ZeipNET has partnered the Right to Research Coalition in hosting a satellite event to the OpenCon 2016 in Harare. This will be a one-day forum that seeks to strengthen the open data institutional landscape in Zimbabwe thus actively promoting open access particularly to research and other types of information needed for effective policy decision making. The open data culture is not well entrenched in most countries in Africa. Policy makers and other stakeholders still struggle to access development data on Africa as well as from other regional and international partners who have a stake in Africa’s development. There are very limited platforms to enable effective collection, synthesis, and sharing of data on critical development issues which include poverty, food security, climate change, gender equity, and HIV-AIDS. In comparison to other continents like Europe, there are deliberate systems providing policymakers, research institutions, thinktanks, business communities, and civic society organisations with access to diverse data not only on their economies but on Africa as well. This means that decision makers are in a position to access socioeconomic indicators and make informed decisions. Although there have been some positive steps, most African governments are still far from being prepared for open data initiatives hence need for policy reforms. According to the Open Data Barometer, ‘Over half of countries studied now have open data initiatives, but still less than 10% of the government data vital for sustainable development is open. Fewer than 10% of the datasets surveyed were open, and most of these are in the rich world: nearly half of the open datasets in our study are found in just 10 OECD countries, while almost none are in African countries’
Open data, just as other movements like open access and open source seek to promote unfettered access to information so as to promote evidence-informed decision-making, public accountability, and good governance. This is particularly important in policy-making processes as this enables the crafting of good policies through the use of evidence thereby putting research evidence at the epicentre of development. Open data not only promotes the much-needed impetus to creativity and innovativeness but also democracy and transparency including civic participation and engagement in the development agenda.
Effective research-to-policy systems rely on multiple players working together. These stakeholders include policymakers, researchers and research intermediaries, civic society, think-tanks, academia and the media. However, many times these different players work in isolation. This forum has been organized to look into the challenges and opportunities for building the open data institutional landscape in Zimbabwe and improve processes that support the use of research evidence in policymaking in a more holistic way. Focus will be on issues on strengthening not only institutional processes for producing, engaging with and communicating research evidence but also creation of networks and platforms to bring together the various actors in the research-to-policy matrix. The aim is to build an active ‘national open data infrastructure’ in Zimbabwe.