Announcing an Open Call for the first Matchbox Replication Sprint

Posted May 26, 2016 by Tin Geber

Do you want to build a working prototype of a contract database on natural resources? We can help.

Are you working to increase the transparency and accountability of natural resource governance and the extractives industry? Do you have relevant datasets or contracts but you’re not sure how to make use of them? Are you based in Southern Africa?

Read on and apply to participate in the engine room’s first Replication Sprint on natural resource data! Our deadline for applications is June 20.

Why natural resources?

In the past 18 months we have been working with the Windhoek-based Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) to discover trends and flag corruption risks in the allocation of petroleum exploration licenses in Namibia. Their goal was to show how some of these companies get the initial rights to a concession thanks to the political connections of their owners, only to resell at a higher price, and thus increase the chances of fraud and waste.

Through our Matchbox Program and with support from other experts, we have been working with IPPR to open up up a system vulnerable to corruption and analyze the allocation of licenses. We built a web platform for the group that structures and maps data on license ownership, transactions, company ownership structures and hierarchies. Our goal was to simplify the process of turning oil and gas exploration data into usable formats and visualizations.

Over the course of this work our team developed a process and reusable technical components that we are looking to put to use for other organizations facing the same challenge in the region. We are now looking for organisations in Southern Africa to join us for a week-long in-depth replication sprint in early August.

If you want to digitize, map, and analyze contract data for greater extractive industry transparency in your country or city, we want to work with you!

What is a Replication Sprint?

Replication sprints are a part of the engine room’s Matchbox Program, designed to develop lasting partnerships with organizations who want to integrate data and technology in their social change projects.

The idea is simple: we spend a week together with a few organizations who are facing the same challenges and interested in developing similar projects, and by the end of the week participants will walk away with components they can use right away. The end product will be complete in design and features, and developed around the specific needs of participants.

Who is the perfect candidate for our first replication sprint?

Maybe you! Our replication sprint will be most useful for your organisation if:

  • You are based in Southern Africa;
  • You work to increase the transparency and accountability of natural resource governance and the extractives industry (such as petroleum, gas, minerals, fisheries, land, timber etc);
  • You use data about companies and governments (for example licenses, contracts, concessions, etc) for your advocacy and campaigning activities;
  • You would love to make that data more structured and easier to understand for everyone;
  • You are ready to dedicate 5 days of your time in early August to work with our team of experts during the sprint;
  • You are willing to spend extensive time preparing for the event in the next two months.

We will be flying you to a venue in Johannesburg in the first half of August 2016 and you will spend five full days with us and the experts working on your project. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered.

Did you get excited?

Apply to participate in our first Replication Sprint on natural resource data before June 20!

Interested to learn more about how Matchbox works? Read our report on the pilot phase of the program.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

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Citizen-generated data going global: the DataShift Reunión

Posted May 10, 2016 by Tin Geber

What do you get when you put Kenyans, Tanzanians, Argentinians, Nepalis, Croatians, Canadians, British, North Americans, Romanians, Mexicans, Peruvians, and Brazilians in a room to discuss citizen-generated data for two days — apart from the worst joke setup ever?

La Reunión!

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In the last week of April 2016, engine roomers Anca Matioc and Tin Geber travelled to Bogota, Colombia to helm La Reunion, a workshop to reflect on the DataShift program’s work so far, participate in the International Civil Society Week, and drink some of the best coffee in the world.

We asked 25 DataShift partners from more than 15 countries how citizen-generated data can be used to monitor progress on the 16 Global Goals. We are happy to announce that we don’t have an answer to this question — but we do have a pretty solid idea of how to get there. Here’s what we learned:

The Global Goals don’t connect to the real world easily

The biggest challenge we found was connecting the Global Goals concept with the work done by the NGOs on the ground. Our participants fear the ‘Goals’ agenda might be too elusive and high-level to be practically useful for shaping their work. It doesn’t help that indicators have still not been finalized. Another risk is that grassroots organisations might be doing too good of a job: what if there is a clash between what they consider meaningful, and what Global Goals are measuring?



The challenges are many

Probably the most important session was on understanding the challenges citizen-generated data initiatives face. We know working with data is already hard: adding Global Goals into the mix raises the complexity to 11. How can we really understand these challenges? How do they cut across a huge array of issues, geographic and cultural peculiarities, at such a massive scale?

Well…we decided to ask the people who know best.


CDG = CGD+SDG [photo by Davis Adieno]

The participants’ comments encapsulated this variety, and there were some common themes. They often mentioned difficulties in aligning methods, ensuring representation, and building strong partnerships. On the more practical side, funding as well as capacity building had a strong presence.

The approach works – but it needs to grow

The presentations of our partners’ work showed that the data revolution is happening, and it’s more than just hype. Civil society has the means and the chance to contribute quantitative and qualitative data to the Global Goals narrative.

But it’s not that simple. We are at a very early stage of making the link between grassroots projects — with their own focus and agendas — and the larger picture of national and international monitoring. The DataShift program can’t provide enough support for the dramatic shift in global civil society’s capacity and approach that is needed by itself. Still, it does suggest a strong, practical way forward.

Strengthening community

Community is key. This one is a no-brainer, and the most exciting result of the event. Seeing such a mixed and varied group from dramatically different contexts and cultures slide easily into collaborating confirms our belief that building relationships across national and thematic borders is possible, and vital. Just as the Global Goals make a united push for equality on a high policy level, grassroots national organisations can create their own networks and learn from their peers, no matter where they are.

A wonderful example comes from Nepal’s Local Interventions Group (LIG), which is conducting a “Follow the Money” program to track how governmental aid is spent for post-earthquake relief efforts. After LIG’s presentation of their project in the International Civil Society Week, an organisation from Ecuador approached the DataShift team, wanting to replicate LIG’s work in their own situation. This proves the point that un-siloing experiences can improve civil society across the world. We will do our best to make this collaboration happen.

What is next?

The DataShift has commissioned original research and provided direct support to NGOs working on collecting data in the three pilot areas (Argentina, Kenya/Tanzania, and Nepal). We are collaborating with an impressive array of people whose work spans health, education, urban mobility, disabled persons’ rights, disaster recovery and more. Our goal is to find practical ways to link the Global Goals agenda with local projects. We do this by strengthening their capacity and tech culture to produce meaningful, comparable, and methodologically sound data – so they can hold governments accountable for their commitments to the Global Goals.

Now it’s learning and replicating time. The first phase of DataShift has officially concluded with the Reunion: we will now return to our desks and think hard about what worked and what didn’t. Then, we’ll plan for a second phase that will try to address what we’ve learned until now. Great things are ahead.

This is how you can help:

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