Digital Public Goods and Open Data

Today, there is an unprecedented opportunity for low- and middle-income counties to harness digital resources to help accelerate development. That’s why improving access to and discoverability of digital public goods (DPGs) is crucial. And while much of the conversation and interest in digital public goods has been related to open-source software, digital public goods are much more than software. According to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, DPGs include not only open-source software, but open-source: content, AI models, standards, and data. 

Data as a digital public good is particularly important, as the amount of data being produced continues to grow, and will grow faster with digitalisation. Data is critical to understanding problems and prospective solutions for organisations, governments, businesses, and civil society. By using open data, societies can find new ways to foster economic and human development integral to the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

The widely agreed upon core tenets of open data include access without cost, and the ability to analyse, re-use and share it. This extends to ensuring interoperability, as data should be available in a format that allows for further analysis and repurposing. The best quality open data includes documentation on how and when it was collected, as well as insight on possible biases, constraints, and confidence levels.

Open datasets also help accelerate technical innovation by allowing software and AI models to be more precise and therefore deepen their potential positive impact on development. With greater access to data, policymakers can be equipped with the information and knowledge to make informed decisions while fostering greater accountability and transparency.

For an open dataset to be considered a digital public good, the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) requires an Open Data Commons approved licence, as part of the DPG Standard by which all DPGs are determined. Doing so ensures that data can be widely accessed and used for a number of different use cases.

Below are three areas related to the use of open data that the DPGA is exploring and digital public goods themselves are championing.

Open Datasets for Climate Change Adaptation

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that the opportunity to mitigate the worst expected outcomes from climate change is quickly approaching. Alarmingly, in a 2021 report by UNEP measuring progress towards the environment-related SDGs, 54% of indicators did not have sufficient data to adequately be reported on. 

The limited availability and dissemination of high-quality and reliable open-source weather, climate, hydrological, marine, and ocean observation data is a hindrance for making informed decisions and enabling technical innovation, including the development of digital solutions for climate change adaptation. For this reason, in January 2022, the DPGA, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) co-authored a report calling for weather, climate, and hydrological information datasets to be made open and freely available as digital public goods. To exemplify the impact that this could have on innovation, the report highlighted eight DPGs that utilise open datasets for weather and climate services.  

>> Read the full report.

Open Datasets for Inclusion

With increased use of artificial intelligence across all sectors, there is a need to confront the consequences of biases which are having an impact on the representation of gender, race, neurodiversity, age, geographical location, and language in tech. In response to this concern, efforts are being made to address the current inequities in datasets generally, and in voice technology in particular. 

Digital public goods like Mozilla’s Common Voice and Ekstep’s Vakyansh – which is supported by DPGA member Thoughtworks and is part of the DPG, Sunbird – are creating open datasets to combat these issues. Common Voice is currently collecting voice datasets for over 87 languages to help democratise voice technology. Similarly, Vakyansh is focusing on Indic languages at a local and regional level, believing that strengthening the language coverage for speech-to-text technology can eliminate language barriers in civic participation in India. 

>> Donate your voice to Common Voice

Open Datasets for Health

As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, access to data for public health is critical. DPGs like Project AEDES use open data to improve public health and address the challenge of getting real-time, on the ground information into the hands of government officials, policymakers, and health workers. Specifically, AEDES is working to combat dengue in The Philippines where, in 2019 alone, dengue was an epidemic that infected more than 271,000 people and caused more than 1,100 deaths. By correlating dengue cases and deaths with real-time data from climate, google searches, and remote sensing, Project AEDES predicts potential dengue hotspot locations. 

>> Explore Project AEDES.

These are just a few cases that exemplify the need for open datasets and represent the increasing demand for open data across sectors. In the coming months, we will be working with DPGA member organisations prioritising open data, including and UN Global Pulse. is investing in DPGs for epidemic preparedness and response via their Epiverse initiative and advancing the use of data science through tools like their Data Maturity Assessment and Resource Library. UN Global Pulse is championing the Global Data Access Initiative (GDAI), a collaboration across the public and private sector to develop guidelines, processes, and reference infrastructure to facilitate responsible access to data as DPGs. This initiative will also accelerate the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions, which require large and granular data, for addressing critical development needs. This work will also address the key challenges that come with providing access to privately-held data, such as the protection of privacy and legitimate corporate interest.

We are excited to continue championing open data and working with new, like-minded partners who share in the belief of its transformation potential.

  • If you know of an open dataset that is relevant to addressing the sustainable development goals and could be a DPG, nominate it here. Not sure? Try the eligibility form today. 
  • Listen to the DPGA’s Co-Lead, Lucy Harris, present at a recent conversation hosted by Open Data Institute which discussed open data and artificial intelligence. 
  • Subscribe to the newsletter to stay informed about more open data work from the DPGA.

    Photo by Calin Stan on Unsplash