WB thumbs up Kenya’s open data move

February 21, 2012
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Information and Communication PS Bitange Ndemo in a past forum/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 20 – World Bank Group Managing Director Caroline Anstey has lauded the government for opening up access to State information through the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI).

She said the initiative that was launched by President Mwai Kibaki in July last year grants citizens access to information which ultimately spreads knowledge, creating transparency and accountability.

“Opening up data is never easy and it can be frightening to many people,” she said. “It’s essentially saying that you’re letting go a little bit of your control, you’re changing the balance of power and you’re beginning to recognize that others have the right to know,” Anstey said.

Speaking on a panel that included Information Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo, ICT Board CEO Paul Kukubo, Research Lead and Manager at iHub Jessica Colaco and founder of iLabAfrica Dr. Joseph Sevilla, Anstey said the movement towards open data takes a leap of faith.

“I think the world has come to realise that we need to democratise development and we need to bring people in to find development solutions,” she said.

“At the World Bank we went through many issues opening up our information to the public, but over the years we’ve come to realise that for development to be successful it has to be owned by the population, and it can’t be imposed by fear,” she added.

Kenya is the first country to have an open government data portal (www.opendata.go.ke) in sub-Saharan Africa and the second on the continent after Morocco.

“The beauty of data is once you enable it to be available it can be used in all different forms and you will begin to find solutions to problems that governments or banks can’t provide, but maybe the public can help solve,” she said.

The KODI seeks to foster an innovation eco-system around Government data and is giving developers a chance to interact with the data and create interesting mash up and innovative applications.

The country has partnered with the World Bank, Google, and Ushahidi (a tech company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualisation and interactive mapping) and has made hundreds of data sets – including budgets and expenditures, health care and education data – that are downloadable on computers or mobile phones.
Ndemo said that Kenya is leading the continent in opening up its data to citizens, as last week it became one of only six African countries to commit to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global initiative to make governments more transparent, effective and accountable.

The initiative has been applauded globally as one of the most significant steps Kenya has taken to improve governance and implement the new Constitution’s provisions on access to information, but Ndema said that many people are not using the available data to their advantage.

“We must begin to create awareness about what this data can do for us and we must work with media so that they begin to provide sufficient analysis in their reporting,” he said.

Despite its lack of publicity, KODI has spawned initiatives by social entrepreneurs who are using the data in new ways, and developers who are designing useful apps.

One example is EduWeb (www.eduweb.co.ke), a portal using data from the Ministry of Education that parents can access when choosing schools for their kids.

Sevilla said that if we want to have a better understanding of government we need to use the data that we’re being provided with so we can see development.

“The rate of discovery is accelerated by better access and use of data,” he said.

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