Opportune Niches in Data Ecosystems: Open Data Intermediaries in the Agriculture Sector of Ghana

March 10, 2017 by Alexander Andrason, Francois van Schalkwyk

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The role of open data intermediaries in an ecosystem broadly, and in the data chain specifically, is highly relevant – they may in fact be vital for a data chain to be fluid. There is a small but growing body of empirical-based research that analyzes the behaviour of open data intermediaries; empirical evidence that specifically focuses on the entrance of open data intermediaries into the ecosystem is even scarcer. The present study aims to reduce the scarcity of empirical fine-grained evidence concerning open data intermediaries and their emergence, in particular, their characteristics that enable them to enter into an ecosystem and to thrive in it. The analysis of the behavior of the two intermediaries located at the interface of open data in the agricultural and mobile-phone sectors in Ghana leads to the following conclusions: the emergence of intermediaries is primarily conditioned by the previous presence of a (broad) niche area, that is, in for order intermediaries to appear, there must be new spaces available in the ecosystem for them to occupy; a niche may be sufficiently broad to accommodate not a single specific intermediary but rather a range of similar yet distinct intermediaries that can populate different zones within the niche; each intermediary deploys the forms of the capital differently to connect to users successfully; given the extent of capitals which it possesses, each intermediary identifies a different area of the ecosystem where this capital would assure the highest return; a deficiency of certain forms of capital can also be appeased by linking to other intermediaries; the emergence and subsequent survival of the intermediaries importantly modifies the ecosystem which they have entered and populated; and open data intermediaries enhance flow of data in an ecosystem by sourcing, creating, mixing and curating data from multiple sources, both open and closed.