Talkin' 'bout a (data) revolution: Day 1 in Addis Ababa

By Anna Scott and William Gerry

Throwing open the curtains this morning revealed a pretty different view from the drizzle-soaked London rooftops that we’re used to...

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Today we woke up in the vibrant city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we’ll be for the next three days to discuss all things #OpenData at a high level conference on the data revolution, organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and sponsored by the Web Foundation.

With a focus on ‘Setting the scene for a sustainable development agenda powered by data revolution in Africa,’ the conference will gather 12 ‘data communities’ from around the world.

Alongside specialists in broad areas – from education data to health data, data journalism to open data – in our groups we’ll be tasked with helping to shape the Africa Data Consensus, which will be presented to the AU-ECA Conference of Ministers on Sunday. Yesterday we caught up with data and information architect Bill Anderson, one of the people tasked with drafting the final ADC based on the groups' discussions. We asked what we could to do help. "Be pithy!" he said. And with that in mind:

What is the ‘data revolution’?

Data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time to the right people, designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible. In 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tasked an Independent Expert Advisory Group with making recommendations on bringing about a ‘data revolution’ to help drive sustainable development. The group’s report combined perspectives from different data communities and called on the world to embrace different data sources, tools and technologies to provide data for decision-making, service delivery and citizen engagement.

Right. So what is ‘open data’ and how does it fit in?

Open data is data that anyone can access, use and share. By publishing and using open data, public sector groups can make better decisions, citizens can hold leaders to account, and the private sector can create jobs and boost economic growth. Essentially, open data should underpin all aspects of sustainable development.

Without open data, the data revolution for sustainable development will fail.


  1. Open data is the foundation that supports collaboration between governments, the private sector, academia and civil society to solve long-term, complex development challenges
  2. Open data helps different actors working together to improve services and programmes for development
  3. Ultimately, open data is key to ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals can be monitored in a transparent and accountable way

We’re here in Addis, supported by the International Development Research Centre, to share the many social, environmental and economic benefits that it can bring to developing and developed countries alike. Over the next few days, we’ll draw on our recent experience in the continent – namely in Morocco and Burkina Faso – where we helped introduce open data in their public sector.

In the months ahead, we’ll continue to work with African partners to promote open data across the continent, with support and funding from the IDRC and the OD4D Network.

We’re looking forward to some great discussions over the next few days, and we’ll be sure to blog updates.

Follow our tweets @ODIHQ and join the discussion with #CoMAfrica15, #ODAfrica2015 and #DataRevAfrica.

To find out more about our work on open data and global development, see our Partnership for Open Data page.