Why Kenya Open Data is taking so damn long!
November 23, 2012 — 10:38

Once again I will say that i have been extremely lucky to be the one driving the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) at the Kenya ICT Board but note that this post contains my own views.

Having to deal with the project every single day and putting my all (i mean my 9-5) in it, i have realized that there are a lot of things that people do not appreciate about the ideas of this project.

We all wish that things would run smoothly, that i would have all the data that is required, that developers would spend a lot of time and resources in developing applications using the data and that they will make a lot of money and live happy ever after and that most importantly the common citizen would be informed like yesterday about the existence of this portal and that they would use the data available to hold their leaders accountable and to make informed decisions.

Friends, I really wish that this was true. Its not and below, i will carefully list why with hopes that this post will make things clear and that it wont be so long!

Lack of Legislation.

Now, don’t we all wish we had the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act? With this kind of legislation in place, it would be illegal for government institutions to hide information from citizens as is the case right now. In my opinion, matters like access to information should be inborn within people so that they know the importance of releasing information without any legal bounds. But due to the lack of this, there is a proposed FOI bill (Whose analysis by Article 19 can be found HERE) but since this is not a law yet, there is nothing that binds any civil servant to freely and actively provide information. Article 35 of the Kenyan Constitution states that every Kenyan citizen has a right to information but the process of getting that information is still long, painful and costly.

Lack of an informed citizenry

I guess most of us know about the laws of demand and supply.

The kenyan citizen in general is less informed about their right of information. Someone would argue that the average Kenyan is more concerned about matters of food, education for their children, rent and livelyhood to care about their right to have access to information.

People tend to forget that it is from this information that people would better make decisions about their life and income and development. For a very long time we have operated our lives according to the status quo and not on actual facts and figures. For this reason, it has made it extremely difficult to state our case when requesting for data because the supply questions the demand side of that data. Its great that a few #KOT are talking about open data, big data, analytics etc but the majority of people on the ground have no idea.

The myth that the available information is useless

Very often when i try to convince developers and private sector to use information available on opendata.go.ke they state that that information is too out of date and that they want breaking news. One thing that people do not understand is the process of carrying out government statistics, from data collection to verification, to validation to actual dissemination. Most of the data that is up on the portal is the most up to date data from particular government agencies for example. Some of the data collection processes to release take months or even years.

Its always amusing to me when i see researchers abroad using KODI to do their research, write their thesis and get actual benefits while our own people only keep complaining about the idea of open data.

The money is not clear. Where is the money?

I often say, open data, just like technology are value adding services and that on their own, they might not make much sense.

Now this is one of the biggest problems in regards to KODI, when trying to convince people to use the data. One thing that i have found out is that the small folks are having a hard time making money out of open data inventions because they plainly use KODI as the single source of idea while bigger players have found a way of mashing up data from KODI with other sources to create a better resource channel and trust me, there are people making serious money out of the use of KODI as a value adding service. A visit to THIS page of community apps should tell you who i am talking about..

Lack of efficient structures within government

The Kenyan government is still very paper based. Walk into most of the offices and you will realize a lot of people have computers but are still hard at work on their black cover books and paper forms. Most of this information is never digitized and if it is, its at a very slow rate. I earlier wrote about the Kenyatta National hospital still being very undigital and that they destroy medical records every five years. This is the case in most GoK departments. The slow digitizing rates mean that:

  • its very hard to get very up to date information
  • its very difficult to access any information at all

These are but a few of the reasons why the Kenya Open Data Initiative has takes so damn long to pick but trust me this does not mean that nothing at all is happening as a lot of media folks have tended to insinuate lately. Kenya Open Data might be facing these difficulties but by the fact that a lot of people are now talking about the idea, considering the idea, supporting the idea or even criticizing the idea means that there is a clear view of the importance of this initiative.

Open Data is not a perfect solution but work in progress, no matter where you are that without support from:

  1. public sector
  2. private sector
  3. civil society

will never head anywhere. So lets support Kenya Open Data Initiative, shall we? :-)

 

 

 

Beyond Opening Data
November 4, 2012 — 7:38

Greetings from a very lovely and busy Lagos, Nigeria! It is another year of the amazing Maker Faire Africa where we are always identifying and celebrating African Ingenuity.

Over the past few weeks I have had lots of conversations with different groups of people including my amazing friend Henry Barnor on the state of Open Data in Africa and what that really means. We all know that the Kenyan Government officially launched its Open Data Initiative 8th July 2011 and since then there has been a lot of acclamation, criticism, no comment and even recommendations from around the world on how we can make the idea better.

One of the greatest request that has come up has been the fact that the data that is available is not real time and that, that is what is preventing people from using open data. Some people want to know what happened yesterday, what is happening now and what is about to happen. A lot of us don’t wanna know what happened three years ago and how probably that led to what will happen tomorrow.

Now; there are a few problems with this wish that people have not realized:

  • Some of the government data is out of date because that is the most recent statistic. An example here is the census data. This is a statistic that is carried out every 10 years. This means that other agencies have to come in to help provide data that can be used in real time to show the increase or decrease in population.
  • The lack of legislation has let to a lot of government organizations still working in Silos and not wanting to provide data. The Freedom of Information Bill is under reviews and if this bill was to be enacted, then life in data supply would be much easier.
  • The previous point said and done, we also have to take note that most government agencies are not yet digital! A lot of websites still don’t work or display up to date data, most are still paper based and for this reason, mining and disseminating this information has become very hard.
  • There is still the Data Hugging Syndrome, where a lot of people are still very inclined against sharing data with others, in the fear that this data might be used against them.
  • ETC

The above four points and just some of the many reasons why it might be hard for the Kenya Open Data Initiative to compete with for example the World Bank’s Open Data. This is still work in progress.

But with the above said, my focus on open data has seized to lie very much on the data data release and supply. There is already about five hundred data sets on the open data portal that not a lot of people have really started to use! We could have 7000 or 100,000 datasets on the portal but if no one is using them, whats the point? I truly believe that not all the datasets on the portal are bad. I mean, I know most are out of data, but I also know that most could be very useful to a lot of people.

I like to say that Open Data, just like technology is a value adding service and unless we find ways of merging data from government with other sources of data and other services and ideas, what we can do with the data will always be very limited. The surprising part is the fact that a lot of us were willing to pay for data when it was not open but now that we have freely available data, we are still focusing on data that is still on sale and hard to get to.

Then there is analysis that needs to happen. This is the true step after opening up data. I am fine with merging data and analyzing it but then again, this is only one step in the process, the analysis represents what I think should be happening. There are various other stakeholders who need to also get involved in this analysis and who also need to be engaged for us to get an all rounded analytics process. Now this is a process for all data that is released, not just the Kenyan story.

Now, please feel free to get in touch on what you think could/should change about Open Data to make it better and most importantly to HAVE YOU a lot more engaged. Remember, this is a partnership with all stakeholders and not just a government initiative.

Open Data is work in progress that without input from the common citizen like you, will never move in the direction we want it to!

L.