Meet David Sangokoya, Data-Pop Alliance’s new Research Specialist

As Data-Pop Alliance continues to grow, we’ve started this new series that introduces our newest team members. Introducing our latest team member, David Sangokoya, our new full-time Research Specialist based at ThoughtWorks in New York City. Join us in welcoming David to the team!

1. Can you provide a little background on yourself?

I am the son of Nigerian immigrants and grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I received my BA from Stanford University in 2010, where I had spent most of my education (and a semester at Oxford) studying the dynamics of forced migration and post-conflict recovery in communities in transition in northern Uganda. Migration was an interest both given my family’s recent and past histories, as well as my experience and observations in post-Katrina south Louisiana. For the next four years, I found myself asking the same questions on communities playing a part in managing their own post-conflict complexities in both research and project roles with small nonprofits in Sri Lanka, Namibia, Liberia and Vietnam. I focused my time in the classroom for graduate school on studying how the development industry conceives itself, functionally operates, and manages in fragile states while thinking deeper about data, technology, power relations and development.

2. Who have been the biggest influences in your understanding of “development”?

I’m a huge fan of Ben Ramalingam’s work on complex systems research and international development; Alexander Bett’s work conceptualizing forced migration; Lucy Bernholz and Rob Reich’s research on philanthropy and personal data; Bill Easterly on aid and experts; and Duncan Green’s ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog. I’ll also mention Moses Okello’s research on transitional justice from the Refugee Law Project and Laura Hubbard from the Stanford Center for African Studies. Twitter has been a treasure trove of knowledge for me to stay connected with research and news from different areas of the world while state-side.

3. What were you focusing on before you joined Data-Pop Alliance?

Last year during a yearlong research fellowship at the GovLab, I spent a lot of time collecting data on numerous examples of “data collaboratives” involving companies, governments and individuals sharing data for “public good.” As these kinds of public-private partnerships on data sharing emerge, it’s not quite clear what the best models are for responsibly sharing the data; “discarding” or giving up “ownership” of the data; and ensuring the data has some kind of actual public benefit in the end to warrant the associated ethical and privacy risks involved. There’s a lot to explore here as Big Data and development collide, and there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, nor a particular entity that will have all the answers.

4. Can you say a bit more about what interested you in the Alliance, its positioning and projects?

I joined the Alliance because of my interest in how people can be empowered —and not be disenfranchised by—their own data, particularly vulnerable populations in developing countries. If data is really the new oil, I’m interested in how the politics around that new oil will not result in the attributes of the "old oil" economies. In the “old oil economy,” we would keep moving forward in the name of people while ignoring people-centered issues as challenges in the last slide of a presentation. While the open data movement has somewhat deeper synergies in these issues given its history, I think there’s a lot of thinking that must be done in considering Big Data, development and the combination of these two different movements. Working with Data-Pop Alliance was a decision for me to center my research in the interaction of these two movements on people, rather than in and for innovation at large.

5. What will you be doing and hope to achieve at Data-Pop Alliance?

At Data-Pop Alliance I will be contributing to the development and finalization of a series of white papers on development, including data literacy, open data, human rights and ethics. In addition to contributing to blog posts and other written materials, I will help support the implementation of the thematic working groups, including generating content on our upcoming programs on big data and migration; fragile cities and urban peacebuilding; and our training program on big data and development funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

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