Open Data for Poverty Alleviation: Challenge Profile

Newly available data sources are being used to improve people's lives. We're just starting to understand the potential of data for social good, but some of the challenges are clear: key data and reliable statistics either are not being produced, are of poor quality, or are locked behind government and corporate doors; a lack of technical and political skills is holding back potential users; and there's a gap between what data advocates think citizens want and what the data citizens know will improve their lives.

Whether it's mobile operator records being used to model population movements for improved decision making, journalists and civic hackers taking government budget data to the masses, or activists demanding access to information and holding local officials to account, there is a rich range of actors, applications and challenges when it comes to applying data to the problems of society.

Data are being produced by more entities than ever before: from governments and corporations to citizens themselves. Mobile phone companies and social networks now hold some of the most timely and high resolution data on populations across the globe — these data hold huge potential but are rarely released for use. Advanced governments generally have well-managed data and statistics that are increasingly being released through open government data programs. Governments in developing countries are starting to do the same, but problems with data quality and availability, technical and statistical capacity of their staff and institutions, and both political and legal concerns hold them back.

Different users are taking data and are both applying it to improve people's lives and producing new resources to help others do the same. For all the success of these producers, remixers, and users of data, questions still remain: Do the right people have the right skills and the right data to tackle the most important challenges? Are advocates for open data asking the right questions, demanding the right data, and measuring the right outcomes?

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