The Story of ‘Unlocking Data’

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo Credit: Image by ESSA

Imagine you are working in the Ugandan Ministry of Education and you want to understand how barriers to girls’ education at secondary level are changing. You can find a few academic articles that look relevant but sit behind a paywall, and a high-level report from a consulting firm, none of which answer the exact question you want to ask. You know the data that was used to write these articles and reports could provide crucial insights if analysed with your priorities in mind. However, tracking down the data is fruitless  —  the data was not deposited, catalogued, or indeed ethically cleared for future use.

This problem exists in ministries, schools, colleges, and investor boardrooms, despite the explosion in research and evaluation in education over the last 15 years. Raw data sets languish on the hard drives of academics, consultants, and funders.

A Solution is Needed

Since July 2020, EdTech Hub, ESSA, and Zizi Afrique — joined later by eBase Africa, Open Burkina and Centre for Educational Research & Training at the University of Malawi —  have been exploring how to access, use, and share education data effectively to tell the story of education in Africa. To do this, we have hosted a series of workshops with stakeholders across the African continent. Stakeholders who work with education data sets were invited, including ministry officials, policymakers, academics, funders of education research, national statistics organisations, multilateral organisations, and experts in opening and sharing data from other fields. At these workshops, participants exchanged views on what the biggest barriers to sharing data are and what is currently being done to overcome these barriers. From the discussions, two main needs arose:

  • The need to learn from each other’s experiences across the continent, share frameworks, lessons, tools, and opportunities as well as identity synergies and opportunities for collaboration.
  • The need to map the status of access and usage of education data in Africa and identify where the major gaps are. Before we can decide where we want to get to in terms of (re)using education data effectively, we need to understand where we are.

Through these workshops, ‘Unlocking Data’ was formed.

What is Unlocking Data?

The purpose of the Unlocking Data initiative is to build a community of practice that connects individuals and organisations for the purpose of learning and sharing. The community of practice includes African scholars, NGOs, national statistics offices and policymakers who are working to improve access to and use of education data, largely at the country level. The intended outcome is to increase the effectiveness of members in their efforts to ‘unlock’ education data, increasing its availability and use for analysis that will improve education for young people.

Mapping education data in Africa

Drawing on the need to map what education data exists and what education data is accessible, Unlocking Data hosted a workshop on ‘Lessons Learnt from Education Data Mapping in Africa’ on 30 June 2021. The event showcased three knowledge-sharing presentations:

  • Dr John Mugo, Dr Eldah Onsomu, and Prof Kisilu Kitainge provided insights on catalysing an evidence ecosystem for TVET in Kenya. 
  • Dr Esme Kadzemera shared experiences from the implementation of the Malawi Open Data for Education Systems Analysis (MODESA) project.
  • Dr Laté Lawson presented a methodology for mapping existing education data sets using a combination of opportunistic and systematic approaches.

The presentations were followed by question and answer and breakout sessions. The breakout sessions sought to unpack what data initiatives participants are involved in or are aware of, what approaches work and which don’t, and what strategies different stakeholders can take up to allow better data sharing for the improvement of education systems. The workshop presentations and discussions were synthesised into a report.

Read the following documents to find out more:

Join the Unlocking Data community 

By joining the Unlocking Data community of practice you will:

  • be invited to learning events;
  • have the opportunity to feed into work being developed by other members of the community of practice;
  • be invited to share your own work to raise its profile and seek input from others;
  • be able to publish blogs, tools, events, and other materials on the mailing list and website to reach a broader audience; 
  • be open to being contacted directly by other members for advice on matters related to increasing access to and use of education data.

Both individuals and institutions can join the community of practice. Any institution joining must nominate an individual to represent their organisation. Any community of practice is built on cooperation between people.

Björn Haßler
Björn Haßler