Almost There | An Insight Into Kenyan Open Data Apps

By Rhoda Omenya
  Published 17 Jul 2012
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The image above can be used to illustrate the evolution of Open Data and Open Data applications in Kenya as explained in the various scenarios below: I won’t do it When a government releases data, citizens are able to monitor the progress of different government undertakings while at the same time applying various tools for verification as well as give feedback on the same to their governments. In doing so, issues are solved for the improvement of their (citizens’) welfare and thus promote better governance. Despite this and other benefits of open data many entities e.g. governments, academia institutions, etc; have refused to release their data. I can’t do it The entities that refuse to release their data give reasons such as: acquiring that data took resources (time, labour, expertise, money) and therefore releasing it will result in losses. Others still say that they do not see a point in releasing the data and yet it is not being fully utilized by anyone. There are many other reasons and situations though, that do not render releasing data in an open format as possible. I want to do it Well, the Kenyan government certainly resolved that they would be counted among those bold enough to release their data in a bid to improve their operational systems, launching the Kenya Open Data Portal. Just a few days ago, Kenya Open Data turned one and this was celebrated at the Open Data for Development Camp that was carried out at Strathmore University. Interest in the manipulation and application of Open Data has increased exponentially with many developers mulling over the site to see how best to use the data to develop applications. How do I do it?
TheKenyaOpenData portal’s open data can be mashed up into new and interesting ways. Visualizations of this data make it easy to recognize patterns; it can be collaboratively shared with other users and  through crowdsourcing, a diverse range of skills and inputs from different people can be applied, fostering greater innovation. Further, the engagement of researchers and other data scientists and experts encourages deep-dives into the portal unearthing interesting analyses of current situations and promoting evidence-based demand for better services. I’ll try to do it Developers have created applications from the open data such as Sekoo, Primo and Hosii (Android applications for locating primary, secondary and hospitals around the location of the user). Eduweb has gone one up on Sekoo and Primo by creating a listing of all education institutions from pre-primary, primary, secondary to post-secondary. There are also several maps that have used the geo-coded datasets to show the locations of the schools and searches by county, or the education system type i.e. 844 or GCE. I can do it There are citizens who have taken this further, and have curated and embedded the data into their websites.
For example, KisiiOnline, is a one stop comprehensive and informative site about Kisii that incorporates a wide array of categories of datasets, some from the open data portal, that include but are not limited to: Agriculture, Brief History, Bulk Special Soapstone Carvings Package, Events, Healthcare, Hotels and Restaurants, Music, etc. This has proved to be a great marketing tool for the town and thus, using their own tagline, ‘connects Kisii to the world’. Another creative, crowd sourcing application is Ufahamu that provides citizens with a platform to report disasters such as floods, terrorism. As the disasters are being mapped out, the reporting is in real time for purposes of triggering faster response from relevant authorities. VirtualKenya, on the other hand, provides a number of interactive tools and learning resources for exploring high quality spatial data and cutting-edge data mapping technology. Users both inside and outside of Kenya are able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products. The Kenya Open Data portal itself has grown over time. At the launch, the site had 200+ datasets, as of April 2012; there were 430+ datasets with 176,000 page views. Additionally, a few outreach programs have been done to train journalists and developers on use of open data. I will do it Applications that have shown the WILL in them are CountyScorecard, Mzalendo and BudgetExplorer. County Scorecard is a mash up of open data datasets with information of counties, CDF projects, and a tool for tracking the MPs. A project focussed application is Msemakweli which enables citizens to keep track of and comment on the projects being carried out in their counties. Mzalendo is similar to County Scorecard but also provides information on elections, the constitution and several resources on democracy. Budget Explorer is an outstanding visualization of the government expenditure. What is more amazing about it is that the same data can be displayed in Kiswahili! Yes I did it! From the pictorial representation, it is clear that the government has taken us miles in releasing the data. However, we also have to do our part in maximizing the potential of open data and that is why we still have our own miles to achieve in the sense that:
  • The datasets in the open data portal have barely been used. There are so many more categories for developers to explore and use
  • For the applications that have already been built, developers have to find a way of increasing their scalability such that many more Kenyans are aware and use them
  • The government too has a responsibility of regularly updating the open data portal
Then we can proudly say, Yes We Did It!!! Image Credit
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