Why Kenya Open Data is taking so damn long!

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? :-)