Disrupt & Innovate

Data Collaboratives can transform the way civil society organisations find solutions – Part I

20th February 2018 by Stefaan Verhulst Highschool children working together

This is the first of two blogs on Data Collaboratives by Stefaan G. Verhulst of The Governance Lab. Data Collaboratives are an emerging public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors come together to exchange data and pool analytical expertise. Their potential is great, offering new solutions to old problems and making International Civil Society Organisations more effective. (Read Part II here)

The need for innovation is clear: The twenty-first century is shaping up to be one of the most challenging in recent history. From climate change to income inequality to geopolitical upheaval and terrorism: the difficulties confronting international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are unprecedented not only in their variety but also in their complexity. At the same time, today’s practices and tools used by ICSOs seem stale and outdated. Increasingly, it is clear, we need not only new solutions but new methods for arriving at solutions.

Data will likely become more central to meeting these challenges. We live in a quantified era. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s data was generated in just the last two years. We know that this data can help us understand the world in new ways and help us meet the challenges mentioned above. However, we need new data collaboration methods to help us extract the insights from that data.

UNTAPPED DATA POTENTIAL

For all of data’s potential to address public challenges, the truth remains that most data generated today is in fact collected by the private sector – including ICSOs who are often collecting a vast amount of data – such as, for instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which generates various (often sensitive) data related to humanitarian activities. This data, typically ensconced in tightly held databases toward maintaining competitive advantage or protecting from harmful intrusion, contains tremendous possible insights and avenues for innovation in how we solve public problems. But because of access restrictions and often limited data science capacity, its vast potential often goes untapped.

DATA COLLABORATIVES AS A SOLUTION

Data Collaboratives offer a way around this limitation. They represent an emerging public-private partnership model, in which participants from different areas — including the private sector, government, and civil society — come together to exchange data and pool analytical expertise.

While still an emerging practice, examples of such partnerships now exist around the world, across sectors and public policy domains. Importantly several ICSOs have started to collaborate with others around their own data and that of the private and public sector. For example:

  • Several civil society organisations, academics, and donor agencies are partnering in the Health Data Collaborative to improve the global data infrastructure necessary to make smarter global and local health decisions and to track progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Additionally, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) built Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), a platform for sharing humanitarian from and for ICSOs – including Caritas, InterAction and others – donor agencies, national and international bodies, and other humanitarian organisations.

These are a few examples of Data Collaboratives that ICSOs are participating in. Yet, the potential for collaboration goes beyond these examples. Likewise, so do the concerns regarding data protection and privacy.

At The Governance Lab (GovLab) at New York University, we have researched in depth the potential of Data Collaboratives, and have identified five specific public value propositions. We are also clear in the need for organisations in Data Collaboratives to embrace establishing “Data Stewardship” roles to ensure responsible data management.

In the next blog, I will go into greater detail about GovLab’s work and explain how ICSOs could use Data Collaboratives to their benefit more, and how they can manage data responsibly.

Stefaan Verhulst

Co-Founder & Chief of Research and Development at the GovLab

GovLab

Stefaan G. Verhulst is Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of the Governance Laboratory @NYU (GovLab) where he is responsible for building a research foundation on how to transform governance using advances in science and technology. Verhulst’s latest scholarship centers on how technology can improve people’s lives and the creation of more effective and collaborative forms of governance. Specifically, he is interested in the perils and promise of collaborative technologies and how to harness the unprecedented volume of information to advance the public good. Before joining NYU full time, Verhulst spent more than a decade as Chief of Research for the Markle Foundation, where he continues to serve as Senior Advisor. At Markle, an operational foundation based in New York, he was responsible for overseeing strategic research on all the priority areas of the Foundation including, for instance: transforming health care using information and technology, re-engineering government to respond to new national security threats, improving people’s lives in developing countries by connecting them to information networks, developing multi-stakeholder networks to tackle global governance challenges, changing education through information technology et al. Many of Markle’s reports have been translated into legislation and executive orders, and have informed the creation of new organizations and businesses. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Culture and Communications at New York University, Senior Research Fellow for the Center for Media and Communications Studies at Central European University in Budapest; and an Affiliated Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Global Communications Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communications. Previously at Oxford University he co-founded and was the Head of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the Centre for Socio Legal Studies, and also served as Senior Research Fellow of Wolfson College. He is still an emeritus fellow at Oxford. He also taught several years at the London School of Economics. Verhulst was the UNESCO Chairholder in Communications Law and Policy for the UK, a former lecturer on Communications Law and Policy issues in Belgium, and Founder and Co-Director of the International Media and Info-Comms Policy and Law Studies at the University of Glasgow School of Law. He has served as a consultant to numerous international and national organizations, including the Council of Europe, the European Commission, UNESCO, World Bank, UNDP, USAID, the UK Department for International Development among others. He has been a grant recipient of the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Markle Foundation. Verhulst has authored and co-authored several books, including: In Search of the Self: Conceptual Approaches to Internet Self Regulation (Routledge, 2001); Convergence in European Communications Regulation (Blackstone, 1999); EC Media Law and Policy (AWL, 1998); Legal Responses to the Changing Media (OUP, 1998); and Broadcasting Reform in India (OUP, 1998) and The Routledge Handbook of Media Law (2013). Latest reports and papers include, for instance, Innovations in Global Governance: Toward a Distributed Internet Governance Ecosystem (2014) and The Open Data Era in Health and Social Care (2014). Verhulst blogs also regularly on a variety of topics. For instance: Data Collaboratives: Exchanging Data to Improve People’s Lives (2015), and Reimagining Cities (2014). Verhulst is also founder and editor of numerous journals including the International Journal of Communications Law and Policy, and the Communications Law in Transition Newsletter. Currently, he is the Curator and Editor of the Govlab Weekly Digest.