What if... | How The Kenyan Government Should be Using Open Data

By Rhoda Omenya
  Published 12 Aug 2012
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There are 19 categories under which the Kenyan Government has made data open. This data seems exhaustive in itself, even somewhat overwhelming when you go to the portal to view their datasets. However, there is still so much more ‘openness of data’ that can be achieved. . .
The KenyaOpenDataportal: Categories of DatasetsEnvironmentAndNaturalResources, NationalAccountsAndInflation, Agriculture, Counties, Education, Employment, Energy, FinancialSector, HealthSector, Justice, LandandClimate, Manufacturingandindustry, Migration, Population, Poverty, PublicFinance, Tourism, TransportandCommunication and WaterandSanitation.
As in the following examples below:
‘Bribes’, ‘fake charges’, ‘brutality’, ‘murder’, ‘prison’, ‘remand’ . . . are some of the not  so positive thoughts that come to mind when you think of the police, well, the Kenyan ones atleast. These are people  who have been vilified since the colonial days for colluding with the slave masters,  to date where they are known for their ‘less than humane’ acts. The flip side is that they hold the potential of changing how Kenyans perceive them. By releasing their data, they could help in protecting citizens and reducing their considerable monumental work load. Credit is due to the police for publishing crime statistics. The current AnnualCrimeReportfor 2011 is a document on crimes by severity, nature (e.g. cattle rustling, grenade attacks, etc), and comparatively by province, month, etc. If this data was released on the Kenya Open Data portal in a format that allows interaction, it creates the possibility of applications that citizens can download and track crime in their neighbourhoods and track the progress of the police in reducing crime rates. This is just one way of using the police data. Endless possibilities lie therein to working the data into innovative platforms of interaction with the citizens and their protection. Then they could valiantly say . . .utumishi kwa wote (service to all) Tourism The Kenya Open Data portal has ONE dataset of tourism, VisitorsToMuseumsSnakeParkAndSites 1998-2009. For a nation that touts tourism as a major revenue collector and Kenya as a celebrated tourist destination, we have clearly missed the point by a long shot - why isn't this being maximized through Open Data? The MinistryofTourism’s site has information on parksandreserves, hotels, lodgesandresorts, and Kenyaswildlife. These are vital to both foreign and domestic tourists. Releasing this data on the Open Data portal could potentially hold the key to solving the lack of domestic tourism, the Achilles Heel of Kenyan tourism. Kenyans do not visit these sites because they do not know they exist. But with platforms where they can easily access these and other recreational facilities that could be added to the above categories - depending on their budget, location and other variants- reaping more benefits in the tourism sector is more than assured. Transport Most citizens use public transport - and the experience is frustrating. Thematatudrivers eitherdrop you too far or too early from your actual destination. Thebehaviorof the drivers and their touts is callous, and attempts at restoring some order in the public transport industry (though there have been some quick wins) remains a challenge for authorities. Again, Open Data could be the key to helping authorities reign in this industry. The transport companies, such as Double M, Citi Hoppa, and associations like Matatu Owners Assocation should be at the forefront of improving their services. They should be mandated to release the data on their vehicles, details on the drivers and conductors. Registration of staff acts as an internal regulator to abhorrent behaviour. Mashup applications could be created such as avenues for complaining about vehicles flouting the rules, feedback applications on vehicle status in terms of registration, involvement in accidents, etc. In the long term, this loop system will eventually streamline the industry to ensure that qualified staff are hired who carry out their duties to citizens with dignity. Additionally there could be applications giving real time train schedules that citizens could use to avoid the stampedes that happen at 5pm on Railways. Land Mankind needs two commodities to survive, air and land. Land is one commodity that has Kenyans in some ‘euphoria’ of sorts. Everyone wants to own land, build on land, sell land, talk about land . . . Unfortunately all the hype about land is shrouded in bad publicity. The infamous Syokimau demolitions, Sinai fires all have their root cause in land. Either people were allocated fake title deeds or have been allowed to settle in dangerous hazardous locations. Fast forward to the Open Data portal. How many datasets are there on land? NONE! Enough said. . . A Driver of Transparency and Accountability Open Data as the driver of transparency and accountability could be used to promote the same in the land sector. The LandsMinistry should release their data on the Open Data portal for purposes of applications being built that will help citizens ascertain facts about the land they want to buy or sell. These applications can also apply to property on land such that house hunters are able to access vacant homes for rent or sale without having to use conniving middlemen. If the above seems monumental, start small. Imagine a Central Business District where you could send a text and you receive a reply on the parking lots that have spaces, the locations and the costs; imagine a county where you could click an application and get the real time information on the restaurants, gyms, events, that are happening in your neighbourhood. Open Data has the ripple effect of creating awareness of what citizens have or should have which then causes clamour for efficient service delivery, increasing dialogue between citizens and service providers that leads to transparency both in government and the private sector. Our task as citizens is two fold: to create the demand for the data that is missing and secondly to USE it to get Kenya from the mirage that is Vision 2030 to reality.May our appetites for data be whetted, our thoughts intrigued and let’s get the cogs moving for if we can imagine it, we can actualize it.
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