The Underplayed Outcomes of Kenya Open Data Initiative.

Many reports have been written about The Kenya Open Data Initiative and how it has died.

Many have questioned how government projects run and if Open Data in Kenya is facing the same fate.

What a lot of people have not realized is that beyond the portal www.opendata.go.ke open data is a concept. Open Data Initiatives all around the world are about governments making their data freely and publicly accessible. The beauty of open data portals is they consolidate the data and put it within a single URL so the user does not have to remember multiple addresses but open data as a concept….

Definition: Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike. – Source: Open Data Handbook

In no place, in this definition and many other definitions is there a mention or a requirement that Open Data must exist within one portal.

Various ministries within government have made their data publicly available through their own web portals and while we are working on legislation and policy to change that, there is nothing that requires them to make their data available through the open data portal except for goodwill.

To name a few examples:

  • The ministry of agriculture and fisheries makes available all market data on the sale of commodities in all major markets on a daily basis.
  • The Kenya national bureau of statistics has made a ton of data available including the statistical abstracts and economic surveys all the way from the 60s
  • The ministry of health makes available all data about the health facilities in the country, what services they offer, how stocked they are, capacity: beds, doctors, nurses
  • The Kenya open data initiative (KODI) has made important information like CDF expenditures, demographics, poverty rates, education etc available

These are just but a few examples and these particular examples actually make the data available in open formats. We are always working to ensure that all this data can exist within one portal.

The KODI portal has had over 4 million views since its inception in 2011 and I can almost say this is the most viewed government website as shown below for this year:

Page views Open Data Jan - Sept 2014
Source: Kenya Open Data Analytics.

 

That said, Kenya, like many other countries with an open data initiative hosts a big load of data within one portal (the one that has everyone confused about what open data is) but this portal so far has had tremendous results of access and as much as the data available is not breaking news, has brought to light a lot of data that would normally not be accessible to the public without written consent from the host government organization.

The Open Data Initiative has not come without challenges and to understand these challenges, read my post where I talked about why Kenya Open Data is taking so damn long!

The reason I decided to write this post is to bring out some of the benefits of the ideas of open data within government and other organizations that I am sure would have taken longer to be realized if the initiative had not been launched in 2011.

Legislation:

The Access to information and Data Protection bills were crafted in 2006 and since then, they had been in negotiation and basically were shelved for a while. After the inception of Open Data in 2011, the debate on the two bills was rekindled in 2012 and in september 2014, the cabinet, chaired by the president approved the two bills that are now waiting for the final parliament approval to become law.

Policy:

Before the open data ideas, there was no policy guiding how data should be shared or made available within government. I am happy to report that since open data, the ICT Authority is working on a policy for data sharing, the KNBS has a policy in place and many other ministries are looking at these conversations.

Digitization:

Have you stopped to ask why government is heavily digitizing its records? Access. Transparency. Openness. Many government agencies including the civil registry departments on births and deaths, ministry of education, Ministry of health are now heavily digitizing to not only save on storage space but also make the data publicly and easily accessible.

 Standardization:

A lot of government institutions collect data every so often. There are departments within departments and the way it happened, everyone would collect their own data in their own format using their own codes and fields. Since the inception of open data for instance, the World Bank gave the Ministry of Education $1 million to create an integrated education database that would implement a standardized way of data collection and naming. This data was to be made available through the open data portal, the process is ongoing.

Data Literacy:

Through the Open Data movement, a lot of companies have been formed in Kenya to utilize open data and citizen awareness. Organizations like Open Institute, Code4Kenya, iHub Research, Mzalendo, DataScience utilize open data in a lot of their activities both nationally and at the county level.

The media has not been left behind. Data journalism like the fantastic work Internews is doing in Kenya, a lot of it relies on open data from the government. NTV has done a few features that have been based on data from KODI and other government sources to name but a few.

Transparency:

We come from a history of no sharing. The traditional secrets act has been in place since the 70s and still going. Most recently (2012), Kenya joined the Open Government Partnership with her key mandate being using open data to be transparent and more engaging with citizens. I can confidently say that over the past 4 years we have seen great  information flows from government than ever before. We do not yet have everything, but something  sure is happening.

Most of these government systems have been in existence for decades and have created a government culture that will take a while to dilute but the milestones that the idea of an open government have achieved cannot be underplayed.

So, my question to those saying open data is dead, what exactly do you mean? What is open data in your definition and what signifies its death?

Open data is not an end in its self, it is a small cog in a big big machine and maybe i am privileged because i experience this progress everyday but i would say, look a little more critically before you throw stones.

Asante.