Is Open Data Making an Impact?

By Leo Mutuku
  Published 27 Jul 2012
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Increasing the Consumption of Open Data in Kenya - The Open Data Pre-Incubator Experiment Download the Infographic Here. In this article here, I outline briefly, the current state of Open Data in Kenya. It emerges that the open data has not had as much impact as we would like it to. There have been a number of concerted efforts to increase the consumption of open data as this has been really wanting in the past year. Being novel, there is quite some hype about open data platform but we would like to see greater impact as a result of releasing the open data in the areas of development, transparency, accountability and service delivery. To this end, a consortium consisting of AMI, the Open Institute, @iLab Africa, iHub Research, the World Bank and the Kenya ICT Board, has come together to conduct an experiment over a period of 6 months, The Kenya Open Data Pre-Incubator.
The aim of this experiment is to test out a model that aids in accelerating the ability for the public to make sense and consume open data as well as to galvanize the public’s engagement around critical issues affecting them. Should the model prove successful, it will be put to use in a broader two-year incubator effort, endorsed and supported by the highest levels of government and the technological community. What is the big idea behind this pre-incubator? We attempt to demystify this experiment in previous posts here and here. Picking an excerpt from Part I of this article, Looking at the open data ecosystem then, the largest percentage of the population, those we call, in huge quotation marks, “the uneducated citizens”, has barely interacted with the platform. These are people who are not experts in reading data and deriving knowledge from data. We need then, the ‘educated citizens’ and the ‘developers’, to step in and team up to effectively manipulate this data into useful information that generates knowledge for the masses. That, I believe, is the only way we can promote transparency, accountability, citizen engagement and proper service delivery from our government using open data. This is the motivation of the Open Data pre-incubator. Essentially, in the Open Data Pre-Incubation, four media and civil society organizations will build an application or service or platform using open data as a base, around key thematic issues: water, education, health and cross cutting issues at the counties level. These host organizations from media and civil society will have highly qualified Open Data fellows and developers (referred to as Code 4 Kenya) embedded in them throughout the duration of the experiment. Together they (hosts and fellows) will conduct a close consultation process with issue expert working groups who will provide insight into specific use cases and technical insight into available open data resources. Using a Design Thinking approach, the fellows will then amalgamate these insights together with extensive end-user research, that they are expected to carry out, and their technical expertise to create applications that will try and solve the issues raised. Specifically, these applications, services or platforms should be used at scale across Kenyan society and drastically increases the use of open data.
iHub Research bears the great responsibility of training and mentoring in these design thinking approaches as well as documenting the entire process of the experiment; delivering use cases; carry out a critical analysis of the process; and making recommendations that can be used for actionable planning. Based on this, iHub Research will be able to create a toolkit and draw out a more accurate action plan and model to be used when the actual incubator comes into force. Key actors to note then, beyond the consortium, are:
  • Thematic Expert Working Groups: composed of government, donor and other issue experts will provide context and support to host organizations and fellows throughout the pre-incubation process, particularly around existing data, data needs and particular needs related to innovation in monitoring and public service delivery.
  • Host Organizations: drawn from media and civil society through a competitive bidding process, will commit to house Fellows for a six month period and, with input from thematic working groups, will select application, service or platform projects that will be sustained and scaled.
  • Open Data Fellows and developers: individuals who understand thematic issue areas, as well as having a specific technical vision and skills, will explicitly support builds for civil society and media teams, and directly provide technical advice to support issue expert teams.
So far, the host organizations, the fellows and developers have been chosen and we shall be announcing these officially in a press release. Recently, a two-day sensitization workshop was held at Strathmore University, the Open Data for Development Camp as part of the Open Data pre-incubator experiment. iHub Research will be providing weekly updates, overviews, experiences and lessons learnt as experiment progresses over the next six months.
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