Open Data has been the hot topic over the past last few months. Open Data is an initiative that is aimed at creating a cure for the ‘data huggers’ by making data that is meant for public good open and freely available without any restrictions.
In Africa, Kenya is the pioneer of this initiative, through its Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) that has made over 400 government datasets publicly available through its web portal. Ghana, through the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI) is following closely in Kenya’s footsteps, with countries like Tunisia and Liberia looking at the same line of thought.
Now, what does Open Data mean for a country? Having been involved from about day 20 of the initial steps towards KODI, the main aim has been ways of making the government accountable and transparent while increasing citizen engagement. The government spends money in the different administrative levels eg the CDF expenditure, there are tons of statistical data collections done eg the Census of 2009 , the national budget etc etc. To some, the closest they get to this data is through the media channels of aired parliamentary proceedings.
All this data is data that should be out in the public domain, not only for researchers or analysts, but also for the public good so that the citizens are able to hold their policy makers accountable or give them a pat on the back for a job well done. The policy makers can use this data for future planning and decision making, eg when it comes to revenue and project allocation and as a ‘lesson learned’ kind of model for ways that they should not carry out future businesses but also for insights of ways that the different government organs can corporate for improved service delivery.
There are many pages of proof of concept that i can write (in my own opinion) of why we needed Open data like last decade (but i will leave that for my masters class ). From this, it is clear to see that we do not need to hide the data of our operation until we have perfect operations. According to article 35 in the Bill of Rights in the revised Kenyan Constitution, “every citizen has the right to access to information held by the state or any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom”. This means that, policy makers do not have to hide the ‘computer errors’, that occurred during their estimations or spending, parliament proceedings should not be just another document that is just within the parliament premises but should be a hansard (available here thanks to the Kenya Law Reporting) that is available for reference many years later.
The World Bank, which pioneered in opening up its data, was very afraid at first about opening up its operations, grants and finances data (that is available through its World Bank Finances portal) but realized the importance of opening up with the increased interaction and interrogation from the beneficiaries of their programs and an increased revenue generated from the sale of their data books due to the increased demand. This improved their impact analysis for the various projects executed.
So in my opinion, IT IS NOT TOO EARLY for Open Data in Africa. This is a necessary evil that governments should adopt to ensure citizen participation and engagement in the country development as well as transparent governments that carry out their businesses in the right way because they know, THE CITIZENS ARE WATCHING!