A Data Democracy Index?

One of the many outcomes of the Pulse Lab Jakarta event on Data Innovation for Policy Makers this past week was the concept of a Data Democracy Index.

The idea is that different countries around the world use public data differently from one another. In some cases the view is that the data should not be made public, ever. In other cases there is sympathy for the view that the people have a right to information, but the way that the people gain access to data varies — it not be fleshed out or it may be onerous, or in other ways problematic. In some very positive situations governments may have active programs for releasing data and cultivating communities of action around that data, all of which  creates new value and improves citizen services. This certainly looks like a continuum which could be qualitatively mapped, quantitatively rendered and numerically valuated from low figures to high figures. Voila, perhaps, Data Democracy Index.



Somewhat more problematically, however, we also see that there are disconnections between how governments understand and view data versus their own citizenry. In some cases the expert understanding of data is very similar to how citizens might understand that information, but in most parts of the world this is not the case. How would the Data Democracy Index account for these disparities? Would it should it could it?

What about the ways in which data is used in the provision of services? If these are inclusive and dialogic, should this result in a higher DDI ranking? If the data regime is itself exclusionary, in some ways presuming and perpetuating citizen apathy, should this be reflected in a lower DDI score?

What about the quality of the country’s own data? Is there a way to evaluate whether the data collected is perceived to be accurate and reliable?

What about the speed and up-to-date-ness of published data sets? Is there a way to evaluate this? If a government is making all the right noises, but it has no good and accurate data to begin with, how would the Index address this?

What about the local conditions of data arbitrage, i.e. the ability of governments to gain access to private datasets and for private companies to receive governmental data, again for improving data usage. Would we need a separate Data Usage Index?

How about the preservation of citizen and user privacy through de-identification? Different ecosystems around the world have different legislation as well as local practices around how privacy is understood and respected and protected and flouted. Should this be reflected in some way in a DDI?

In someways, it would appear that these different dimensions of data usage are all different and divergent, and yet they can all contribute towards a composite culture of data usage. Data capabilities are clearly emerging as critical for countries’ ability to use data platforms to enable governments to help their citizens and to enable their citizens to help one another. It is clearly emerging as a powerful differentiator between countries and their ability to manage natural resources, provide quality health care and otherwise do the business of welfare states in all regions of the world.

This is why we at Civic Labs, as part of the Vihara Innovation Network, would really be interested in partnering with Pulse Lab Jakarta in conceptualizing and developing such an Index. In order for that to happen, however, we would need more thought and discussion on the questions above, and on the ways in which discrete qualitative metrics could come to be reflected in this single index.

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