Open for whose benefit? Exploring assumptions, power relations and development paradigms framing the GIZ Open Resources Incubator (ORI) pilot for open voice data in Rwanda
Abstract: Since February 2019, the Kigali-based start-up Digital Umuganda has been coordinating the crowdsourcing of the first openly available voice dataset for Rwanda’s official language Kinyarwanda. This process originated from a pilot project of the Open Resources Incubator (ORI), an emergent service designed by GIZ staff and the author as consultant. ORI aims to facilitate the collective provision of open content, thereby affording previously inaccessible opportunities for local innovation and value creation. It promotes the community-based stewardship of open resources by (inter-)national actors who share responsibilities for their production, distribution and use. ORI’s pilot project cooperates with Mozilla’s team behind Common Voice, a platform to crowdsource open voice data, and has attracted Rwandan public and private actors’ interest in voice technology to improve their products and services. Informed by research on ICTs, datafication and big data in development discourses, and using the ICT4D approach ‘open development’ as its analytical lens, this thesis examines inherent conceptual aspects and socio-technical dynamics of the ORI pilot project. An in-depth analysis of qualitative data gathered through participant observation, interviews and focus groups explores assumed developmental benefits which international and Rwandan actors involved in the project associate with open voice data, power relations manifesting between these actors as well as underlying development paradigms. The analysis shows how the project established a global-local datafication infrastructure sourcing voice data from Rwandan volunteers via technically, legally and socially formalised mechanisms. By placing the dataset in the public domain, the decision as to how it will be used is left to the discretion of intermediaries such as data scientists, IT developers and funders. This arrangement calls into question the basic assumption that the open Kinya-rwanda dataset will yield social impact because its open access is insufficient to direct its usage towards socially beneficial, rather than solely profit-oriented, purposes. In view of this, the thesis proposes the joint negotiation of a ‘stewardship agreement’ to define how value created from the open voice data will benefit its community and Rwanda at large.
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