Towards a Balanced Fiscal Data Ecosystem

Key elements of a balanced fiscal data ecosystem may be overlooked during the rush and excitement of sharing a stand-alone dataset or launching a new web data portal or releasing a visually appealing graphic. Among other prompts for assembling this note, I cite a call for national statistics offices [registration required] to increase the quality and quantity of accurate poverty data, the United Nations Data Revolution report, and the launch of the Development Data Hub. As much a reminder for balance on projects on which I am a member (e.g., GIFT), below are a set of key elements, generally described, for a balanced fiscal data ecosystem (and data ecosystems in general).

The ecosystem is comprised of people, data, and a variety of tools supporting the human interactions with the data. The (non-exhaustive list of) people in question may be roughly characterized as data publishers, data curators, and data users. Individuals and organizations may, of course, belong to one or more of these groups. An element of the ecosystem is the underlying purpose of the ecosystem itself. The purpose may be for poverty reduction, improved delivery of social services, an external requirement to share data, or a range of other motivations and aims. Of course a specific purpose may limit the array of ecosystem elements need to satisfy that purpose. For the sake of this note, however, while a narrow focus serves a purpose in its given context and needs, the entire ecosystem is taken into consideration in this discussion at hand.

Collecting data is another element in the ecosystem. In some cases the data is ready to hand as a self-contained dataset or a report. In other cases, data may exist yet not be readily or obviously available due to intentional or unintentional obscurity. As such, it may be incumbent upon individuals and organizations in the ecosystem to identify or request the data such that it is then collected for inclusion.

After collecting data, another key element in the data ecosystem is organizing the data. Organizing is a term to broadly describe activities designed to make the data more accessible. Activities include describing the data to aid in the presentation of the data to the consumer with various metadata such as subject descriptions, dates of the data, authorship, format, language, etc. Organizing may also include how the data is presented and shared for the consumer (which overlaps with the Publishing element).

Publishing, the next element, refers to how and when the data is made available for the consumer. In its simplest terms, publishing simply means providing access, such as via a website or some other electronic means. Publishing also means reformatting the data (such as from a closed to open format), combining different pieces of data into one package, or in some other way compiling and editing the data for consumption.

The elements named above are essentially in the domain and primary responsibility of the data publishers. The next two elements are shared among publishers and consumers. The last element discussed is an activity primarily for the consumer. The curator group, on the other hand, is active in all the elements.

Acquiring is the next major element in the fiscal data ecosystem. The activity includes consumers seeking data through searching or browsing and is dependent, in part, on how the data is organized and described, for it is based on the organization and description that a consumer accesses the data.

If data is to have an impact on the lives of individuals and communities, analyzing that data for decision making, advocacy, and awareness raising is vital. Therefore, consumers and publishers need to increase analytical skills through capacity building opportunities. Publishers, curators, and consumers alike are in the position to analyze the available data (and present that analysis; see next element). Providers of analytical training (perhaps a fourth component of the human aspect of the ecosystem) are needed in order to help individuals and organizations make sense of the plethora of data. Journalists, academics, subject experts, and publishers also provide analysis so that consumers can then interact with a set of secondary data based on the primary data released by publishers.

Presenting primary data in new ways, combining primary data in novel packages, and publishing analyses of the data is the final element in the fiscal data ecosystem. In this way, the consumer takes on the role of publisher as a way to feed new data back into the ecosystem (for ongoing collecting, describing, etc.).