Mark Warburton (Kenya) - Open Data and the Push for Innovation (Part 1)

In the first post in this two part series, Mark Warburton begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting looks at how there is a new push for open data in Kenya. See how Kenyan data is becoming more accessible thanks to this.

The first hurdle any developing country must confront when utilizing technology to improve people’s lives is the limitations of the established technology in the region. Forward thinking startups and technologists can be left frustrated; with plenty of ideas, certainly, but without the means to realize innovative ends.

However, all is not lost. In Africa, Kenya has established the first government approved open data initiative on the ‘dark continent’. The Kenyan open data initiative (KODI) launched in July 2011, supported by the government, corporate interests and representatives from an emergent DIY technologist culture. The KODI website established the central reasons for its launch:

1) It will generate economic and social value through data efficiency, reducing paper bureaucracy and improving interaction between government and citizenship. 

2) Data can improve decision-making amongst parliamentarians, civil society and individuals.

3) It contributes to improving transparency and accountability: the data includes detailed, timely information on the operations of government.

The KODI is particularly timely regarding the third point, as endemic corruption has been prevalent in the country. (Kenya was ranked 154 out 178 countries in the 2010 Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index).

The online data gives a user the ability to view government stats at national, county and constituency levels. There has also been a degree of interactivity added to data sets; with the ability to create maps and other visualizations from the existing data. The data itself is comprehensive. Covering all major aspects of life: education, energy, health, population, poverty, water and sanitation. Data from the national census has also been pooled.

The public were quick to make the most of the information available to them. In the first week of the launch, data sets were combined with existing technologies, producing some interesting results. This included a SMS query tool - by sending an SMS with the name of the person’s county or constituency, the user would receive demographics and the MP of that location. On a more political level, the Virtual Kenya team built an app that showed which MPs refuse to pay taxes.

It was already apparent that KODI provided Kenyans with the means to educate themselves, participate in innovation, and question political decisions. It is innovation that has been especially encouraged in light of the launch. The Kenya ICT Board encouraged new users to brainstorm ideas on data sets by offering awards; as many as 30 grants this year have or will be handed out to groups and individuals who provide the most useful manipulations of the data.

By Mark Warburton. Come back for part 2, which will be published on 3 November.