Beyond Opening Data

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  • Some of the government data is out of date because that is the most recent statistic.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!