By Fiona Bradley, Manager, Member Services and Development, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.
This is the 19th post in our blog series on ‘What kind of ‘data revolution’ do we need for post-2015?’
Data has enormous potential to help governments plan and provide better services, support participation, and help hold governments to account. Yet data alone, without access and support won’t be able to achieve a revolution. By its very nature, data is used by a relative few. Yet, when interpreted and analysed as information it can be used by and reach everyone, in every community.
Media, librarians, educators, and community organisations can help to bridge the gap between data and information in developed and developing countries alike. Media analyse and report on budgets and policies and pursue the public’s right to know. Data driven journalism and real-time fact checks of policies hold promises to account. Librarians, educators and community organisations provide public access to data and information, and the training and expertise to help people access and use information effectively. Literacy skills are the foundation for participation.
Access needs to go beyond the capital to reach people in every community, and can be in many forms, not just digital. Picture a town far from the capital – in Liberia, public spaces make available a chalkboard with a number of charts breaking down the national budget, and how much funding is allocated for their region. Everyone can gather, discuss and question how and where funding is allocated. In the Ukraine, meetings with regional government leaders take place across the country in libraries and community centres, public forums where people can ask questions about how services are provided and how they can be improved. In another country, such meetings have led to libraries being recognised as a place to apply for agricultural subsidies, as happened in Romania, dramatically improving take-up of this public service. In Myanmar, lifting of some restrictions mean the press can inform readers about government and human rights for the first time in decades.
There is an assumption that the information we need to make good development decisions exists, is freely available, and is easy to interpret. This is all too often not the case. We, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), together with other organisations including Article 19, Beyond Access, CIVICUS and Development Initiatives, believe that access to information is a necessary prerequisite to achieving not only a data revolution, but to achieving development goals. In December 2013, we released our joint statement on why access to information is central to the post-2015 development agenda. In this, we advocate increasing access to data – through measures such as rights to information legislation and National Open Data policies, and transparent budgeting. But we also advocate for improving the use of data and information through literacy and ICT skills, and and civic engagement. We are working to achieve these goals through meetings of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals where we held a side event to OWG6 in December 2013, the World Summit on the Information Society review process (WSIS+10) and at the national level with libraries and organisations around the world.
We should not lose an opportunity to increase capacity and skills to make use of data and turn it into information for communities at large. Truly accountable, responsive governments in the capital must be supported by literate, engaged people across the country. We believe in the data revolution, so long as it goes hand in hand with helping governments to make better decisions and empowering people to exercise their political and socio-economic rights, to be economically active, learn new skills and to hold their governments to account.