Data for peace: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa experts and policymakers explore open data in governance through the virtual platform

Jun 15, 2016

In the last two years alone, the world has produced more data than in the previous 3,000 years. This vast amount of data needs to be efficiently digested if it is to be useful. At the same time, the incredible explosion of information is an unprecedented opportunity to harness the power of solid evidence in making better policies for peace and development, involving citizens in discussions on key issues, and making government more transparent.

This is why on 10–13 May 2016 the University of Peshawar with UNDP support held the province’s first ever Data Summit, exploring how new technologies and open data can strengthen peace and development in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

The discussions were centred on the Virtual Platform for Peace and Development (VPPD), hosted at the University of Peshawar Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and in support of the KP Home and Tribal Affairs Department. This portal once fully operational will harness the power of open data to address the complex challenges faced by KP province, enhancing evidence-based policy, and deepening public awareness of vital issues surrounding youth, peace, social cohesion and development.

“There is a lot of data out there, but it’s often hard to access and spread out in different places,” said an official from the KP Planning and Development Department in the run-up to the summit. “People aren’t familiar with sharing it, and the VPPD can help with that and with evidence-based policymaking.”

The data summit began with hands-on training for University of Peshawar staff and interns on operating the VPPD. Led by experts in data visualization analysis and in computer science, attendees received training on data management and coding, giving them the skills they need to analyse the huge mass of data most effectively, and draw from it reports and visualizations which can inform policy making.

This training day was followed by a major policy roundtable at which over 50 senior government officials, academics and representatives of civil society organizations discussed how open data and technology could be deployed for peacebuilding and development in KP. They shared their views on the opportunities – and the challenges – posed by open data, and how these could be addressed in the KP context.

The third event was a discussion open to all University of Peshawar students and faculty, at which the concepts of open data were introduced and explored with regard to the KP context. Over 100 people attended, and two experts on data science and visualization delivered lectures. This was followed by a plenary session for open discussion, and closed by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peshawar, Professor Dr Muhammad Rasul Jan.

The potential uses of open data in supporting democratic, effective and participatory governance are huge, with particular ramifications for young people who are often left out of decision making altogether. Through the VPPD platform and the vigorous discussions surrounding it, KP has taken a major step in harnessing new technologies for peace and development.

As Professor Rasul Jan said: “The University of Peshawar was looking for a forum to provide a common ground for the development sector, government and the intelligentsia to address the menace of violence and terrorism from our society through evidence-based policy formulation. We are blessed to have UNDP came forward and become our active partner [in this effort].”

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