Leveraging data: 7 Factors for Maximizing Digital Opportunities in the Mining Sector

By Veronica Nyhan Jones and Alla Morrison

© Anglo American Plc

In our recent blog, we looked at three ways to keep vulnerable segments of the population — women and youth — from being left behind in the digital divide. Digital transformation and the renewed focus on the sustainability of mining offer great opportunities for the industry — it will help companies refresh their brands and make mining jobs of the future exciting for the next generation of young leaders. While data is essential in the new digital economy, it isn’t the only important asset — so is the diversity of a company’s talent pool.

In today’s post, IFC’s Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory team is taking a deeper look at how digital issues can be leveraged to help the poor. Here are seven approaches that firms can consider that came out of the Mining Indaba conference in South Africa:

1. Support digital and data analytics skills development. Many mining companies and government agencies tend to outsource data analytics. Invest first in stronger data capacity internally and then use those assets to support communities. Bringing data scientists on board and instituting a Chief Data Officer (or a similar position) are good first steps. For more about how projects can benefit from having data scientists, check out this World Bank blog post. For an example of how a mining company can help communities build skills needed for the digital future, see an example of Rio Tinto’s new initiative with the University of Sydney.

2. Give and advocate for ownership of data by local communities. Ownership of data empowers individuals by improving their right to self-determination. And data is an asset! It can offer new opportunities for individuals and communities to monetize data and influence decisions. In the case of indigenous communities, it may also address issues of invisibility or bias. You can learn more from the global network MyData and the proponents of the Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS).

3. Build with bias in mind. This means designing your projects and products — whether physical or digital — to prevent biased outcomes against underrepresented groups. In the digital world, we rely on algorithms that have been coded by people with unconscious or conscious bias. The outcome: long lines at women’s bathrooms, soap dispensers that don’t recognize dark skin, hiring processes that downgrade women’s schools, and credit scores that penalize poor people because their social networks are not credit-worthy. How to prevent bias? Start by convening the design teams that are much more diverse, ones that value varied backgrounds, educations, skills, disciplines, and thinking. And invite in your end-users early in the process.

4. Develop models to expand access to data. Models can include open data, privileged access to data pools or clubs, and controlled access to proprietary data (as appropriate, of course). Data is the new raw material for creating innovative products and services in the digital economy. Companies and governments should implement policies and promote practices that enable equal access to their data for disenfranchised groups. Build awareness and catalyze the re-use of your open data among these groups of local innovators by organizing hackathons or data innovation competitions. Promote and replicate local success stories. See mini case studies of how Barrick Gold, Rio Tinto, and Cerro Verde give access to data to communities and the resulting benefits in the Unlocking Data Innovation paper.

5. Support access to data infrastructure for women and youth, such as storage, computing power, and data management. Beyond access to the internet, access to this infrastructure is necessary for building digital products. Thanks to cloud computing, this is now possible and affordable for millions of digital entrepreneurs around the world. However, this is still prohibitively expensive for poor communities. To remedy this, companies can provide some of their own data infrastructure for use by local communities as they develop it — such as data centers, cloud storage, coding, and data visualization tools.

6. Open your procurement to local tech and communications companies. Companies and governments should consider buying digital services locally, such as cloud hosting, software, support, and social media. Breaking down tasks and contracts into smaller ones can help open opportunities for startups and small businesses, which are often owned by young male and female entrepreneurs. The U.K. government successfully transformed its public procurement of digital services with the creation of the Digital Marketplace. If your company or agency has a need for completing certain micro-tasks such as data entry or image tagging, you can use platforms akin to Upwork or Amazon Mechanical Turk to offer income opportunities for local groups.

7. Explore partnerships that are tech, nature, and human-positive. In Mongolia, Rio Tinto partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a luxury retailer by making it more sustainable to raise cashmere-producing goats — a boon for local herders. The project uses data gathered by NASA and Stanford University space-based maps of the remote grasslands. This is a creative example of a mining company enabling long-term, tech-driven, economic, and climate support for local communities. Data will be increasingly valuable to design and track shared value between people, the planet, and productivity.

Making data public by posting files on your website is not enough. We need documentation (for example, data dictionaries and readmes) and discoverability (such as tagging with appropriate metadata to facilitate discovery through Google’s new dataset search). We need to consider whether proprietary formats are going to be accessible to diverse end-users and groups. There is value in this data — if it can be used — for creating jobs and strengthening accountability.

Veronica Nyhan Jones is Manager Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory and Alla Morrison is “From Disclosure to Development” (D2D) Program Manager at the International Finance Corporation.

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