How Citizen Generated Open Data Prevents Corruption and Increases Accountability.

The Kenya Open Data Initiative is a program that was launched in 2011 out of the need for Government to provide useful information to the public. Its launch followed the promulgation of the Kenya Constitution in 2010, in which Article 35 of the Bill of rights clauses states that every Kenyan citizen has a right to access information held by the state; giving impetus to the government’s willingness to be open and transparent.

Data is the Foundation of improving accountability and governance and Open Data is in its very definition an opportunity for a government or corporate body to proactively release information to the public and state the facts upfront, giving opportunities for transparency and accountability. To be able to do this successfully, agencies need to review the flow of data throughout their institutions and consider everything about how the data is collected, stored and later on disseminated to the public.

Increased demand for data means that more and more government agencies make some kind of data and information available online through their websites or dedicated data access portals like the Kenya Open Data Portal. As they do so particularly in electronic formats and more particularly in open formats it makes it possible to easily engage citizens, interact and enhance participation and accountability of government activities. It also means that agencies need to require better quality data not just for the public but more importantly for their own internal operations and to improve the quality and relevance of their finding.

Citizen and Society participation and involvement in discussions around open data are critical towards valuing government data in its correctness and value. It provides a feedback mechanism for citizens to interrogate government and hold a fact-based discussion with government and elected leaders. Locally we have seen it increase accountability of public officers involved in the implementation of government projects. Where in the past funds could be allocated projects that do not exist on the ground or that are never completed as reported, today citizens can counter check these allocations and through citizen-generated data show photographic evidence of projects, the quality, and level of completion. For Kenya, this is a step in the right direction towards building a “participatory environment with feedback loops that enable citizens to analyze, visualize, and even challenge the reporting in government data.” The question is, “Is the right kind of data that can be a real deterrent towards corrupt practices being published?”

Case study 1:

Corruption in and of itself takes place at a transactional level, where assets are transferred from one entity to another. In obvious forms, it can be observed in form of unreasonable pricing of goods and services too far above the bounds of market rates, or in the awarding of contracts to specific entities under unclear circumstances. By its very nature, “corruption likes secrecy, It is a multilayer phenomenon.”One clear way to combat it is by providing greater access to transactional information and further reveal the entities involved in transactions while allowing the public and skilled individuals to examine this Government data and identify potential risks, irregularities or conflicts of interests that take place. In the context of anti-corruption, the open data charter lists a number of basic datasets that should be published by every government. These include 1) Data on Government Officials, their actions and or decisions in while in office, financial assets/interests, and records of officials involved in public procurements. 2) Data on Government Finances. The use of public resources; contracting, budget, and expenditure. 3) Data on Government management and performance, including parliamentary voting data, courts and audit reports, 4) Data on related non-Government actors, including asset and entity registries.

Case study 2:

While Open Data is the critical key to averting possible corruption it many times is not an end in its self. While relevant and up-to-date data is required there also needs to be a vibrant, intelligent and skilled community of stakeholders and users around data. These users can be especially useful in investigating, exploring and making sense of all the data different kinds of data and data sources that are made available. These users are very often the citizens on the ground who are a key source of citizen-generated data that is a great avenue for holding a transparent government accountable.

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