February 24, 2016 Hatem Ben Yacoub

#ddiMENA Data-Driven Innovation in the MENA Region – Cairo Workshop Feb 2016

This week a big gathering from Governments, international organizations, Academia, Businesses, and Experts met altogether during two days in the University of Cairo to talk about data-driven innovation in the MENA region. An initiative of the Canadian International Development Research Center, in collaboration with University of Cairo, UNDP, International Labor Organization and Information technology Institute.

The first day focused on the current status of Data-Driven Innovation in the MENA region, and my conclusion was : Yes, OpenData can help fixing development problems in the MENA region, but we are not yet there. As I had the chance to work on most Arab countries covered by the the 3rd edition of the ODB, I am aware about the current situation of OpenData, and to be able to see innovative and creative data-driven solutions, first thing we need is data which is not yet there.

In a presentation that I’ve shared part of it during the workshop, I talked about the recent AppsForDemocracy Hackathon that took place in Tunisia in Nov 2015. Most interesting part, is an analysis that I did on the projects that have been proposed during that hackathon, and some of the finding that I have shared with the audience is that for the 90% of projects that are supposed to consume data, the data itself is not available as OpenData.

Youth are innovating while most of the needed data is not available, and that’s the role of CSOs to fill this gap and push Government or Companies to make these data available, or possibly find a way to crowdsource it.

First notable thing that I heard during the workshop, is that there are some confusion between data and information. Some speakers were talking about information as data, and I am sure that it’s part of the problem. As some entities publish information, statistics, and consider it as OpenData, then decline to publish raw data for different reasons. We create Information from Data, but we cannot create Data from Information and that’s one of the major problems of most actual open data initiatives.

Second and most notable thing during the first day is how to teach kids to look for and use the data around them. We should seriously consider teaching open data differently to our kids, instead of asking them to remember by heart things that they will never use, it’s more interesting to let them look for data around them and try to use them to understand different topics. Open Data in education should have a very important role in the next data-driven innovation movement.

Data-Driven innovation - The Tunisian Experience


Last but not least, when we asked ourself where should we start from, it comes to my mind the question : which came first hen or egg ? The data or the innovation ? which field should we start from ? In my opinion, the data needed for innovation is available in all the fields, so if we want to prioritize we should look at the innovative projects and see which one could have higher impact on economy and society and that’s where we should start from.

Data-driven innovation workshop is over, and hoping that it’s just the beginning… Big thanks to the Canadian’s IRDC and to all participants and contributors, see you soon !

Download my presentation (PDF): #ddiMENA role of facilitators and intermediaries, The Tunisian experience.

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About the Author

Hatem Ben Yacoub Energy Engineer, Entrepreneur, ICT & eGov Consultant with over 15 years experience. Independent Open Data expert.

(HBY) Consultancy