Beyond the Digital Divide: Towards a Situated Approach to Open Data

December 06, 2016 by L. Bezuidenhout, B. Rappert, A. Kelly, S. Leonelli

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Poor provision of information and communication technologies in low/middle-income countries represents a concern for promoting Open Data. This is often framed as a “digital divide” and addressed through initiatives that increase the availability of information and communication technologies to researchers based in low-resourced environments, as well as the amount of resources freely accessible online, including data themselves. Using empirical data from a qualitative study of lab-based research in Africa we highlight the limitations of such framing and emphasize the range of additional factors necessary to effectively utilize data available online. We adopt the ‘Capabilities Approach’ proposed by Sen to highlight the distinction between simply making resources available, and doing so while fostering researchers’ ability to use them. This provides an alternative orientation that highlights the persistence of deep inequalities within the seemingly egalitarian-inspired Open Data landscape. The extent and manner of future data sharing, we propose, will hinge on the ability to respond to the heterogeneity of research environments