Through my current practicum I have been fortunate enough to be involved at both ends of the development cycle: planning and evaluation. And I have recently been lucky enough to be asked to assist in a regional project planning phase for bringing rural energy to the Amazon of Peru and Ecuador. This project is huge, backed by the national government of Peru, and involves different levels of government, NGOs, and private institutions, not to mention the beneficiary communities that it aims to serve. The goal is to fill the gaps of government in bringing renewable energies to communities that are isolated and difficult to incorporate into the grid. My role is data gathering, management, and GIS. This includes the role of map making and visuals.
Throughout the last month of working on this project I have been confronted with the very real issue of data sharing. More poignantly, the issue is not sharing, but rather hording. Institutions (whether governmental or non-governmental) do not like to share, even if it is in their best interests. This has posed a serious problem for bringing together the needed information to flesh out this project.
I have been looking for contextual data (socio-economic, on the ground, etc), institutional capacity data (who is working where, who has worked where, what has been done, etc), and technical data (what are the technical advantages in certain areas in terms of renewable energies: solar, micro-hydro, biogas, etc). However, institutions are extremely reticent to provide information. I was not blind to this reality when I started my work, but I did not realize it would be this challenging.
I think about how important it is to share information in order to advance the process of development. Think about it. How much time and resources are spent on baseline studies and contextual analyses in order to create a project proposal? What if that information was available for the all projects of the past, all the government data collected, all the university studies published? How much time, energy, resources, and precious funding would that save? Moreover, the data could be constantly revised, updated, and cleaned. Perhaps I am talking about a Wiki with a very strong administrative system to ensure that information was accurate.
But let me be frank… the data that I am working with right now is in conflict. Population numbers don’t match. Locations for communities are obviously wrong. But this is a problem with cleaning and joining any data sets. There are always errors and redundancies. What I am currently obsessing over is how to get the development community and governments on board with a means to provide data so that we can make knowledge more available and try to advance the process of development. Why must we make it so hard for ourselves? When I am done with this current data set I am going to send it to all of the institutions that shared data with me, and then to those that did not. I will also make sure to post it on my site. Knowledge is power, and this power can move us all forward. I look forward to any thoughts on this.