Goals for the April 2014 GODAN-CIARD Consultative Conference

  • Identify areas of shared interest , opportunities to collaborate, and areas of overlap between the CIARD and GODAN movements
  • Develop a consensus regarding the structure of a GODAN secretariat
  • Facilitate advocacy, networking, collaboration, and coordination on projects amongst partners to advance the cause, release, and use, of agricultural and nutritional open data
  • Identify key constraints affecting the provision/use of open data and define potential ways to deal with these roadblocks in a coordinated fashion
  • Establish a broad framework for a GODAN Strategic Advocacy Plan and identify important targets for GODAN advocacy efforts

Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition To Date

Many international entities, from governments and multilateral organizations to research consortiums and NGOs, have identified open data for agriculture and nutrition as a key component of addressing the myriad of future challenges facing food and agriculture. To date, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD) have played key roles in addressing key information management issues including the technical aspects of opening data, and have worked with researchers to find solutions to actively disseminate this information to the world and encourage use of the data. Both have also played key advocacy and technical capacity building roles, through the open dissemination of their own data, the encouragement of their collaborators to open data, and efforts that foster coherence amongst open data actors. Many non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations such as the Gates Foundation and the World Bank have also prioritized the opening of agriculturally relevant data, both in their projects and through their advocacy efforts. The European Commission, the United States, and the United Kingdom, among others, have led the charge in making their own agriculture and nutrition data available to the public and have advocated for similar actions amongst the G8 and the G20 countries. In particular, these efforts ultimately led to the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture in April 2013, where seven of eight G8 countries and the European Commission released action plans for opening their data. The private sector too is focusing on the use of open data, finding novel applications to address real world problems using the data provided by the aforementioned entities.

So, what’s missing from the conversation?

A number of organizations including FAO, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium, GFAR, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), MEA, France and CABI launched the CIARD movement in 2008 to advocate for open access to agricultural knowledge and to build capacity for doing so. CIARD, to date, has worked on opening access to data, improving information sharing pathways, making common standards and tools available, and facilitating the open data and information movement. They have sought to address many of the key advocacy, capacity development, and technical hurdles to opening agricultural data. The main expressions of this work are the development of the AIMS platform, a community of practice of more than 1500 agricultural information people worldwide, and the CIARD RING, which has roughly 1000 registered data services from 473 participants and a series of “pathways” and guidance documents that create capacity for specific tasks related to making knowledge available.

CIARD has succeeded in providing advocacy for action towards opening agricultural information in national, regional, and global agricultural research and development systems. Nonetheless, it has not had significant success advocating amongst governments and actors other than research organizations for open agricultural data and information. While CIARD has brought together many data providers and users in developing countries, their membership represents a subset of open data stakeholders, mainly representing those engaged in agricultural research and innovation.

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Initiative, launched in October 2013, seeks to fill a gap and to add value to the existing open data conversation in several ways. Importantly, it seeks to create a high-level platform for policy engagement and advocacy while also creating a network of connected actors in the open data sphere, including technical providers, data users, and funders of open data projects. Specifically, it deliberately seeks to reach out to the private sector and to innovation start-ups. Through this expanded network, GODAN will seek to identify policy constraints affecting the full gamut of open data stakeholders, from technical providers to users. Additionally, GODAN seeks not just to open agriculturally relevant data, but also any data that might be relevant to nutritional concerns. Open nutrition data, in addition to open agricultural data, will provide a powerful tool for researchers, organizations including farmers’ organizations, the private sector, and governments seeking to alleviate global food insecurity and enhance social innovation and economic growth. Lastly, through its stakeholder network, GODAN seeks to foster collaboration amongst its varied partners on projects related to the opening of data and the use of that data to benefit the developing world.

What institutional structures need to be created to achieve these goals?

The Creation of a GODAN Secretariat: In order to achieve its advocacy goal, GODAN must have a dedicated, public face that can act as a campaigner for GODAN principles and as a resource to those interested in open agricultural and nutritional data. This dedicated, public face will be particularly important as GODAN seeks to interface with those that might be interested in joining the initiative. As part of this promotional role, GODAN should develop or draw on stock advocacy materials for use by partners as well as undertake tangible advocacy activities amongst producers of agricultural and nutritional data that ensure such entities move toward the adoption of default open data policies. It will also seek to explicitly engage with end users who may wish to utilize open data in order to better understand the demand for open data and barriers to its use and to encourage the use of open data to enhance food security. GODAN must also have a central point for interfacing with other more general open data actors, such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Open Data Working Group and standards organizations, to ensure efforts are coordinated and non-duplicative. A GODAN secretariat will also be instrumental in leading the charge in organizing outreach events in order to build public excitement around open data for agriculture and nutrition and to showcase tangible innovations.

A GODAN secretariat is also necessary to ensure focused leadership and coordination within the initiative. GODAN is unique in the number and variety of stakeholders it brings together, creating unprecedented opportunities for partner matchmaking, networking, and the facilitation of broader knowledge exchange. Nonetheless, such variety necessitates a dedicated coordination body that will help identify synergies and a common advocacy platform amongst partners. An additional useful function of the secretariat would be to provide partners with a dedicated central authority or database that they can use as a resource for identifying ongoing activities in the agricultural and nutritional data spaces to promote better harmonization amongst relevant actors.

CIARD Would Also Benefit from a Dedicated GODAN Management Structure: As a movement, CIARD has chosen to work through existing organizations rather than becoming an institution itself. A few individuals from FAO and the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) voluntarily facilitate the movement with minimum external funding. All partners are expected to conduct their activities in accordance with the CIARD manifesto, which represents each institution’s “in kind” contribution to CIARD. Until now, CIARD activities have largely been facilitated and funded through efforts by FAO, GFAR, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), all of whom are CIARD partners. While this governance structure has proven simple, funding and recognition at the policy making level in governments have presented challenges. The creation of a GODAN secretariat in conjunction with enhanced coordination with CIARD or the absorption of the CIARD movement could enhance the capabilities of both initiatives.

Okay, so what might a GODAN governance structure look like?

Broadly speaking, any GODAN secretariat should be lean, comprised of three to four full-time staff. This type of structure will ideally maximize GODAN’s flexibility in the face of a rapidly changing environment. Funding would be required for the facilitation of GODAN advocacy activities and partner networking, but GODAN would not have a programming budget itself and would not directly fund open data projects or initiatives. While the United States and the United Kingdom would continue to provide secondary support to ensure continuity and continued momentum for the initiative, both countries are actively encouraging leadership amongst all GODAN partners and hope to ensure that smaller GODAN members are able to have an active voice in the direction of the initiative. This input could either be through active participation on the secretariat or through a voluntary advisory board for the secretariat, but their participation will be vital to ensuring that GODAN addresses the needs of partners across the open data sphere.

Several Key Questions for Further Discussion:

  • Would a virtual or physical secretariat be better to ensure a voice for smaller partners AND ensure that the initiative continues to move forward?
  • Would we want to mandate that the secretariat’s host organization competitively advertise for a secretariat head or instead accept the host organization’s dedicated staff?
  • How do we identify the host organization? Should this be through a competitive process in its own right? Is a private sector or public sector body best placed to host?
  • What is the most effective structure for ensuring coordination between CIARD and GODAN, which have overlapping goals but somewhat different foci?

Regarding this last point and for further discussion, a few proposals for the structure of a secretariat

GODAN Secretariat that Subsumes CIARD: Any secretariat developed would provide leadership for GODAN’s activities, but would also provide direction for the technology, standards, and capacity development work of CIARD.

Pros:

  • Potential increased coordination and development of synergies between two complementary initiatives
  • Strengthens both CIARD and GODAN
  • Avoids reinventing the wheel and avoids duplication or contradiction in advocacy aims

Cons:

  • CIARD members/contributors may be wary of an overt G8/G20 developed country initiative around agricultural and nutritional data that has a huge potential to influence their agricultural and social sectors. This may seriously affect not only CIARD, but the entire open data and information movement
  • May not be as attentive to the needs of GODAN’s broad partner base, coalescing its advocacy activities around the needs of CIARD rather than ensuring the input of a broader set of stakeholders

GODAN Secretariat with a Dedicated CIARD Slot: The secretariat would focus primarily on the management of GODAN, but would dedicate a secretariat slot to CIARD to ensure coordination between the two initiatives while still addressing the need to broaden GODAN’s leadership to include a wider variety of stakeholders

Pros:

  • Ensures CIARD plays an active role in the governance and direction of GODAN
  • Ensures other partners are able to express and build consensus around their needs
  • Broadens the conversation around open data to include aspects other than the technical means of opening data
  • Ensures the prioritization of high-level advocacy for open data rather than a focus on technical tools for opening data

Cons:

  • Would not provide as big a boost to CIARD
  • Would require an active effort on GODAN’s part to ensure adequate interlinking between the two initiatives