The international workshop “Alles ist Data? Tout est Data!” took place as an in-person conference with online invitation-only attendance, the first of its kind since the COVID-19 era started at the Institut. This two-day workshop was organized by the OIB in Beirut in November for the first session, and a month later as a partnership with the Egyclass project in Cairo for the second one.
In Beirut, the first session focused on the history of statistics in Lebanon, through the testimonies of two household names whose careers have spanned the last 60 years in the field of statistics. Robert Kasparian, the first director of the Central Administration of Statistics, explained how everything started, from the Chehab-era (1958-1964) and evolved up to the 1990s or through the Lebanese wars. Riad Saadé shared a parallel experience while focusing on one specific sector, agriculture. As the head of the CREAL (Centre de recherches et d’études agricoles libanais), he discussed the shape of agricultural statistics and their demise for the last 30 years, closely following the fall of the agricultural sector itself.
The second session offered other insights and a different standpoint on statistics, less historical, rooted in contemporary projects, with the presentation of several projects from UN-Habitat and UNDP, showing that, regardless of a global situation, many projects are being conducted everyday on the Lebanese territory. On top of that, Synaps’ founders Rosalie Berthier and Peter Harling reflected on their own experiences with statistics in Lebanon, the limitations they faced as researchers and finally initiated a general discussion on the current shape and perspective for statistics in Lebanon.
The third session consisted of a thorough presentation of projects related to digitization and e-Governance in the ISF and Central Inspection, and how it shakes up the bureaucracy in Lebanon. In the presence of a statistician working in another ministry, who reflected on the daily practices of the work, the discussion led to a discussion on how these new platforms are being conceived by private actors, but also how they are being received at the other end, in the user community of civil servants.
Finally, the last roundtable ended up being an open discussion around three recent projects, including two « datactivists » projects. First of all, Al Gherbal, whose aim is to gather and share as much public documents and data as possible and make it accessible to the public, following the new access to information law passed in 2017. Open Map Lebanon came next. Its activities started in the wake of the August 4th explosion as a grassroots activist movement, that gathered data on the explosion as a form of emergency response, but whose passionate volunteers have pursued other forms of mapping since then. Both participants reflected on the challenges they face with data collection but also on the future of their projects. So did the representative of the last organization, Smex. This organization advocates – not only in Lebanon but at a regional level – for data protection and to secure the passing of real privacy laws. At present, their absence leaves too much room for political as well as commercial use of personal data without the consent of the persons. As such, it rounded off the conference around the often disregarded question of citizens and users, bringing to the fore how data can empower communities but also how data privacy is threatened in the digital age – the future of data and its democratic values being at play, this mainstream question in the US and Europe needs to be urgently addressed in Lebanon too.