CaribData: Caribbean Data-Driven Resilience
The CaribData project objectives are to build a Caribbean infrastructure for regional data sharing, provide training and mentoring to increase the regional data handling capacity, and encourage the sharing of data through a communication program that includes data stories and analysis datathons.
The growing global importance of data resources
In 2010, the world generated approximately 2 Zettabytes (ZB) of digital information. In 2020, the World Economic Forum suggested that this figure had risen to 44 ZB and estimates for 2024 are in the region of 150 ZB. This data is enabling emerging digital technologies – such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Early Warning Systems (EWS), and blockchain-based applications. Digital data has become a multibillion-dollar industry with immense growth opportunities. Despite the importance of data, the Caribbean region has limited quality data to contribute to the development of such technologies. Similar to biases inherent in early technologies due to insufficient data from underrepresented communities (for instance, facial recognition technology in its early stages did not recognize certain complexions and in the design of voice recognition, high pitch voices, mostly associated with women, were not recognized), the Caribbean region needs representative data. One avenue for pursuing this is to drive dialogue for increasing efforts to design and integrate data infrastructure and data sharing policies. Furthermore, concerns over privacy and digital skills capacity remain.
Data Availability is a Social Inequity
According to the Open Data Watch, the Caribbean’s data-availability performance in 2020 averaged 39%, against a European average of 65%. The paucity of data in the Caribbean has an impact on everything from disaster risk reduction to climate resiliency to business development to citizen health and security. Existing data in the Caribbean region, such as administrative data, is hard to access, lacks adequate data infrastructure, is in multiple places with weak data sharing protocols, and suffers from quality issues due to inadequate data handling. Cloud storage is costly, there are weak incentives for data sharing, and regulatory protocols gate-keep sensitive data without offering avenues for controlled access. Public institutions are regularly unable to meet the data security demands of recent national data security regulations, which share many similarities with the European Union General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
Data is a Development Priority
Prioritizing data infrastructure and data handling1 training and mentoring will increase the availability and quality of existing data for monitoring and measuring progress on development targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG Tracker reported limited data for many CARICOM countries in 2017. Governments lack data for guiding regional resiliency programs that address risks associated with climate change, disaster preparedness, and health. Data modelling, data analytics and open-data driven software applications can drive public engagement in the development process and can support wider data strategies for resilient sustainable urban planning and development in Caribbean countries, especially as some countries are piloting moves towards smart cities. Improved data infrastructures can strengthen the innovation ecosystem by engaging the public and giving companies and researchers access to quality public data, facilitating research and innovation that supports growth. Finally, much government data, particularly in health and identity, has been created but remains inaccessible because of privacy concerns. A robust and trusted data security infrastructure would allow the secure sharing of such resources, providing much needed additional evidence for regional development in areas such as climate, gender, and health.
Climate solutions require multisectoral collaborations
The complex nature of climate change resilience must draw from a wide cross-section of specialist subjects. The data infrastructure – as it builds its data repository – will enable an evidence-base for these multisectoral synergies. It is expected that additional countries will join the regional data governance effort and will implement regional best practices for data privacy, data sharing, and open data policies, thus improving data accessibility. The data impact stories on climate change and health developed through the project will promote the benefits of collaborative multi-sectoral research and partnerships between data providers (such as NSOs and universities) and data users (such as researchers and businesses). More open-data along with communication of the resource will offer spillover opportunities beyond the immediate project goals, including open innovation, multi-sectoral research, evidence-based policy designs, timely reporting on international commitments, and improved technology related business models.
Connecting regional data efforts
This project will improve access to quality data through an interoperable digital mechanism (the CaribData repository) that will house data and will also offer connections to a network of quality-controlled repositories. This project will therefore improve interoperability between entities and the coordination efforts for creating and managing quality data at the regional level2. This project builds on the work done by the Bank with NSOs in the Caribbean to promote cooperation and coordination in the production and management of data. Among them “Common Framework for Population Census in CARICOM” (RG-T1200) and “Common Census Framework 2.0 – Support to CARICOM Regionally Coordinated Census Strategy” (RG-T1301). Both projects helped NSOs collaborate in the homogenization and standardization of data generation and management. The Caribbean has also benefited from regional projects from other donors3, among them the “Project for the Regional Advancement of Statistics in the Caribbean” (PRASC) which with funding from the Government of Canada supported improving data production and provided statistical capacity building with the technical support of Statistics Canada.
The project objectives are to improve the infrastructure for data sharing and data resilience at the regional level. The project targets capacity building within National Statistical Offices (NSOs) to increase the quality of existing datasets by providing training and mentoring and to increase the regional data sharing capacity through a communication program led by a focus on data journalism/data stories, and including analysis datathons, workshops and conferencing. Given that Government NSOs utilize public funds to create data for use as a public good, the key public goods created by this project include the following: (i) regionally shared data infrastructure to improve access to data; (ii) a curated series of data stories communicating relevant issues about the region using available but under-utilized data resources, and underpinned by the methods of data journalism; (iii) recommendations for regional data privacy, data security, and data sharing policies; (iv) increased capacity of a network of NSOs and other data producers to improve data handling processes and to implement best-practices in data sharing to increase the accessibility of regional data to analyze; (v) the project will implement datathons to encourage community-led data story-telling using underutilized regional data resources; and (vi) a regional roadmap for increasing investment in data infrastructure and expanding data themes related to Caribbean health, climate adaptation, and gender. The data infrastructure can be extended to additional countries and other subject matters with low additional costs thereby supporting a wider Caribbean rollout with appreciable economies of scale. An increase in subject matter/datasets and the greater the geographical coverage of the data resources, lead to a collective resource that can in put into emerging technologies, with the potential to guide the rapidly expanding markets in AI and machine learning, and could eventually offer regionally representative data, without many of the biases introduced by using data from unrepresentative populations.
The CaribData project will be operated by The University of the West Indies (The UWI). For over seven decades, The UWI has provided regional and international service and leadership. Starting as a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948, The UWI has evolved into an internationally respected University with near 50,000 students and 5 campuses. One of only two regional universities in the world, The UWI extends from Belize in Central America to Trinidad and Tobago in the southern Caribbean.