained databases and make them available in the public domain or under Creative Commons licences. Their projects include MusicBrainz the music encyclopedia, ListenBrainz, AcousticBrainz, BookBrainz and CritiqueBrainz.

MetaBrainz’s data is mostly gathered by volunteers and verified by peer review to ensure it is consistent and correct. All non-commercial use of this data is free, but commercial users are asked to help fund the project. MetaBrainz encourages all data users to contribute to the data gathering process so that our data can be as comprehensive as possible.

The MetaBrainz Foundation believes in transparent finances and is supported by end user donations and sponsors who provide funds in order for the foundation to accomplish its goals. The foundation also has several commercial supporters who make use of our data sets.

Robert Kaye, Executive Director, MetraBrainz Foundation says:

I'm looking forward to learning from others how they have overcome common challenges in the open data space, particularly with respect to dealing with freeloaders who refuse to support the data commons. I'm also very excited to be able to share 20 years of experience with other projects.

Open Apparel Registry

The Open Apparel Registry (OAR) is a neutral, open-source tool mapping garment facilities worldwide and allocating a unique ID to each. Data in the tool is contributed and used by organisations all over the world, including major global brands, civil society organisations, multi-stakeholder initiatives, certification schemes, factory groups and more. As well as many other efficiency and process benefits, the way the OAR organises and presents data ultimately improves the lives of some of the most vulnerable people working in global supply chains.

Powered by a sophisticated name-and-address-matching algorithm, the OAR creates one common, open registry of global facility names and addresses, with an industry standard facility ID. These OAR IDs do not replace any existing ID schema, rather they serve as a ‘central source of truth’, enabling interoperability across systems and creating a collective understanding of shared connections at the facility level.

The OAR’s strategy is to open up supply chain data for the benefit of all. The power of the OAR’s approach lies in transforming messy, inconsistent data into structured datasets, made freely available to all stakeholders under an open data licence. When everyone working in global supply chains enjoys equal access to quality data, opportunities rapidly open up to shift the industry onto a more sustainable and equitable path.

Katie Shaw, Chief Operating Officer of Open Apparel Registry, says:

The OAR is thrilled to be joining a wide range of pioneering organisations in the ODI/Microsoft peer-learning network. The world is facing an unprecedented wave of challenges, from climate change, to income inequality and the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s only by working and learning together that we will be able to tackle these issues. Opening data up, rather than locking it away, will be key to success and we’re excited to be working with others to find ways to ensure that sharing data openly is no longer the exception, but the norm.

Open Contracting Partnership

The Open Contracting Partnership is a silo-busting collaboration across governments, businesses, civil society, and technologists to open up and transform government contracting worldwide. We bring open data and open government together to make sure public money is spent openly, fairly and effectively. We focus on public contracts as they are the single biggest item of spending by most governments. They are a government’s number one corruption risk and they are vital to make sure citizens get the services that they deserve. The pandemic has made clear what happens if a government can't buy and deliver life-saving medical supplies quickly, effectively, and equitably. These failures are still costing lives and disproportionately harm those already suffering from persistent inequities, including people of color and women.

Spun out of the World Bank in 2015, we are now an independent not-for-profit working in over 50 countries. We drive massively improved value for money, public integrity and service delivery by shifting public contracting from closed processes and masses of paperwork to digital services that are fair, efficient and ‘open-by-design’.

We support reformers from government, business and civil society to make reforms stick, help their innovations jump scale, and foster a culture of openness around the policies, teams, tools, data, and results needed to deliver impact.

We aren’t after a bit more transparency: we want a transformational shift in how business is done. We want to bridge fundamental gaps in data creation, disclosure and use. A modern economy needs a smart, data-driven government contracting ecosystem. Their mission is to bring governments, businesses, citizens and open data together to build one.

James McKinney, Head of Data Products and Services, Open Contracting Partnership says:

The Open Contracting Partnership is excited by this opportunity to learn how other data organisations are approaching common challenges, and to create connections in order to continue sharing and learning with peers after the network wraps up. We're especially keen to discuss ways to make data more accessible to a wide audience.

OpenStreetMap Foundation 

OpenStreetMap is a map of the world, created by people like you and free to use under an open licence. Openstreetmap.org shows only a view of the detailed map database; OpenStreetMap data is everywhere, from the largest websites and companies to the most creative hobby projects, and in places including mobile apps, humanitarian projects, the public sector, art, and science.

Almost 8 million registered users make about 4.5 million changes to the map daily. In many places and domains, it is the most detailed, actual, and correct map.

While many commercial actors offer maps created with OpenStreetMap, using the data itself is free. The only conditions imposed by the Open Database License are attribution, such as in a corner of the map, and sharing changes made to the map data under the same conditions (share-alike).

OpenStreetMap is both a producer and a consumer of open data. It includes or bases itself upon openly licensed data from many mapping agencies and other sources. The more far-sighted official bodies understand that OpenStreetMap is the best way of driving usage of their data, and have now started contributing it to OpenStreetMap themselves.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation is the non-profit organisation that supports, but does not direct or control, the OSM project. The foundation’s approximately 2,000 members elect its seven volunteer board members. Several working groups, composed mostly of volunteers, carry out day-to-day operations on behalf of the foundation.

Guillaume Rischard, OpenStreetMap Foundation Board, says:

Our projects have been preaching and practising opening our data, but have been siloed in their administration. Part of it comes from being created by iconoclasts when common consensus was that open data was a mad idea. To many of us, best practice is ignoring ‘best practice’, which we see as a synonym for mediocrity. The risk of this approach is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many challenges that we face are unique, but some are similar, and I hope that the peer-earning network can make it easier for us to learn solutions invented elsewhere.

Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organisation that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. The Wikimedia Foundation’s mission is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free licence or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. Since 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation has supported communities of volunteers in creating and disseminating knowledge in over 300 languages by maintaining technical infrastructure, building new software tools and products, addressing legal challenges, and championing everyone's right to free online knowledge. Today, Wikipedia is one of the ten most visited websites in the world, accessed by 6,000 readers every second.

Maryana Pinchuk, Principal Partnerships Manager, Wikimedia Foundation, says:

We are excited to participate in the ODI peer-learning network for the opportunity it affords us to strengthen our relationships with other organisations who are contributing to the infrastructure of free knowledge on the web by gathering and disseminating open data. We hope that by sharing our organisational learnings with newer organisations in this forum, as well as working together to identify cross-cutting opportunities and challenges that we all face as stewards of open data, we will contribute to a healthier, more successful, and more sustainable ecosystem of open data and open knowledge-sharing platforms.

Wikimedia is not receiving any funding from Microsoft as part of their involvement in this project.


WikiRate.org is the largest open-source registry of environmental, social, and governance data in the world, with more than 1.7 million data points for over 70,000 companies.

By bringing this information together in one place and making it comparable, accessible, and free for all, WikiRate provides society with the tools and evidence needed to spur companies to respond to the world's social and environmental challenges.

WikiRate collaborates with partners to deliver results that improve the world; for example, they share data on the actions companies are or should be taking to protect workers from exploitation or their operations' impact on the local environment. Their community of members drives our growing open data platform. They work collaboratively to add and verify the information in our open database about companies' operations. Without them, WikiRate couldn't do what it does

Laureen van Breen, Managing Director, The WikiRate Project, says:

We founded WikiRate with the principle of easy and free access to data about companies' performance. Today, more barriers to accessing data are being built in a rush to protect this new oil or gold-like raw material. Open data has the potential to tackle the world's most challenging issues. That's why we're in love with solving the problem, not selling the solution. We want to scale and grow WikiRate and so we are thrilled to be joining the ODI peer-learning network. We look forward to connecting, sharing, and growing with this amazing community of open data initiatives and continue creating solutions, together.

Background and funding

This work is part of our three-year partnership with Microsoft, running until April 2023. Microsoft joined our Commercial Partnership Programme as part of its Open Data Campaign which aims to ‘address the looming ‘data divide’ and help organisations of all sizes to realise the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers’.

Get involved with the ODI

Key to the success of the second peer-learning network will be our ability to capture the insights from our engagements and share them with the border open data community. Please look out for corresponding outputs we’ll be producing over the next six months.

Are you looking to join a network or learn new skills with data? We have an ODI Membership network (from £100 per year), and we run courses throughout the year