From hub to zone: what we talk about when we talk about knowledge

Over the next 6 months, the DataShift will be rolling out in three locations; Tanzania and Kenya, Nepal, and Argentina. These countries were chosen for a number of reasons, among which, their diversity in civil society, government structure, and levels of technical and data literacy.

There is a lot to be learned among these regions, so a big part of the next few months of work will be enabling and facilitating that sharing, both online and offline. Originally, we envisioned this taking place as part of an online Global Knowledge Hub, but a few key points have changed our thinking on this.

What is knowledge?

Firstly, is another hub of any use to our target audience of our country partners and CSOs? We did an initial scoping of online knowledge sharing and community spaces to see what’s already out there – and we discovered that, similarly to labs, hubs are appearing all over the online world. However, many of them lie unused after an initial buzz of activity; in many cases, there is a lesson to be learned in terms of sustainability of project lifecycles. For us, a ‘hub’ signifies a space of activity — but in the interest of best serving our audience, we don’t want to create yet another space for online activity and participation that might not be used.

We also reconsidered what it means to put such a focus on knowledge. Knowledge, broadly speaking, depends hugely on experiences and understanding. But given the differences in culture, experiences and society between our different pilot areas, what might be considered useful knowledge in one place, might not in another.

Sharing what we learn

So: what do we really want to get out of this dimension of the DataShift? Our current working answer: sharing learnings, original research, and resources on using citizen generated data- and recognising that ‘citizen generated data’ exists in many forms, under many labels, and in many different sectors.

In practice, this could be anything from helping citizens and activists find the resources they need to start collecting their own alternative data streams on a topic that matters to them. Or, helping understand motivations around citizen generated data, to figure out how best to support new initiatives- why do people start collecting their own data on a topic? Is it because they don’t trust the existing data, or because data on a topic they care about doesn’t exist?

This stream of the programme might grow into a community space- but to start with, we’re starting with the minimum viable product- a section of the DataShift site, and an accompanying mailing list to gather people who are interested in learning and sharing more about citizen generated data.

To recognise this evolution in thought, we’ve come up with a new name: the Learning Zone. We’re starting simple, and by asking a few key questions, such as:

  • What do our country partners need to support their work on citizen generated data?
  • What is the best way of presenting this information to them, recognising the aforementioned differing contexts?
  • What lessons can we learn and share across pilot areas, despite (or perhaps because of) the very different contexts?

By partnering with local research institutions, observing and documenting closely the DataShift country level activities, and building upon existing resources in this area, we hope to answer these questions (at least in part) by December 2015, which will mark the end of the DataShift’s first operational year.