Data Co-ops in Action: Learnings from engagement

By Sushmitha Viswanathan,
March 23rd, 2024

Publication : Blog
Themes : Data StewardshipGender Data

Data Co-ops in Action: Learnings from engagement

This is part three of our four-part series on Data Co-ops in Action, our support network for gender data cooperatives across the globe. In the previous piece, we outlined the search strategy for selecting our two grantees. In this piece, we report on our experience of engaging with our grantees and analyse our learnings from this process.

Considering the short duration of the project, we devised an 8-week engagement to strategically plan the establishment of the data layer. Through initial conversations with our grantees, we identified the following points which needed to be factored in while planning our engagement:

  1. The grantees have a limited understanding of the features and functions of a data layer, meaning that we would have to dedicate time to carry out preliminary capacity-building exercises before initiating the process of actually establishing the data layer.
  2. Language barriers would limit our communication with the members of the grantee organisations. We would therefore have to heavily rely on the points of contact.
  3. Limited internet connectivity could affect the manner in which the data layer is implemented. Real-time data collection would be difficult to achieve, and therefore, it is realistic to anticipate delays in the input of data.
  4. Most women in the groups do not have the financial resources to own smartphones. It is often a shared resource to which access is relatively limited. This in turn could make the data entry process less frequent.

With these points in consideration, our 8-week engagement plan covered the following key activities:

We adopted a mixed-modal strategy for implementing the 8-week engagement plan. It consisted of engagements through video-conferencing, online worksheets and in-person workshops, in addition to routine communications through email.

Our engagement with the selected grantees began in September, with a worksheet through which we gained an understanding of the grantees’ understanding of the project and their plan of action in the project period. Most importantly, however, we aimed to clarify the features and functions of a data cooperative at this stage as it was evident that our grantees had conflated these with digitalisation. Based on material shared by Aapti, the grantees outlined the features of a data cooperative and the following foundational elements of their value proposition:

  • The kinds of data which will be collected for the data layer
  • Values derived from each data point
  • Other potential data which can be collected in the future
  • Data collection method

In the following few weeks, we conducted virtual workshops with one of the grantees to support them in refining their value propositions. An interaction with the members of one of the grantee organisations also helped us understand the governance structure of the group and identify potential challenges in establishing and implementing the data layer. Communication with the other organisation was limited owing to practical difficulties.

Learnings from engagement

Our major learnings from our interaction over the course of five months fall into five broad buckets:

  1. Capacity building in early stages: Investing time in preliminary capacity building is crucial as it lays the foundation for engagement throughout the project. In our experience, sharing material such as simple videos and notes explaining the theoretical underpinnings of data cooperatives as well as real-life examples of data cooperatives is effective. This also helps with communicating expectations on what the key outputs and outcomes of the project could look like.
  2. Refining the value proposition: Sufficient time must also be spent on refining the value proposition for the data cooperative as this is the base for the data cooperative. As an organisation in consulting capacity, Aapti provided feedback on how the grantees could sharpen their value proposition such that the data cooperative could deliver to the organisation as a whole as well as individual members. This exercise helped organisations narrow down their value proposition to what is realistically achievable in the next one year. This also helped with identifying most stakeholders and data flows.
  3. The importance of intermediaries: Considering that communication with members of the proposed data cooperatives was limited by language barriers and distance from the project sites, the intermediaries (points of contact) became solely responsible for driving the establishment of the data layer. While their involvement in the project helped mediate, and at times streamline communications with the members, and reduced the logistical burden on Aapti, it also meant that we had limited insight into the members’ feedback. We overcame this to an extent by speaking with the members through video conferencing. However, we acknowledge that some information tends to get lost in translation. Another disadvantage of this arrangement is that project progress is heavily dependent on the initiative taken by the intermediary, implying that the grantee organisation might not achieve the set goals for the project if the intermediary does not devote the time and effort required to implement the data layer.
  4. Practical barriers as factors to consider at early stages: Practical difficulties such as limited connectivity to the internet, distance of the point of contact from the project site, difficulties in accessing the project site due to poor weather conditions, tough terrain or security issues (such as criminal activities in surrounding areas) are factors to consider at an earlier stage in the project. These are factors that can have a large bearing on the progress on the project, and sometimes could lead to termination of further engagement.
  5. The limitations of our role: Being in a consulting role implies that our ability to steer decisions is limited. It has become pertinent for us to acknowledge that despite the support provided by us, our grantees might not have the capacity, the knowledge or even the willingness to implement the project as intended by us. In our experience, it is possible that the members might eventually decide that their priorities differ from what is offered by the data cooperative model. At the cusp of such a realisation, it is crucial to decide on recalibrating the course of our engagement or withdrawing support altogether.

Our learnings from this process brought us closer to the realities faced by women’s groups such as our grantees and encouraged us to tailor our strategies for engagement in tune with these realities and their needs. It served to bridge the gap between our theoretical understanding of data cooperatives and practical realities in their implementation, especially for groups in the Global South.

In our next piece, we introduce our grantee, Enyorata Loviluku and dig deeper into our engagement with them.