[CODATA-international] Digital Feudalism

Mwitondi, Kassim K.Mwitondi at shu.ac.uk
Sat Oct 12 15:14:01 EDT 2019

Thanks Falk. The dark side of modernity, or whatever it may be called, spells an imbalance that needs to be addressed. This imbalance spans across across the entire spectrum of global relations. We are only bringing up data-related issues now, because we are waking up to the inevitable call for data utilisation in all aspects of human development, otherwise, we spent generations focusing on prices of raw materials and trade surpluses and deficits. As it is in the global trade relations and FDIs, the main triggers of the imbalance derive from the sense of sharing ownership of the resources, tools and skills. It would be much easier to understand if we were discussing relationships based on gold mining or oil and gas exploration than it is on data.

While the high value of data/information has been known for millenia, its appreciation in some parts of the world has been slow. Apparently, what CODATA, WDS, RDA and many others are doing is to enhance global utilisation of data in human development. The key question is why, in the 21st century (the Big Data era), issues like the ones we have been discussing over the last 24 hours are still common place? The answer lies in the imbalance in the ownership of data resources - tools for acquisition, storage, analysis and dissemination. Luckily (or sadly), even in developed world, our capacities to generate data far outpace the capacity for harnessing, let alone processing and interpreting it. Only a short delay may render that data obsolete for real time decisions, but the upside is that it still makes a good historical data for learning from.

Now, here is a typical scenario. Assume a Government department in Sub-Saharan Africa running a crop mapping project aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and market accessibility through data/information sharing. Assume too that the project is initiated via some bilateral arrangement, hosted by a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition and funded by some development partner, who typically also appraises the project. The factors (data) affecting such as project extend beyond the horizons of the ministry - but quite often that is as far as the team will see, which leads to another elephant in the room-shunning interdisciplinarity.

We may be talking of overseas partners leaving with valuable data, but the bottom line is that quite often they either haven't captured many attributes or they simply don't have the capacity to harness and utilise them. In the case of biomass data I mentioned yesterday, the girl told me that her western colleagues would be willing to give her the data if she requested and that they had taken the files with them because they couldn't be stored locally. Which begs the question whether, at the project inception, could that eventuality have been foreseen? Imperatively, recipients and partners should discuss and assess available capabilities in interdisciplinary contexts before launching projects,  which doesn't always happen.



Dr Kassim S. Mwitondi
Sheffield Hallam University
Faculty of Science, Technology and Arts
Communication & Computing Research Centre
9410 Cantor Building, City Campus
153 Arundel Street
Sheffield, S1 2NU
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-114-2256914 (Direct)
Tel. +44-114-2255555 (General)
From: Falk Huettmann <fhuettmann at alaska.edu>
Sent: 12 October 2019 18:51
To: BOULTON Geoffrey <Geoff.Boulton at ed.ac.uk>
Cc: Mwitondi, Kassim <K.Mwitondi at shu.ac.uk>; CODATA International <codata-international at lists.codata.org>
Subject: Re: [CODATA-international] Digital Feudalism

Dear Geoff, Kassim et al,

thanks indeed for bringing this up. I was missing such views here for a long time...

We and others have published on those things, digital terror, unsustainability etc. for long time
As a matter of fact, there are entire disciplines that
cover failure of capitalism, neoliberalism, computing and the western mindset,
the world from James Cook onwards.
I suggest you can simply start there and see how one-sided most informatics and data people
still are.

Compare that for instance with

There is not much ideology in this, simply looking at facts and reality.
I suggest we can have a more relevant progress.

It starts with transparency, open access data sharing and metadata though.
I lack seeing that a lot, certainly in the sciences,in the EU and in environmental,
sustainability and climate issues and such governance, development aid included.
Industry is pretty bad in this, so are all royal governances I know, FIFA and the olympics (see role models there).

Happy to learn here; thanks again

  Falk Huettmann PhD, Professor
     Uni of Alaska Fairbanks

On Sat, Oct 12, 2019 at 12:06 AM BOULTON Geoffrey <Geoff.Boulton at ed.ac.uk<mailto:Geoff.Boulton at ed.ac.uk>> wrote:
Dear Correspondents

What has been described in the various letters is a process that has become clearer over the years, and which is now well documented. Together with several colleagues (Kenya, Botswana, Senegal) I have been doing some work for the African Science Granting Councils (19 African States) that analyses advantages and disadvantages for Africa of federated open science practices, together with the policies required to deliver them to best effect. The issues you have all described are being addressed, such that we hope the Granting Councils will address them, together with International Partners. It would be very helpful if we were able to call on your experiences as evidence. Would any of you be prepared to write a paragraph or two about particular instances that highlight key problems?

All good wishes

Geoffrey Boulton
CODATA Past President

Geoffrey Boulton OBE FRS FRSE
Regius Professor of Geology Emeritus
University of Edinburgh
Grant Institute, Kings Buildings
Edinburgh EH9 3JW
44 (0)131 667 2531
Mob: 44 (0)7590978510
Website: www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/gboulton<http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/gboulton>

On 12 Oct 2019, at 00:46, Mwitondi, Kassim <K.Mwitondi at shu.ac.uk<mailto:K.Mwitondi at shu.ac.uk>> wrote:

This is an instance of a biased data ownership. A few years ago I was working with a young African researcher on an agro-forestry research project. No sooner had we started than I realused that her centre had only some descriptive statistics but no direct access to the biomass data which she and her colleagues had spent months collecting from two islands! The vast chunk of the data had left with the development partners at the end of the project. It turned out, nobody at the centre had any knowledge or pressing interest to pursue the data and there was already new initiatives to run another project, which in my view was almost a duplicate of the first, but this time with a different development partner.

To cut the long story short, I have come across several cases of data ownership of this nature and my view is that it doesn't help much coining terminologies, as the best that can be achieved is a blame culture. Would I call that data capitalism? Colonialism? Feudalism? I never would! I have learnt, over the years, that proper problem identification is a major stride in working out the solution. Blaming it on one part marginalizing the other when it comes to data generation, access and ownership is stripping everyone on the project of a fundamental responsibility in managing the project.

Apparently, the problem starts with the project write-up. If the project recipient is fully engaged from project initiation to delivery, they surely should know how to access the data, as that is a key project deliverable. My personal experience is that there are a several factors that lead to this kind of situation. One, many project ideas are top-down, that is, they are not developed within the working conditions of the recipients. Two, there are often many gaps in engagement, mainly caused by near disparate motives on many projects, with the funders, experts and recipients not necessarily having the same perception, motives or knowledge. Put the two together and add the determined project timeline, you have a near disaster. But the tripartite interests to run projects continues and we are creating a vicious cycle. What is the solution? It must start from the recipients who must align each incoming project with their respective development strategies. They must present themselves as equal partners in defining the project problem and tracking and measuring its outcomes. They should be able to quantifiable identify what worked and what didn't and any there should be national institutions charged with such responsibility. I could be writing all night, I would rather stop here for now.



Dr Kassim S. Mwitondi
Sheffield Hallam University
Faculty of Science, Technology and Arts
Communication & Computing Research Centre
9410 Cantor Building, City Campus
153 Arundel Street
Sheffield, S1 2NU
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-114-2256914 (Direct)
Tel. +44-114-2255555 (General)
From: CODATA-international <codata-international-bounces at lists.codata.org<mailto:codata-international-bounces at lists.codata.org>> on behalf of Trimpact - Niek <niek at trimpact.nl<mailto:niek at trimpact.nl>>
Sent: 11 October 2019 18:12:22
To: 'Ernie Boyko' <boykern at yahoo.com<mailto:boykern at yahoo.com>>; 'CODATA International' <codata-international at lists.codata.org<mailto:codata-international at lists.codata.org>>; 'Suchith Anand' <Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk<mailto:Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk>>
Subject: Re: [CODATA-international] Digital Feudalism

Dear all,

This is indeed a huge problem. I also recently learned that information data from NGOs are best perhaps shared with some ministries in Bamako, Mali, but not within a region where the work is being done. This implies that local decision makers remain dependant on the information/data stream back from the ministries which may take some months, if ever. This can never be the purpose of the work executed.

Since most of the projects are financed with public funding for the benefit of de people in the given (development) country and data/information belong in fact to the real funds provider of the work (i.e. tax payers), claims of intellectual property rights that data belong to the project executors seem not applicable. Consequently, data and other information (e.g. lessons learned) should be shared at large to the population and other relevant stakeholders to avoid duplication of efforts.

A discussion worthwhile to be continued.

Kind regards,

Dr. Niek van Duivenbooden

<image001.png>  Bringing value to life

Mezenlaan 138  -  6951 HR Dieren  -  The Netherlands – T +31 61 13 81 061
KvK: 64218422   - niek at trimpact.nl<mailto:niek at trimpact.nl> - www.Trimpact.nl<http://www.trimpact.nl/>

Van: CODATA-international <codata-international-bounces at lists.codata.org<mailto:codata-international-bounces at lists.codata.org>> Namens Ernie Boyko
Verzonden: vrijdag 11 oktober 2019 15:26
Aan: CODATA International <codata-international at lists.codata.org<mailto:codata-international at lists.codata.org>>; Suchith Anand <Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk<mailto:Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk>>
Onderwerp: Re: [CODATA-international] Digital Feudalism

Thank you Suchith,
I have not heard that term before but I did run into   related term this week at the DDI-CODATA workshop here in Dagstuhl.  The term is Data Colonialism.  This often happens when a foreign entity (e.g., a development agency/project).e data are collected in a developing country and are taken out of the country.  They will leave behind some summary tables but will take the rich data and metadata away.  This makes it difficult to develop the data analysis and management skills within the country.

Thanks for the message.

Cheers, Ernie
Larrimac:  More than a golf course!
CODATA: Making data work together to improve science to support decision makers.

On Friday, October 11, 2019, 08:51:29 AM EDT, Suchith Anand <Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk<mailto:Suchith.Anand at nottingham.ac.uk>> wrote:

I came across a recent op-ed by Prof. Mariana Mazzucato on “Digital Feudalism”  at


Prof. Mazzucato is a leading researcher and thinker on Technology and Innovation, advisor to the European Commission on research and innovation strategy, and author of two important books on the subject “The Value of Everything” and “The Entrepreneurial State”.

The report on “Mission-oriented Research and Innovation in the European Union” might be of interest


Since the use of cloud platforms for GIS data analysis is having a huge impact on the GIS community, the subject is of relevance. I would like learn more on this

  1.  Are there any examples of Digital Feudalism in GIS?
  2.  How will Digital Feudalism in GIS affect our future generations?
  3.  What policies are governments, regulators doing to reduce Digital Feudalism in GIS?
  4.  What policies and curriculum are universities, educators adopting to reduce Digital Feudalism in GIS?

Best wishes,


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