Kenya Open Data Initiative one year on - Al Kags
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Kenya Open Data Initiative one year on

I have just returned to Kenya from a week-long trip to Washington DC, where I attended the International Open Government Data Conference (See the liveblog) that was co-hosted by the World Bank Group and the US Open Data Initiative, dubbed data.gov. Coming one year after the launch of the Kenya Open Data Initiative, which I have had the privilege to chair, this week was a period of some reflection for me about how far Kenya has come.

While I was there, I was reminded that the Open Data Community is quite small – the same faces were not to be missed and listing them would read like a Radio shout-out – Alex Howard, Aleem Walji, Kevin Merrit, Nathaniel Heller, Tariq Khokhar, Bernadette Hyland, Sandra Muscoso Mills, Jay Bhalla, Rufus Pollok, Jose Alonzo Manuel, David Eaves …. it could go on to about 300 names – just see any of the previous conferences on Open Data and you are likely to see many of those names over and over.

But I was also happy to see a contingent from Moldova’s Open Data initiative, led by Stela Mocan and Irina Tisacova and Rwanda’s CIO,  Patrick Nyirishema at the meeting – an indication that the Open Data movement is finally beginning to gain traction within the developing world.

On July 8th last year, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya launched the Kenya Open Data Initiative. The vision for the initiative was simple: lets open Kenya’s Government to the public by providing citizens with granular data relating to Kenya’s development so that every citizen is empowered to participate in development. In many countries, Open Data initiatives are primarily a tool for transparency – but while transparency and accountability was one of Kenya’s priorities for this initiative, the primary objective was to get citizens to be part of development. To get young people to find opportunities to innovate – most obviously by building applications that help citizens to interact with the data in some way. To get Kenyans to use the data to examine the data and identify areas where they could contribute to development and at the same time build businesses.

In my own mind, I saw (and still do) the opportunity for the rise of a new breed of social entrepreneurs who build very unique business models that are tied to important development topics like education, health, agriculture… I envisioned social entrepreneurship’s like askadoc.co.ke taking on new fantastic dimensions in the generation of content. And we have started seeing some developments in this line – such interesting work as eduweb and others. I am looking forward to a time when I will find my matatu on an app, book a school for my son based on hard facts – after reviewing trends developed over years.

One advantage of having data online is the feedback that can be recieved from the ground. For example, as I looked through eduweb, I found this comment, an excellent example of feedback of the reality from the ground – as things change the public will update it.

Comment from Principle on Eduweb

After the launch of the initiative with a dynamic robust portal that allows for people to make comparisons, overlays and visualizations of data, we added building of the ecosystem of data producers and users – the government (as a producer and user of data), the civil society (producer and user), and the community of infomedieries who would increase the citizens appetite for data – the media, developers, the academia and the civil society.

There has been a lot of work that has been done in Kenya around Open Government and Open Data – both within government and outside. Now, Kenya has a USD 6.5 Million facility resting with the Kenya ICT Board to institutionalize Open Data and to continue the work of building the ecosystem. One thing you are likely to see soon, is job openings for the team that will take this work forward from within government.

Paul Kukubo, CEO, Kenya ICT BoardPaul Kukubo, the CEO of the Kenya ICT Board was one of the more recent entrants into the Open Data Community, making is global debut at the IOGDC, signaling the process of institutionalizing the Open Data program me within government. Also at the IOGDC, was Anne from the Ministry of Finance in Kenya. We are hopeful that we shall soon see more government officials in the community.

It has to be recognized that each of these communities is an ecosystem in of itself – for example in dealing with media, you have to deal with media owners/ publishers (who are the owners of the data and for whom it has to make sense to pursue data journalism for it to happen), you have the journalists (whose capacity has to be built to tell stories using data and you have the business management, who have to make usage of data sustainable.

With this in mind, we (the Kenya Open Data Taskforce) started to build partnerships with different organizations who are pioneering in the development of the Open Data ecosystems. Using the above example of media, we have been working with the World bank, World Bank Institute – specially through its media programme, the African Media Initiative, the Kenya Media Programme (Hivos), the Media Owners Association and the Editors Guild and more.

Some of the activities that we have had with regard to the media include:-

  1. Together with the World Bank Institute and Africa Media Initiative, the first ever data journalism masterclass was convened at Strathmore university – bringing together more than 60 journalists, civil society practitioners and app developers to learn how to build interesting audience apps that tell specific stories. And we have already started seeing interesting apps like the County Scorecard and others come out of that
  2. We also brought together the media owners and editors and sensitized them on how they can use data to better tell stories, increase relevance and develop their businesses even further. As a result, now a task force on Open Data Journalism has been seto up, co-chaired by the Media Owners Association Chair, Kiprono Kittony and the Executive Director of the African Media Initiative, Amadou Mahtar Ba

The Open Institute

One of the key outcomes of our work with the Kenya Open Data Initiative is the creation of the Open Institute, an organization that is going to be the hub for the development of Open Government and Open Data initiatives in many other countries based on the incremental knowledge that we are acquiring. We hope to build an organization that fosters partnerships with everyone who is developing an Open Data initiative anywhere in the world. In doing so, we hope to bring the power of the Global expertise to Opening Governments and organizations, while at the same time collecting knowledge and sharing it out again.

Next steps

Speaking of sharing knowledge, in my presentation at the IOGDC (see it below) , I shared the six steps of building an open data ecosystem based on our experiences so far and as we widen our focus to the other sectors e.g. the Civil Society (look out for an announcement shortly on this), we shall also be working to cement Open Data into Kenya’s system (and we will be calling upon you to help with this too very soon).

Its hard to believe that its only been a year. Time has surely flown. Here’s to more exciting experiences to us all.

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Al Kags
alkags@good.co.ke
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