Don’t forget the users

by Mónica García Puerto on October 30, 2014

The datafication of society brings along a whole set of opportunities for companies, entrepreneurs, scientists and public administrations. Big data and open data are developing new ways of interacting with individuals, considering them as consumers, objects of research, taxpayers or just citizens.

Open data was identified in a previous post as a response to big data from the governments. In this sense, research and innovation projects are being fundamental in exploring the possibilities of e-Infrastructures (powerful integrated information and communication technologies) and scientific networks worldwide collecting reliable and free data.

Connectivity is an essential element of our globalised societies and linking academic research communities constitutes an improvement in quality of research and education, but also an important impact in society. In this sense, the European Commission is funding projects that link research and development policies. For instance, two projects have been working in linking scientific communities of African and European:

  • iMENTORS, based in the Stockholm University, this a 3-year project has been collecting data and classifying it on all e-infrastructure development projects taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa. The objective of this project is mapping these initiatives to provide quick, free, reliable and accessible information to scientists, universities, research and education networks, policy-makers and international donors.
  • eI4Africa aims at boosting the Research, Technological Development and Innovation of African e-Infrastructures and supporting policy dialogues and Euro-African cooperation.

Both projects had their final conference yesterday in Brussels, bringing the outcomes and impacts of the projects, as well as future challenges, like sustainability. Not only academics gathered in this event, also the private sector and international organizations were present and contributing to the discussions. And this was the leitmotiv: e-Infrastructures for Africa is a joint effort from academics, private sector and public administrations that looks at very different aspects of society and has an impact in research and daily life.

ICTs and data can make a difference when applying them in development projects. But there needs to be a change of mentality as well. ICTs should be demystified and moved from the technical aspect to our everyday life. Several African countries are working on establishing clear policies on this and the African Union Commission has developed an infrastructures programme containing ICTs and e-Infrastructures. These are important tools for promoting South-South collaboration, bridging digital divide between developed and developing communities and accelerate community development.

The use of ICTs has to be a multidimensional one and has to involve all stakeholders. When discussing at the conference on the issue of e-Infrastructures’ sustainability, the role of the user was mentioned as a key one. Empowerment, usefulness and accessibility are elements needed to engage users in the process. To this regard, I think that Evans and Campos, in their article on open government initiatives, tackle the right aspect of the relation between open data and the users, considering that “[r]eleasing volumes of data on a Web site without background on why and how it is collected, how it is organized, and its intended use, leaves citizens with herculean tasks of determining its relevance and reliability.” (Evans and Campos, 2013: 172).

We followed this conference and tweeted live. Have a look to @data4deve and you will get some insights.



Evans, Angela M. and Campos, Adriana (2013). Open government initiatives: challenges of citizen participation. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 172–203.

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