Data, if collected, used and shared well, has a major role to play in helping organisations tackle challenges within sectors and across society. 2020 has shown us that common challenges, like pandemics and the climate crisis, require organisations from different sectors and regions to work together, and that data plays an important role in that collaboration.
Our ‘Data infrastructure for common challenges’ project explored exactly this type of collaboration, in what we are now calling ‘data access initiatives’. These initiatives are collaborative programmes that focus on addressing social, environmental or economic challenges by improving access to data.
Through extensive desk and user research, we sought to understand how organisations leading these initiatives prioritise and plan their initial activities to design or strengthen data infrastructure. We learned that organisations face a lot of similar issues in the early phases of their initiatives – such as finding that the data they need is less accessible than originally anticipated, or that they lack the specific skills or the right partners to build the data infrastructure they need.
Using the Data Landscape Playbook
To help address these obstacles, and give practical advice on other aspects of running a data access initiative, we created the Data Landscape Playbook, following the structure we used for the Data Challenge Prizes for Health: a Playbook, developed with the Wellcome Trust in 2019/20. The Data Landscape Playbook supports organisations working on data access initiatives, helping them tackle common challenges by conducting a ‘data landscape review’.
We use the phrase ‘data landscape review’ to refer to a broad range of activities that we know will help organisations launching data access initiatives understand better the context they operate in, and the ways they can use data most effectively. The context for this landscape review might be a specific market, sector, or community, as defined by the goals of the initiative. This playbook provides advice and resources to help you fully get to grips with your data landscape, and strengthen your data infrastructure to better meet those goals.
It also provides advice for carrying out activities that are common across many data access initiatives, such as:
- Mapping existing and future data ecosystems to understand how data is currently being accessed, used and shared, and to help articulate the vision for the initiative, identifying potential areas for additional activity and potential risks
- Conducting data ethics assessments to help communities work together to identify and manage ethical issues raised by the initiative
- Creating data inventories to understand what data relevant to the initiative is currently being collected, shared or managed
- Adopting or building open standards for data, so that different organisations within an initiative or across a sector can interoperate better
- Designing logic models to help initiatives move from initial inputs and activities to the ultimate impact they are trying to achieve
We have designed this playbook to work both sequentially and modularly. So, if you are starting from scratch you can work from ‘Play one: Explore the problem and how data can address it’ going through to ‘Play five: Plan for impact when designing your data initiative’ module-by-module (with prompts to revisit earlier plays). But, if you have already done some of the work outlined in the playbook, you can dive right in and focus only on the plays you are most interested in, like ‘Play two: Map the data ecosystem’ or ‘Play four: Assess the existing data infrastructure’.
Data access initiatives require collaboration and tools from many different organisations, and we wanted our playbook to embody this as well. At the end of each play we point to a variety of external tools and resources that offer guidance for deep dives or solving specific problems, that we either researched during the project, or were pointed to by our generous research partners. These include tools such as ‘Mapping gender data availability’ by Data 2X and Open Data Watch, and the ‘Data4SDGs Toolbox’ by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
This is the ‘beta’ release of the Data Landscape Playbook, so we are still very keen to collect feedback on this tool from organisations involved in data access initiatives. We are especially interested in how organisations find the sequencing works, and if our companion output, Logic Model Templates for Data Initiatives, is helpful when planning an initiative.
Thanks, and get in contact
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Lastly, we would like to give a big thanks to the people and organisations that provided us with support throughout the project. From our initial funders, to our generous user research interview participants, and the insightful and invaluable contributions of participants in our workshop and user testing stages, we’ve never written such a long acknowledgements section.