This section is adapted from “Working paper on Open Development Initiative strategy V.2,” last updated: 3 March 2016
We are network of organizations co-managing a common open data and open knowledge platform aggregating and sharing information, maps and data to illuminate development trends in the Mekong region at country and regional levels. The platform and network are coordinated by East West Management Institute’s Open Development Initiative, which also produces the regional website. Country websites are managed by local partners. To date, these are Open Development Cambodia, based in Phnom Penh; PanNature, managing Open Development Vietnam, in Hanoi; and Phandeeyar, managing Open Development Myanmar in Yangon. (Discussions are underway in Thailand and Laos for partners in those countries.) The ODI network is also creating a complex ecosystem of partners from local to global levels, across sectors, to contribute data, linkages, and technical expertise to the platform.
ODI stimulates public demand, builds coalitions, and offers a constantly evolving platform to support the transparent sharing and analysis of data to improve and inform constructive dialogue and decision making for sustainable and equitable development.
Flagship project: Open Development Cambodia
Why are we here? How did we come to be?
The Open Development Initiative was born from work EWMI was doing with NGOs and grassroots land and natural resource rights activists, who were often asked to support claims with evidence not easily accessible. This typically kept grassroots groups dependent on NGOs for information. Furthermore, when they did collect and present information, it was often dismissed out of hand as being unreliable since it came from grassroots groups. At the same time, EWMI found much of NGO reporting to be good but not timely or readily accessible to the public and quickly forgotten. In addition, various NGO reports often contradicted one another, making it easy for the government and private sector to dismiss them as unreliable. This reinforced a prevalent and popular belief that all information is biased and not trustworthy. EWMI team members began aggregating and mapping information to inform their own understanding of issues and fill an information gap. The mapping effort, supported with case studies gleaned from the news and other sources and data gleaned from reports, produced a powerful picture that strongly suggested future problems associated with the interruption of environmental services and related security risks both within Cambodia and at the transborder level. EWMI saw that its presentations of the maps and data to various stakeholders was a powerful tool to aid analysis and decision-making on development issues, including private sector development. The team conceived the idea of an online platform as a way to make information commonly available to a broad range of people on a continuous basis, with timely updates. ODC was begun in 2011, with a focus on mapping and daily news feed.
Objective, apolitical, and cross-sectorial “open data” approach
Why a broad and objective “open data” approach?
By removing the presentation of information from advocacy or a particular development agenda, aggregating from public domain and showing all sources, presenting data and information objectively, and providing ways for users to analyze and interact with the information, EWMI sought to change public perceptions about information and build demand for more transparency, shift dynamics from debates over basic data, encourage independent analysis, and level the playing field in regard to information access. This approach has proven successful. The open data approach attracts a wide range of stakeholders including private sector, government technocrats, and educational institution as well as civil society organizations and citizen groups. This transparency and objectivity of the approach also provides its own security. Inherent to this approach is the adoption and promotion of good metadata standards, standard vocabularies, and creative commons licensing.
Scaling up to a regional coverage: a transborder approach
Why is it strategic to actively link with and help build the region’s “open” community and work with educational institutions? The OD Mekong platform is quietly and modestly asserting a new role in providing the public with a wide range of information in an egalitarian and objective way to inform dialogue on development. By linking this with the global open movement and identifying ourselves as an open education resource, we are attempting to avoid politicization, legitimize our role, and link to agendas that are of interest to at least some of the region’s governments. The integration of our work with these movements will also help us to build users and contributors. A broad stakeholder base then also helps provide the platform with enhanced security environment.
Why transborder? From the beginning, EWMI intended to expand the approach to the Mekong region, noting similar problems inside other countries, lack of information flow and public dialogue between countries, and rising risks of transborder conflicts associated with unforeseen consequences of development. The transborder approach addresses these problems and creates opportunities to influence policy making at the geo-political level.
Why cross-sectoral? While the OD focus is on economic development and its environmental and social impacts, a broader cross-sectoral approach provides a more agnostic view, creates opportunities to analyze data from various sectors in combination, and provides both context and balance in regard to more controversial data.
Why the unified platform? The unified platform, based on a centralized CKAN database supporting multiple websites with shared standards and branding, was agreed between initial network partners in 2014. The approach natively supports crowd-sourcing data, facilitates transborder views, and creates a reliable brand, which in turn improves uptake and creates its own security.
The central platform is managed by the EWMI’s ODI team, while country websites are managed by country network members, in a coalition-franchise model.
The ODI team:
We also need:
To remain of high relevance, EWMI-ODI must be responsive to and driven by the development trends with the greatest potential impacts at both country and regional level.
Land and environmental issues are of clear importance for ODI donors and a number of anticipated and proposed activities will focus on land-use and related environmental issues. These also relate to changes in the agriculture economy,
Other areas of high interest include: extractive industries, energy sector expansion, with a focus on coal and hydropower, agro-industrial expansion, and related issues in regard to environmental and food safety, changes in the aid sector including the new role of the China Development Bank, the TPP and its potential implications for the region. An important emergent area of work relates to the newly established Sustainable Development Goals, which could provide a constructive framework for tracking development issues in a way that aligns with and/or makes constructive contributions to donor and national agendas. This would not only help to legitimize the platform but also open up new funding opportunities. The identification and prioritization of issues for content expansion, the launch of new materials, and the linking of those materials to broader agendas will help to:
Country partners prioritize those issues of greatest significance while the coalition as a whole are expected to contribute to and agree some over-arching regional issues for development from country to regional level. While priorities are identified annually the ODI network also needs to remain responsive to critical issues as they emerge.
In addition to ensuring an easy, enjoyable and educational user experience, it is also critical to provide tools and processes that will:
The platform also needs to be easily scalable and replicable for seamless expansion to new countries and regions, especially in consideration of the need to expand to ASEAN.