Data Giraffe: Blinded by the Light of Our Data Obsession
How Solution Meets Need
Data Giraffe is open-source software designed by International Research and Exchange board (IREX) to help to help manage its Bibliomist (Ukraine) and Biblionet (Romania) library modernization programs. It helps collect and analyze computer usage rates and the stratification of users. Usage rates are reported automatically to a central server and anonymous pop-up surveys ask patrons whether they are using computers and the Internet.
In Ukraine, the IREX team was managing over 5,000 public access computers through its Bibliomist program. For several months in 2012, the team saw average usage rates slowly falling to around 40 percent. But on closer inspection the team realized that most libraries were closer to 60 – 70 percent and the average was falling due to a small amount of libraries with extremely low rates, some as low as 0 percent. Using data collected by Data Giraffe, the staff was able to identify which libraries needed assistance. In most cases, these libraries faced technical challenges and there was a need for more specialized training. After a coordinated campaign by the Ministry of Culture and Bibliomist to reach out to the libraries and help them, their usage rates grew to record numbers.
Since 2011, IREX’s Biblionet program in Romania has sent approximately 1,400 letters to County Councilors in to show the libraries’ value. The letters are customized for each county with information on Biblionet donation (total value of hardware, software, trainings) and tailored information from the pop-up surveys for their county. A study of county library managers, completed in 2013 after the third round of letters, showed 14 percent had received increased budgets, 36 percent said the County Council attitudes concerning libraries changed significantly, 60 percent received more support for activities from County Councils, and 70 percent of the County Councils had an improved understanding of what public libraries activities as a result of the data provided by Data Giraffe.
Be Data Driven – Data Giraffe was designed specifically to catalyze data driven practices for all actors in the Ukraine and Romania projects. Everyone was getting the data they needed when they wanted, and didn’t need to think about it. IREX could manage all areas of the project based on seamlessly delivered real-time data. Both the Gates Foundation and USAID could receive the exact data they wanted to evaluate the project, and IREX’s local partners could make sure that IREX was delivering on what they had promised. Each team in IREX’s stakeholder meetings received their automated performance report with metrics tailored for their specific management needs to inform decision making.
Use Open Data, Open Standards, Open Source, Open Innovation – All of Data Giraffe was designed as an open-source software, and 90 percent of its development was done by local developers. The data was provided in open formats of the user’s choice and was a key component of Ukraine’s Open Government Partnership goals.
Outcomes and Lessons Learned
With $12.7 million in co-funding from local governments, Bibliomist equipped 1,930 libraries across Ukraine with new technology that enables free access to information for millions of Ukrainians. In Romania, IREX provided hardware, software, and IT support for 2,280 public libraries, for which local administrations invested $25 million to cover Internet connectivity, library renovations, and operating costs. IREX established training centers within each of Romania’s 41 county library systems and Ukraine’s 24 Oblasts.
For the life of these programs, Data Giraffe was crucial in delivering data-driven projects. However, now that both programs are nearing their conclusion, it is apparent that the software is too complex and burdensome for local partners to support. Specifically, Data Giraffe was designed to collect the data mandated by the project donors, not the data required by local partners. IREX had left the existing and simple data requirements of the local partners far in the distance by catering to the specific data demands of their donors. The data needs of the local partner must be prioritized despite any pressure for additional data coming from the other side of the project. IREX’s failure to integrate stakeholder’s existing data needs meant that Data Giraffe was not designed to collect the simple data that the Ukraine and Romania library systems use to measure success for a given location. The data most valuable to local partners is far simpler and less flashy, and does not warrant the resources to support a custom technology tool—even a modest one.
Even before the final release version for Ukraine and Romania was complete, the programming team began designing to scale globally and added features for library systems in Indonesia, Nepal, and 10 other countries. This intense urge to scale pushed their initial development scope to the absolute limit and they began adding functionality before they had fixed the bugs in the core software.
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