Africacounts round table comes to Kampala

By Ashnah Kalemera, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

The views and opinions of guest bloggers do not necessarily represent the views of Development Initiatives.

Involving citizens in the decision making process

Africa-counts4Open data for improved resource allocation and effective service delivery in Uganda was the theme of the latest Africacounts round table held in Kampala on 13 March 2013. Organised by Development Initiatives (DI) and Development Research and Training (DRT), it was the fourth in a series of forums aimed at increasing opportunities for cross-country, cross-sector and multi-stakeholder meetings that involve citizens in the decision making process on development issues across East Africa.

The forum explored avenues through which open data can be leveraged to influence resource allocation, considering potential challenges to the operations of an open development platform in Uganda and possible solutions. Furthermore, it argued the case for the inclusion of open data as a stand-alone goal in the post-Millennium Development Goals agenda.

Access to public information remains limited

DRT’s Paul Onapa commended the government of Uganda for having in place constitutional guarantees to the right to information, as well the Access to Information Act of 2005.

However, he said despite having a robust legal framework, access to public information remain limited. “Public data and information management schemes are still largely paper based and largely aggregated. In addition, this information is scattered in various government departments and only available to a few with adequate contacts.”

He added that open data, with its foundation modelled on digital technology and the internet offers an opportunity to create a one-stop platform where citizens can access, download, and analyse information on matters that affect them, particularly basic services and issues of value for money. With this knowledge citizens can then meaningfully participate in improving public services.

His remarks were supported by Al Kags of the Open Institute, who stated that “a switched on participating citizenry” is key to the success of open data as a mechanism for transparency and accountability. The Open Institute has been involved in open government initiatives in Kenya, such as Code4Kenya and

Enhancing initiatives: how citizens can join in

Panellists Professor Abel Rwendeire of the National Planning Authority, and Margaret Kakande from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, acknowledged the potential of open data to ensure effective resource allocation and service delivery. However, Kakande pointed to a number of challenges being faced by government bodies in embracing open data, such as a lack of legal frameworks on data disclosures.

Edward Ssenyange of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and CIPESA’s Lillian Nalwoga highlighted the ways in which citizens participate in open data initiatives could be enhanced:

  • placing emphasis on capacity building in the use of ICTs
  • robust multi-stakeholder engagement (particularly with mainstream media)
  • advocating for key government institutions’ commitment to openness, authenticity and relevance of data.

Usable and accessible data

A civil society led Open Data platform has been created by the Uganda Open Development Partnership (see also Data.Ug). A key objective is to share development information on financial flows and all resource flows to Uganda, including agriculture, education, health, and roads sub-sectors. Making the information accessible and usable by various stakeholders including citizens, government officials, donors, civil society, media and private sector is another objective. CIPESA and DRT are among the founders of the Uganda Open Development Partnership.

Previous Africa Counts round table forums include The state of social protection in East Africa (October 2012, Nairobi, Kenya) and Progress in the Kenya Open Data Initiative (November 2012, Nairobi Kenya).

Outcomes of the Kampala forum will be used to develop targeted messages to inform policy and to stimulate public demand for openness in the conduct of data and information sharing in Uganda.