A 'revolution' to fill the data gap

Prabir Sen, chief data scientist of Singapore, speaks during the Data Innovation for Policymakers conference held Nov. 26-27 in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by: Jenny Ravelo / Devex

Calls for a “data revolution” in global development are gaining traction. But aside from the hype, stakeholders are struggling to figure out what needs to happen for the international aid community to move from talk to action on the issue.

That’s precisely the goal of “Data Innovation for Policymakers,” a two-day conference organized this week by PulseLab Jakarta in Bali, Indonesia, hosted by the country’s Ministry of National Development Planning and co-sponsored by the Knowledge Sector Initiative and the UNDP Innovation Facility, where representatives from governments, international as well as local development groups and the private sector will discuss their experiences and share lessons learned on how to fill in the “data gap” in their own communities, development programs and companies.

How did South Korea, a former aid recipient now turned emerging donor regarded as an example for developing countries, harness the power of data to shape the policies that sparked its economic miracle? What can different community organizations in Indonesia tell us about challenges and opportunities in tapping citizens for data collection? Where did five Indonesian students “guard” the data on the country’s presidential elections last July?

The conference follows the recent publication of a U.N.-commissioned report on the data revolution in which an independent group of experts addressed challenges in moving toward a more data-friendly ecosystem for global development, and what can be done to overcome these obstacles. Some of the report’s main talking points — like how to bring different actors to work together, where to draw the line between public good and privacy protection, and how to develop trust frameworks — will definitely be raised in Bali, according to Giulio Quaggiotto, manager of PulseLab Jakarta, an innovation hub that explores different tools and approaches to data in Indonesia and several other countries in Asia-Pacific.

The expert believes the data revolution has received a lot of theories and discussions, but “too little practice.”

“If you want to make data revolution to become a reality, the only way to do it is through concrete projects,” Quaggiotto told Devex prior to the conference. “So you can attend a meeting and think about the theory, the pros and cons, but you can [also] do a number of experiments, learn from them, and draw on [them] for policy — you draw policy from the practice not the other way around.”

This, he underscored, would allow stakeholders to be better informed on what does and doesn’t work, as well as become aware of the potential risks of a given approach.

To make progress after Bali, Quaggiotto suggested looking into how the public sector and citizens can help address data gaps and overcome the obstacles — such as bureaucracy — that often hinder both of them working together.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.