Data Co-ops in Action: the Search for the First Cohort

February 8th, 2024

Publication : Blog
Themes : Data CooperativesData Stewardship

Data Co-ops in Action: the Search for the First Cohort

This is part 2 of a three-part series on our data cooperative incubator, Data Co-ops in Action. You can access part 1 here. In this piece, we will dive into our search strategy for selecting the candidates for our first cohort.

There were two stages in this part of our project, first, designing the search strategy and second, deploying it. We dedicated over five months to completing these activities for the following reasons:

  1. Developing effective search criteria required us to elaborate on the foundational elements of a data cooperative and collapse them into simple criteria to assess our candidates. This process was made iterative so that the search criteria would be effective.
  2. We intended our open call to be deployed on a global scale, implying that a reasonable amount of time was required for circulating the open call and receiving responses. We also aimed to achieve diversity in the cohort, for which sufficient time was needed to assess the applicants thoroughly.

Designing the search strategy

While developing our search criteria, we identified the following key areas to assess our candidates:

  1. Level of trust: Trust between members inter se, and the members and the cooperative is a crucial element for the cooperative since it affects group cohesion and members’ perceptions of the success of the cooperative. We were thus inclined to work with organisations that have strong trust.
  2. Size of the cooperative: Data is valuable in aggregate, meaning that a larger collection of data yields more valuable insights. Cooperatives having greater membership were thus preferred.
  3. Value proposition for the data layer: The value proposition outlines why the data cooperative must be established and what it can help achieve. We heavily relied on this criterion in making our decision as it established the viability of the proposed data cooperatives.
  4. Capacity to implement data layer: Due to the short deadline for launching the data cooperative, there was limited time to mobilise all the resources required for a data cooperative and build member capacity. We, therefore, prioritised organisations having the basic infrastructure to implement a data layer. We also preferred organisations in which members have basic digital literacy.
  5. Existing governance structure: Since data cooperatives embody democratic principles, it was crucial for us to ensure that the selected candidates have these values ingrained in their existing organisational structure and operations. This would not only eliminate the need for us to restructure the functioning of the organisation but would provide us with the foundational governance framework for the data layer.

Deploying the search strategy

After refining our search criteria through several iterations and feedback from the Uncommon Collaborations team, we deployed the search strategy in two phases: the Primary phase and the Advanced phase. In the Primary phase, we circulated a short questionnaire with our open call. Through this form, we attempted to gain a basic understanding of the activities the applicant organisations engage in, their value proposition for the data layer and their capacity to implement the data layer. We also collected some basic details such as the size and location of the organisation.

We received responses from organisations in various parts of the globe, with overwhelming responses from organisations in several African countries, the Indian subcontinent, the United States of America and Brazil. We concluded the Primary phase of the search by shortlisting 7 organisations.

To obtain a deeper understanding of the candidates’ activities, value proposition as well as the existing framework for governance, we conducted interviews as part of the Advanced phase. These conversations not only helped evaluate our candidates but also aided in identifying challenges which were not previously anticipated by us.

Challenges in the search

  • While our open call was circulated through several media, we acknowledged that it might not reach organisations in areas with limited connectivity and organisations having low digital presence. We therefore undertook targeted amplification efforts with the help of the Dalberg Catalyst team. This involved reaching out to field partners working with grassroots organisations, especially in Kigali and Brazil and encouraging organisations which could be potential candidates to apply for the cohort.
  • Our open call as well as the questionnaire were only available in English. This discouraged organisations in non-English speaking countries from applying to the programme.
  • Communicating the concept of a data cooperative was challenging. Several applicants conflated data cooperatives with digitalisation. Their value proposition, therefore, did not match the expected goals for a data cooperative. This was evident in the case of organisations which carried on activities which would not benefit from insights into aggregated data. This issue reduced our pool of suitable candidates.
  • Since our call was open to all kinds of women’s organisations, we received applications from organisations having structures which did not align with the ideal governance structure for a data layer, owing to the lack of democratic member control in daily functioning. In several other organisations, owing to their structure, we were unable to identify who would be the members of the data cooperative. This was the case, especially with advocacy organisations.

Despite these challenges, we selected two candidates to be part of the first cohort of Data Co-ops in Action, at the end of the Advanced phase. These challenges will also serve as a learning in our future work.

In the next piece, we will detail our work with our first cohort and explore the learnings from this process.