Some months ago, I was closely following all activities related to the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture; in fact most of the AK team was excited to see the Conference’s activities and outcomes real-time – not only because two of our EU projects (agINFRA and SemaGrow) were mentioned as some of the most important ones and related to the scope of the Conference but because these were at the heart of what the AK team is actually doing. It was some time after that, when I was introduced to Kerry Albright after my colleague Nikos Manouselis involved me in a GODAN-related series of emails. I found the conversation really interesting and some months later I found myself representing the AK team at the GODAN initiative – Kerry Albright being one of the driving forces behind it.
I have to admit that I was really interested to get to know more about the GODAN initiative and a short interview with Kerry would definitely provide some interesting feedback; it took quite some time to finalize this interview but in the end Kerry was kind enough to provide us with her feedback despite her packed schedule – I believe that it worth every single minute of this time! Let’s see what Kerry responded to our questions:
1. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself? What is your (educational/academic) background and what is your current position?
My name is Kerry Albright. I’m currently a Senior Agricultural Research Analyst at the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and alongside my DFID colleague Tim Wheeler and US government colleagues Cathie Woteki, Jaime Adams and Lauren McGraw based at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), am one of the drivers behind the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative. I’ve got a pretty inter-disciplinary academic background in the social, political and natural sciences but have always worked in the agricultural/natural resource management sectors. I’m a specialist in research uptake into policy & practice and am increasingly working in the open data/digital world.
2. You are one of most active persons involved in the GODAN initiative; could you please tell us more about the need for implementing GODAN, the vision and the expected outcomes? How did it all start?
GODAN originally evolved out of G8 commitments to a ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’ , launched at the 2012 G8 Summit at Camp David and subsequent discussion at the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in Washington D.C., USA in mid-2013. It was officially launched at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, United Kingdom on 31st October 2013.
We believe that data is among the most important commodities in agriculture and sharing it openly increases its value. Right now, there’s a significant amount of valuable data that’s simply not openly available or accessible for use by others. Where this data is available, it’s rarely in a form that enables easy analysis or comparison. But even ensuring data is made available and accessible in machine-readable format isn’t enough. Much more needs to be done to understand user demand and the incentives and barriers to engaging with the data.
We have a vision of a data revolution for the agriculture and nutrition sectors, fueled by openness and believe that open data can help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050. Through opening up data locked away in governments, the private sector and other partner organisations, we hope to help spur agricultural innovation, improve service delivery, enhance accountability and transparency and increase economic growth around the world.
Most of the effort to date has been on raising awareness of GODAN and our aims and objectives in order to get partners to sign up to the common Statement of Principles. We’re now about to move onto a more practical next phase, trying to operationalise GODAN and get some concrete priority actions underway. The first face to face meeting of GODAN partners will take place at UNFAO headquarters in Rome between 22nd and 24th April 2014. Here, we hope to continue to move GODAN beyond its G8 origins and gain wider ownership amongst public and private partners. One of the key challenges to date for the informal coordination unit of the UK and US governments has been finding time to keep the momentum going alongside our day to day work. In Rome, we’ll therefore be looking at the feasibility of establishing an independent Executive Secretariat to drive the initiative forward and facilitate communication amongst signatories. Another challenge has been trying to map exactly what is already going on in this fast-moving space and how and where the collective voice of GODAN partners can add value to the numerous individual technical interventions already taking place by tackling challenges with a coordinated voice at the policy level.
4. GODAN and numbers; what’s the current status? (e.g number of members, types of organizations, activities etc.)?
As a conservative estimate, we currently have 73 partner signatories (although in practice we are many more as for example, the US government counts as one signatory but comprises several individual agencies including USDA, USAID, MCC etc). These partners come from a broad range of backgrounds and interests including governments, NGOs, universities, innovation hubs/startups and the private sector including Agro-Know Technologies! Some partners are open data specialists, others agricultural or nutritional specialists and some are both but all have a common belief in the potential of enhancing open data in the agricultural and nutritional sectors to make a real difference to people’s lives. We would still welcome additional partners, especially from the private sector and developing country governments but all are welcome- the more the merrier! See www.godan.info for details of how to sign up.
5. Is there any relation/connection between GODAN and related existing initiatives (such as the Research Data Alliance (RDA) agriculture-related groups)? If so, would you like to tell us a little bit more about that?
We are very interested in the work of the Research Data Alliance and the agricultural working groups in particular. Many GODAN partners are also members of these groups. However, the RDA is a technical alliance and the agricultural data interoperability and wheat data interoperability working groups are highly specialist. We have a common interest in how to best facilitate open sharing of data including through establishing common data infrastructures. Another important initiative working in this space is the CIARD initiative. Historically, CIARD has also tended to work at the technical level, striving to pioneer and promote open access to agricultural knowledge, helping to establish international standards and devising resources and tools that facilitate collaboration and sharing. We hope that GODAN will be able to add value to these efforts through working in the political space and also reaching out to more non-research actors including the private sector.
6. What are the next steps of GODAN? Any activities planned for the near future?
I’ve already mentioned the first face to face partner meeting to be hosted by UNFAO/GFAR in Rome between 22nd-24th April 2014. Inevitably, the distinction between GODAN partners and others working in a similar space is not so clear cut as my response to question 5 may make out. It is for this reason that the April meeting will be held jointly with CIARD partners as we seek to jointly identify future steps to maximise the impact of our mutual activities. This will focus on key similarities and differences between the two, mapping ongoing activities, brokering potential partnerships and exploring governance structures including possible establishment of the independent GODAN Secretariat. Towards the end of this year, we are hoping to have a wider showcasing meeting where partners will get a chance to practically demonstrate some of the open data activities they’ve been working on to a wider audience, possibly combined with a hackathon event. It’s very exciting times ahead as we move to making a dream become a reality and we’re really glad that Agro-Know Technologies are on board!
We would like to thank Kerry Albright for taking the time to reply to our questions and we are really looking forward to meeting her in the 1st face to face GODAN meeting in Rome next month!