Last year exposed and exacerbated pre-existing fault lines that had been previously ignored or minimised by those who claimed that 2019 was "the best year in history" only weeks before the pandemic shredded this illusion. Data exposed systemic inequities and structural imbalances when it showed that COVID-19 could severely affect many—even while infecting few—in the poorest regions because of its impact on trade, tourism, international aid, and more. Years and perhaps decades of slow progress on major indicators—including extreme poverty and gender equality—were reversed, and negative trends accelerated, including environmental degradation, social polarisation, and income concentration.
In March 2020, we developed an ambitious ‘COVID-19 Global South Response and Recovery’ plan to help “rewire our systems and synapses to build a better future”. Since then, we have been working with partners in a dozen countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to assess the impact of COVID-19, assist in early responses, and suggest medium-term policy options. More than ever, we lived by our mission statement of "changing the world with data". We did this with the reach and means of a medium-sized not-for-profit organisation, but with all our hearts and minds.
The next few years offer a historical window of opportunity to join forces towards systemic change against redressable injustices and imbalances laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis—as well as other contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and pro-democracy struggles around the globe—using some of the most powerful tools available to us, such as AI, blockchain, platforms, and, of course, at their heart, data. However, calls for “building back better” have become commonplace, often coming from traditional places of power, which may be inspired by The Leopard’s famous dictum: “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi" (usually translated as “Everything must change so that everything can stay the same”).
The systems and structures that will be (re)built in the future will result from human and political choices, determined by who can harness the defining resource of time to reach their goals. With the acceleration of digital transformations in almost all spheres of life, data is that core asset—even more so than a year ago. Simply expanding our stores of digital data and technology will not, however, lead to a more equitable, enjoyable, and sustainable world unless the value systems and power structures that define their control and use are fundamentally challenged. A correct use of the "theory of change" needs to be adopted for data to play a deeply transformative role.
Hence, “Diagnose”, “Mobilize” and “Transform” will remain the 3 foundational pillars of Data-Pop Alliance’s work in 2021-22 and beyond, with a focus on five thematic priority areas where we believe it will be most impactful:
1. Data for Resilient, Sustainable, and Peaceful Societies and Livelihoods
2. Strategic Evaluation and Elaboration of Ethical Digital Transformations
3. Gender Inequities, Violence, and Data Disparities
4. Big Data and Open Algorithms (OPAL) for Official Statistic(ian)s
5. Digital Spaces, Platforms, Blockchains, and Data Literacy for Democracy
When we look back on our contribution a year or a decade from today, we aim to have made a meaningful contribution to the world we hope to see, which can be traced by exploring the projects featured in our "Overview and Outlook 2020 - 2022" report.