With the inclusion of several land-related indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), land data collection and monitoring has reached an unprecedented momentum. There is a palpable positive drive within both global and local civil society to contribute to the official process through advocacy, data collection and international monitoring efforts. The broad consensus is that data and information are building blocks that support better informed decision and policy making at all levels.
We are living in a time where data and information sources are in high supply, but more often than not, are scattered, fragmented, inaccessible, expensive and poorly organized. Practitioners and researchers in the land sector commonly view the inaccessibility of land data and information as a key impediment to the realization of responsible land governance. Poor visibility of what is being done to advance land rights at the country level, coupled with a lack of synergy and coordination among key stakeholders, such as governments, civil society, academia and donors, has weakened our collective efforts to advance our message. It has consequently slowed the progress of the land governance agenda.
Although there is an entire ecosystem of providers of information systems in the land community, each of these providers works within their own sector (whether it be academia, civil society, government or other), operates at local, regional and global levels and works at different levels within the data value chain. These can range from data collection, to analytics, to publishing and ultimately, to disseminating data. In this highly variable and charged context, it is understandable that we tend to resort to our own networks, trusted colleagues and known projects to find quality information that meets our own individual standards.
The unfortunate result of this practice is that, inevitably, many projects, institutions, as well as their associated data and information, go unnoticed. On a global level particularly, the critical local perspectives are submerged within a wealth of global facts and figures, resulting in an un-democratized data and information landscape. As a cross-cutting local and global issue, land governance, this “siloed” approach stalls our collective goal of improving land governance.
The Land Portal promotes and supports active partnerships that catalyze increased access to information and contribute to a more democratic information and data landscape for land governance. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that we ask ourselves some key questions:
- Does this growing ecosystem of data bring real change in the way people deal with information and data?
- How can we further improve collaboration among actors, make monitoring tools more accessible, and further democratize the ecosystems of data surrounding the VGGTs and SDGs?
- How do we move from a theory of change of how data and collaboration can help achieving our collective goal, to actually realizing it?
Ultimately, data is of most value when it is delivered to the right people and in the right context. That’s where it drives the change we seek. For the Land Portal, open data is essential to achieving this. Open data technologies enable the flow of information in the same way our roads, railways and energy networks allow us to move from place to place. We should start treating the flow of our data as importantly as our day to day movements. This new approach offers endless opportunities and will increase people’s access to data globally at a speed and at a scale that would otherwise not be possible.
Having access to land data encourages citizen participation, provides transparency in land markets, holds governments to account and allows for monitoring of land governance globally. The corresponding risk is that we begin seeing open data only as a tool for transparency, while it is much more than that. It is an engine for both efficiency and growth. Data, when properly analyzed and digested, helps us to make decisions, build services, applications, tools, and gain insights. If we start seeing data as infrastructure that people can use to reach a destination, our perception and work with data will change dramatically. Because ultimately,open data won’t make any changes. People will.
Open data and disclosed information is only valuable when stakeholders know how to use it. As an intermediary organization, we have a critical role to play to improving access to land data and documenting land governance trends, as well as in disseminating good lessons to key audiences such as governments, private investors, media and other land practitioners.
These data opportunities can only come to fruition if we work together more effectively. The Land Portal’s contribution to the land monitoring debate goes in the direction of building bridges, facilitating collaboration and synergies among different providers of information systems within the ecosystem, improving data flow and data ecology, breaking data silos and increasing opportunities to use the data.
Now is a crucial moment for the land sector to work together effectively, to spur a culture of openness and sharing and to connect the global and local across different continents and different sectors. Only by working together more effectively and openly can we bring about the change we seek.