An Alumniportal Deutschland webinar held on held June 28, 2017 examined how access to information, knowledge, and open data can play a critical role in helping attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Entitled “Open Data and the SDGs,” the event was moderated by Allana Nelson of the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and featured presentations by Nnenna Nwakanma, a Senior Policy Manager at the WorldWebFoundation, and Manuel Yamada, a member of MateriaBrasil who describes herself as “an enthusiastic industrial designer entrepreneur who believes we can change the system through collaborative work.”
So what is “Open Data” and why is it important? Wikipedia describes Open Data as “the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.” Or, as described by Ms. Nwakanma, it’s the “legal freedom to use and re-use” data. When applied to SDG attainment, Ms. Nwakanma argued that this freedom is nothing short of elemental. “If we want to go from where we are to where we are not, then we need to be able to evaluate.”
In other words, how can one measure progress toward an outcome like an SDG without having clear, transparent markers with which to measure progress (or lack thereof). This is where the World Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer comes into play. Ranking 115 countries, the barometer measures how each publishes and uses Open Data in order to promote and facilitate accountability, innovation and social impact. According to the Open Baroeter website, the barometer’s country rankings are based on three criteria: readiness for Open Data initiatives; implementation of Open Data programmes; and impact that Open Data is having on business, politics and civil society.
Manuela Yamada then gave a stark presentation of the impediments to the free and open sharing of data. Ms. Yamada noted that in 2017 the top eight richest individuals on earth possessed the same wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population, a stunning dynamic that was only possible because those at the top had “been given the rights and ownership” to public goods, including data and proprietary licenses. Ms. Yamada argued that making data truly open and accessible to anyone who wants it would allow collaborative innovation as opposed to bitter competition. As an example she cited the Brazilian government’s bypassing of pharmaceutical giant Merck’s patent on an expensive HIV/AIDS drug in 2007, a move that obviously angered Merck but was a boon to millions of Brazilians suffering from the virus.