WHO IS DUSTIN HOMER?
“Most data producers don’t tend to have an idea of the purposes and uses of said data.“
If you’ve been a part of the “innovation” conversation in the humanitarian aid and international development sector for any amount of time, you have – more than once – admitted to yourself two things:
- Innovation is only second to strategy as the most overused and abused word in the development/aid lexicon, and
- When people are talking about innovation, they’re usually talking about technology.
While I am as guilty as the next person, I try my best to avoid stumbling into the trap of either of these pitfalls. However, when we mentally get past these two speed bumps, oftentimes, we find that what we’re really talking about is how do we get more/better data in a cost effective way. Technology is helping to answer that question in a big way and, increasingly, I find myself having conversations with individuals and organizations that have access to some fairly large datasets.
But then we quickly run into the next speed bump which is, unfortunately, much bigger than the first – how do we use this data to actually get better results from programming?
Luckily, people like Dustin Homer of Development Gateway have the privilege of thinking about this issue everyday. As my guest here on the Terms of Reference Podcast for our 106th episode, Dustin and I discuss Development Gateway’s Results Data Initiative, which explores how development results data can be collected, shared and used more effectively.
Dustin has learned, thought and written a lot about how tech and data actually matters for governments and development orgs – and how it doesn’t. He has also worked with DG’s clients to manage development assistance portfolios, open up development data and visualize performance information. Dustin’s current day job is leading partnerships, communications and new business for DG. His background is in tech, M&E (especially impact evaluation) and transparency. He also co-founded and worked with a community development NGO in Haiti.
You can connect with Dustin here:
IN TOR 106 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The Results Data Initiative, Development Gateway’s effort that started at the World Bank and wants to leverage data to promote global development.
- The development of dashboards and KPI systems for development organizations and how they have impacted work on the ground.
- Roadblocks to a better use and recollection of better data, and the initiatives Dustin believes will help to overcome them.
- Issues of “Open Data” as a buzzword, recognizing the value of the rhetoric, and yet thinking about the next stages.
- The politics of data, controlling the narratives, and how “Open” is not enough towards transparency.
- How Development Gateway cultivates innovation for his staff, the partners they work with, and the development community.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Development Gateway (DG)
- DG’s Results Data Initiative
- The World Bank
- The Gates Foundation
- Nepal’s Ministry of Finance
- OpenGov Hub
- R4D Blog
- Copernicus Initiative
- Premise Data
- United Nations
- Data, Management Systems, Dashboards
- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
- Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
- Data Collection, Tools
- Feedback loop, Empowerment
- Quantitative and Qualitative Data
- Open Data, Open Contractment, Open Procurement
- Panama Papers
- Flat Organization
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Development Gateway. Results Data Initiative
’90s It started as a kind of innovation lab within the World Bank.
It acquired a vocation based mission.
Use technology, inform process with data, interact with citizens and stakeholders in general, improve development as a whole.
“We remain, hopefully, the leading thinker and implementer of ICT for development.“
The lead aidbender
Data management systems. Last big one was a KPI software for the UN.
Also dashboards for Tanzania.
But “Where we are really pushing the envelope right now is in thinking hard about the real tangible role of data in development.” “There is a lot of rhetoric.“
At the end of the day the question lies on action and actors at the local level. What can they do, how can they use data to inform on-the-field development decisions. Informational requirements. How to influence the macro sphere around local actors’ needs.
2015 Dustin is approached by the Gates Foundation for help with data. “Fascinating work.” They’ve talked to over 400 local actors and government officials, data collectors (often funders). Focus on health and agriculture. His team has found good and bad examples of making the best possible use of data.
A woman working with farmers in Ghana, she spends the bulk of her time on data collection and reporting for governments and donors. Over time she devised her own set of metrics and included her own data requirements from farmers, to improve her work and communication, and better help them. This was data not considered by the project at large. “Compelling.“
Are data collection efforts a monumental waste of time?
“Most data producers don’t tend to have an idea of the purposes and uses of said data.” They don’t receive a lot of feedback.
This does not mean the data to collect must be useful for the producer. It does mean leaders must have clarity on the uses and purposes of each indicator, and it suggests we should make the corresponding cost and benefit analysis of the collection activity. “People at the local level have really important things to do.“
Initiatives as a whole
“I’d like to think everything we do is compelling and cutting edge.“
Data use in other sectors: finance and planning.
Mix quantitative and qualitative data.
Provide the right tools and training. Keep track of everything. Empower.
Dustin has worked with Nepal’s Ministry of Finance on those issues. Nepal is a leader in public donor information and engagement. Data and Dustin’s systems have informed development policies and allocation decisions post earthquake.
Rhetoric. Over the years Open Data is becoming status quo.
It is not enough, but the awareness efforts are arguably successful.
Data-focused investment vehicles have developed.
But the geeks are not winning
The talk stays in the international circles. At the local level it’s not the case.
But a general effort on data quality, the right tools, presentation and visualization, pushed from the top, can benefit everyone.
Endorsements. Create spaces from government and high places for employees to use and try data.
Resources are necessary. Evidence-based decisions need starting investment.
The Feedback Loop, now and in 5 years
Stephen: The loop needs closing. The talks need to become cyclical.
More specificity. Enabling people, building skills at the local level.
Leverage and democratize tech platforms.
Support, support, support.
Funding for supporting initiatives involving skill building.
Nascent efforts towards a more mainstream initiative.
Tools: usability, optimization. Link the indicators to corresponding impactful action.
Another large swath of issues involve transparency, open information. Reducing corruption, let data cross national and other needless frontiers. “Open contracting.“
It’s all about better development action.
“We have Open Data, intended to even out power structures,” but “a recent revelation is that the promoters are still elites. The development community has not acknowledged enough the risks associated as well as the ways to reach the most marginalized communities.“
Technological penetration is still low. “It should inform our steps beyond.“
The Panama Papers
“There is a political economics of data.“
He who controls the data has power, and can affect development agendas.
Development Gateway gateways
Can one operationalize innovation?
DG has Josh Powell as Director of Innovation.
DG can compete for donor money and have enough leverage to develop high-innovation projects.
“We want to celebrate ideas and promote a flat structure.“
Recently an open floor celebration challenge took place. Workers could pitch ideas, from field development, internal processes, procurement. DG lets them team up to prototype.
DG has a “small” innovation fund.
Dustin also highly recommends being part of a community. DG is based in OpenGov Hub, they keep in constant interaction with similar organizations.
Cases of good
DG’s Mark from Kenya will automate tax payments for small organizations.
The current open data project started out with several talks during the time Dustin was in Ethiopia. Then he met a person from Gates Foundation.
“Currently exploring intellectual directions.“
Open Procurement started with government interaction.
What hurdles Dustin
“Probably a lot.“
Deciding where to invest work and energy.
Data capacity building is a big need for some time and for a lot of people, “that we’re not addressing head on.“
People on the field often don’t know how to troubleshoot basic computing issues.
Stephen: digital culture is something on its own.
Dustin’s favorite things
Oxfam’s Dunkan Green, about data research.
ICT4D. R4D Blog.
Impact Investing. The Copernicus Initiative.
Premise Data Corporation. Mobile local reporting.
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Dustin, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
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