Towards more inclusive land data infrastructures: The work of the Land Portal
The Land Portal Foundation is Global Data Barometer’s (GDB) partner, which provided key input and support to develop the land module. The Land Portal works to develop an open land data ecosystem to improve decision making and policy through making land data and information more accessible and available.
Laura Meggiolaro and Charl-Thom Bayer shared more about the Land Portal open data strategy and how the organisation’s work intersects with the work of the GDB. They highlighted that in the last decade the Land Portal has been acting as an intermediary between those that generate or collect land data and information and data users such as policymakers, researchers, and journalists. In 2019, the Land Portal started working with and for governments to respond to a data capacity gap and help them prioritize and make data more accessible and usable by developing the first Open Up Guide for Land Governance.
In the last decade the Land Portal has been acting as an intermediary between those that generate or collect land data and information and data users such as policymakers, researchers, and journalists.
About the Land Portal
Q: Can you provide a brief summary of the work that you do?
Laura: The Land Portal believes that access to information is critical to achieve good land governance and to secure land rights for vulnerable people. We make land-related data and information more available and accessible. We also help partners create and disseminate land governance data and information.
In 10 years the Land Portal has created a very robust digital infrastructure that brings together almost 70,000 bibliographic resources, statistical data indicators, spatial layers, making them available as open data. We stimulate data use by developing data stories, data visualizations, and portfolios by country and topic. This work puts data into context and highlights the importance of that data for the land sector. Sometimes this is done through map stories or we summarise key resources that we believe are important for the audience groups we work with. This has been our main job for more than ten years — we are a trusted intermediary between primary data owners and data users.
Recently, the Land Portal started developing tools and guidelines for governments and other stakeholders such as our State of Land Information (SOLI) research and the Open Up Guide for Land Governance. We saw the need to invest more in this area because governments are the main custodians of land data, and if we want to improve land data, governments need to fill capacity gaps. Our tools are meant to help governments prioritize and make data more accessible and usable to their citizens. While this means that we are venturing into the advocacy space, it is really more about trying to fill capacity gaps in developing data literacy. We stimulate debate and dialogues and have a strong convening capacity and the ability to collaborate with a range of different organizations and stakeholders groups.
On working with the GDB
Q: How does the GDB matter for the work that you’re doing?
Laura: We first explored the collaboration with the GDB team because there was not a clear global picture of how open and accessible land data is. Measuring a problem is the first step towards resolving it. We discussed how land data could become a part of the Global Data Barometer work and be used to help make the case for land data to become more open. The Global Data Barometer land module seemed to us a perfect complement to our existing State of Land Information (SOLI) research methodology. GDB would provide a global benchmark, a set of globally relevant and comparable indicators to base our advocacy efforts upon, while the Land Portal’s SOLI assessments would take a much more granular perspective into the context of specific countries and individual data sources.
Charl-Thom: The indicators and the data types that the GDB look at are really centered around land tenure and land use, and they provide for comparisons at the global level. Increasingly the differences that you see at national and regional levels become so great that it becomes very difficult to make global comparisons so there has to be this difference in scale and scope between the Land Portal and the GDB. Land Portal tools are deployed at the country level and provide greater insight at the national/country level. I do think that this distinction in scope complements the work and the efforts of the GDB.
Increasingly the differences that you see at national and regional levels become so great that it becomes very difficult to make global comparisons so there has to be this difference in scale and scope between the Land Portal and the GDB. Land Portal tools are deployed at the country level and provide greater insight at the national/country level. I do think that this distinction in scope complements the work and the efforts of the GDB.
What are some of the technical projects that help you make a difference?
Charl-Thom: Land Portal helps to diffuse knowledge and improve visibility to diverse and little-known knowledge sources. We also serve the function of connecting data consumers to a wider variety of data and information sets than they might otherwise have easy access to. As such we amplify some of the most underrepresented voices in the data community and highlight those messages to try to level the playing field. This is the Land Portal’s contribution to the democratisation of the data and information ecosystem and landscape. We also add value to meta data, we make it semantically intelligent for more effective online searching and discovery—we add a lot of technical infrastructure and technical support to the data in order to make it more machine readable and understandable, which is far beyond the role of being an information aggregator. We don’t just take information and display it, or redisplay it; we actually add a lot of value to the information and to the data. We are more an information broker.
Data dialogues and capacity building
Q: Data is not easy to navigate, how do you ensure that the datasets you provide access to are applicable to different situations and can be accessed by more people?
Laura: Visualizations serve as a dialogue between data practitioners and land practitioners. The analysis helps to deepen our understanding, raising new questions and insights. This is an iterative process because the data presents you with new information that you didn’t know previously, or allows for existing issues to be framed and interpreted in new ways. Therefore, it is really a dialogue between the data and the questions that we seek to answer. It is an iterative dialogue, because the more you play and interact with the data, the more you understand and reframe it which then poses new challenges for the data providers.
Q: What are some of your projects that contribute to capacity building in land data?
Laura: Good land governance, in a nutshell, is the ultimate impact we aim for. The objective is to improve the land and tenure situation of the most vulnerable. We are always engaging in constant efforts to find the right information that can help people in vulnerable land and tenure situations.
If you take a look at our capacity building work, our aim is to help people make more informed decisions using our evidence-based cases. We have frequent webinars that we either host, drive, design, support, or facilitate. We feel this goes a long way in sensitizing communities to build an understanding of complex land issues but also finding a democratic space where their voices could be elevated.
Charl-Thom: We also have a Geoportal that can be used for visualising statistical and geospatial data related to land issues. LandVoc is a tool that provides semantic ability to land data which wasn’t there before until the Land Portal developed it. In relation to land governance we are working towards developing an understanding about open land data through state of land information reports and open up guides on land governance.
Navigating the gaps in land data
Q: What do you think is currently missing from the data ecosystem in your area?
Charl-Thom: One of the areas that we have recently been discussing and paying more attention to is the framework within which we discuss open data, such as privacy and ethical aspects. Increasingly data is discussed in the context of an essential basic public infrastructure, like transport infrastructure or energy infrastructure. This has implications for marginalized and poor people in terms of access to that data and infrastructure. A huge challenge is making sure that data is not only open and accessible, but that it is accessible to all. And that’s a huge challenge because that relates to IT infrastructure in rural areas, issues around literacy and poverty, which fall outside our domain and scope. That’s a real challenge in terms of how you ensure that opening up data does not become a tool of the powerful, but actually is a tool to continue to empower the marginalized, the voiceless and becomes a tool of democratization and empowerment, rather than of exclusion and injustice.
Laura: Data governance is evolving continuously, and we need to be very conscious of any side effects and consequences that making data available can create, especially to the most marginalized. Probably in the future we need to focus and invest more in our data science capacity and evolve from a simple data aggregator – pulling together different pieces of data from scattered sources – into a knowledge broker that shapes the open data agenda, and makes land data actionable and easy to consume to those that need it to advance the land rights agenda. We certainly need to invest in good collaborations and the partnership with the Global Data Barometer is a good example of that.
This interview was originally published on the Global Data Barometer blog.