A new Open Data for Social Impact Framework

a collage of four abstract images

Today, we’re publishing a resource to help nonprofits, multilateral organizations, governments and research institutions around the world put data to work to help address societal issues: the Open Data for Social Impact Framework. This new resource builds on the 10 lessons learned from Microsoft’s Open Data Campaign, and includes practical recommendations on how to apply these lessons to an organization’s data strategy.

At Microsoft, we believe data powers insights that help address critical societal problems. This is why we launched the Open Data Campaign in April 2020, partnering with organizations to better understand the opportunities and challenges they face in applying data strategies to advance their core social missions. Now, having supported 23 collaborations built around open and shared data, we’ve found that, while much of the talk around data focuses on the role it can play in the development of new business solutions, opening up data can also help answer some of the most challenging questions we face today. Questions ranging from, “How do we reduce carbon emissions?” to “How can we build a broader and more inclusive digital workforce?” to “How can we close the broadband gap?” – these can all benefit from collaboration and exploration through an increase in open and shared data.

The Open Data for Social Impact Framework is a tool organizational leaders can use to further understand how best to put data to work to solve important societal challenges. The collaborations we have supported helped us better appreciate both the benefits of data strategies and the challenges organizations face in building them. By compiling what we’ve learned from our Open Data journey and what others have shared along the way, we seek to help organizations think about the various questions and technological elements they will need to explore on their journey. We also share examples of organizations and projects that illustrate both best practices in building data strategies and the positive social impact that open data can help unlock. For instance, the World Health Organization is a case study in the importance of leadership in transforming an organization’s culture to be data-driven, and the Caring for Equality data collaboration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, shows how open data can lead to insights that help address inequality gaps with respect to care-related tasks that constrain women’s economic autonomy. These and other examples featured in the framework provide evidence of the benefits of using open data, but they also highlight a methodology that can be applied in other scenarios.

The framework highlights the challenges organizations can face when it comes to open data. It walks leaders through the following common steps and considerations:

  1. Leadership: Are you ready to put data to work to improve social outcomes?
  2. Opportunity: What are the questions you want to answer with data?
  3. Skills: Do you have the talent needed for data analysis?
  4. Community governance: Have you built trust in your community around the use of data?
  5. Technology and data: What solutions and resources do you need to measure, enable and enhance your impact?

The framework also includes a roadmap for organizations to follow to start using data to address their core social missions, and other important resources to help leaders embrace open data.

One of the key lessons we’ve learned is intrinsic to the framework – the ability to access and use data to improve outcomes involves much more than technological tools and the data itself. It includes having a leadership that is committed to using and publishing more open data, assembling the talent necessary to work with that data, and creating a good governance framework to ensure that data opportunities and data risks are managed.

Open data is important, but it can be challenging for some organizations to realize its benefits and we should all continue to look for ways to make it easier. We believe in the limitless opportunities that opening, sharing and collaborating on data can create to help drive solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

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