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Data for Development: What’s next? [New Research]

Web Foundation · March 15, 2018

Digital data offers a great many opportunities for development by enabling actors to strengthen decision-making processes, improve service delivery, elicit meaningful citizen participation, and increase responsiveness in humanitarian services. At the same time, it can generate new forms of exclusion, new methods of surveillance and threatens individual privacy.

In a new report, Data for Development: What’s next, we investigate how organisations working in international development can leverage the growing quantity and variety of data to improve their investments and projects so that they better meet people’s needs.

The report, financed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)commissioned by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), investigates the state of data for development, identifies emerging data trends, and provides recommendations to support German development cooperation actors seeking to integrate data strategies and investments in their work.

The research considers four types of data: (1) big data, (2) open data, (3) citizen-generated data and (4) real-time data, and examines how they are currently being used in development-related policy-making and how they might lead to better development outcomes.

Our research uncovered six key trends:

  1. More data and new data sources. The quantity of data available is increasing at an exponential rate due to increased computing power and broadband speed, as well as the emergence of new data sources such as drones, nano-satellites and the Internet of Things.
  2. Powerful new technologies. Artificial intelligence has come of age and algorithms have improved autonomous data analytics tremendously, increasing the speed at which data is processed to make sense of development challenges.
  3. New actors, such as data innovation labs and data analytics companies, and new partnerships, like data philanthropy arrangements and data collaboratives, play an increasingly important role in the development sector.
  4. Balancing access to data and privacy is likely to receive growing attention in the coming years with key players realising that protecting individual privacy while using personal data to tackle development challenges is extremely difficult.
  5. There is a growing recognition of the value of contextual, granular information and of the need to integrate local and qualitative knowledge into data for development initiatives.
  6. Information inequality is likely to persist or increase, as data production and ownership continues to rest primarily in the hands of government and a handful of private sector players — both of which are in a better position than others to harness the benefits arising from data.


For German — and other — development organisations to further strengthen their work around data for development, we recommend that they:

  1. Maximise the potential of data, but don’t treat it as a silver bullet. The availability of data alone does not guarantee use; an enabling environment to incorporate data into policy-making and programming is needed.
  2. Build internal data capacities by investing in internal data literacy based on an assessment of current capacities to determine the need for data scientists and technologists.
  3. Leverage partnerships for a strategic advantage by, for example, participating in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, endorsing the International Open Data Charter, and working with new and emerging actors to form data collaboratives.
  4. Support strong legal and technological data privacy frameworks in partner countries to mainstream responsible and secure data practices, champion responsible data approaches, and actively shape the debate around artificial intelligence and privacy.
  5. Be experimental and focus on a few sectors and geographies instead of investing in cross-cutting data initiatives; help nurture data ecosystems in sectors like procurement, extractives and health.
  6. Tackle data inequalities through targeted research and empowerment of local stakeholders by investing in the capacity development of local actors, and in the infrastructure needed to enable widespread data access and use.


To explore these recommendations and find out more about current trends in data for development, download the full report: Data for Development: What’s next.

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  1. Michael Pittelkow

    March 22, 2018

    I had the honor to provide a humble contribution to the report and am extremely happy to see that this report has faced the light of day now. It is an interesting read, providing valuable insight and adding a great aspect into a highly important current discussion.


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