Data Revolution: testing ideas at the national level in Kenya

The Data Revolution is moving, and moving at speed. As the global development data community looks to harnesses momentum built at the Cartagena Data Festival, the African continent is embarking on developing a roadmap after the adoption of the Africa Data Consensus (ADC).

The ADC has been warmly received by commentators, as setting out an “incredibly clear, concise, and politically viable summary of the purpose and needs of an (African) Data Revolution”. It is envisaged the roadmap will help drive its implementation, but regional efforts will need to be supported with concrete actions and political will at a country level. A working session to draft the roadmap is being convened by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), from 11 to 13 May 2015, hosted by the Tony Elumelu Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria.

Testing a data revolution model

In Kenya, Development Initiatives (DI) and Hivos East Africa are engaging a core group of actors on the next practical steps of testing a data revolution model. The core actors are organisations already working at national and sub-national levels (with existing resources to do so) on issues of access to and use of data and information, transparency, accountability, budget advocacy and resources effectiveness. A meeting was held at DI’s Africa Hub office in Nairobi on 22 April to explore how the comparative advantages of these multiple stakeholders (private sector, media, civil society organisations (CSOs), government and techies, etc) could be leveraged to “domesticate, develop and test a local data revolution model” at the national level and, more importantly, the granular sub-national (county) level in Kenya. The meeting discussed and agreed concrete ideas for county-level work on the Data Revolution.

Mobilising stakeholders to achieve common goals

There was consensus that the Data Revolution can now be used to mobilise multiple stakeholders towards achieving common goals. There are, however, huge data (and other) gaps that need to be addressed to achieve success. One of the key challenges in this context is that organisations have been working in silos; there is a need to understand what has been achieved so far, and get them to work together in an ecosystem that pools resources, harnesses expertise, and collectively tests and implements ideas. This could either be vertically focusing on different levels (regional, national, sub-national and community) or horizontally across sectors (e.g. health, education and agriculture). It was recognised that the multiplicity of initiatives sometimes presents conflicting positions on similar issues to decision makers and citizens, ultimately creating confusion. A framework is needed that allows different players to complement each other, not compete, therefore introducing consistency.

Involving citizens

Given the centrality of citizens in this conversation, they need to be actively involved – empowered by data and information constantly generated from various institutions and programmes. It was clear that strong government ownership both at the national and county levels was paramount. Links need to be established with national level institutions such as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to ensure efforts are not disjointed. It was clear that to achieve and sustain the Data Revolution, policies and legal frameworks both at the national and county level would have to change.

Currently in Kenya counties present a more realistic entry point for testing a model for the Data Revolution, since they are fairly new and open to ideas. Political will is high in some of them and many of the institutional structures are still being established. Citizens also feel a lot closer to decision making institutions, and many organisations are already working at this level on data-related issues. However, the fears and concerns being expressed at the global and regional level are also felt here. The Data Revolution means different things to different people, and questions are being raised about how it will translate to tangible results in the lives of ordinary people – especially those far away from the conversations. Do they really need to know about it or feel its results and impacts? The key is not to focus on the Data Revolution as a concept but on how it transforms decision making in institutions, improves the way things are done to achieve sustainable results, and empowers citizens to have a say in decisions that impact their lives.

Participant concerns

We asked those in the meeting what they were most worried about with regard to the Data Revolution. The responses were interesting, as can be seen below:

  1. Development and proliferation of bespoke tools, portals and apps that fall short of achieving any meaningful impact in ordinary people’s lives.
  2. “Spray and pray” – where all the data is collected/generated and disseminated, but it does not change or influence decision making.
  3. Lack of government buy-in, political goodwill and commitment – bureaucracy and initial resistance from some of the key players could sabotage the process.
  4. Replicating what has already been done, therefore closing out other good ideas/key stakeholders; in particular the Data Revolution becoming a CSO-exclusive activity.
  5. Lack of capacity for media to effectively tell stories.
  6. Challenges of ownership, reliability and being afraid to take chances; but also fear to re-work the models/processes if they are not working as earlier anticipated.

At the county level there is need to focus on simple processes that influence public life, and allow all players to effectively participate. A bold national vision and set of principles on the Data Revolution would be useful in mobilising stakeholders at all levels. The Financing for Development conference in July also provides an opportunity for national governments to make pronouncements committing to the vision and principles of the ADC and the resultant ADC Road Map. This requires clear engagement strategies by CSOs and other stakeholders.

Core issues to prioritise

To take the conversation forward, a team was nominated to consolidate ideas from the meeting and draft a guiding note. The team met on Friday 24 April and agreed that in line with the ADC the following core issues should be prioritised in testing a data revolution model at the sub-national level in Kenya:

  1. Social, economic and structural transformation that works for citizens. This would be achieved by establishing an inclusive framework that collects, processes and facilitates the dissemination and use of accessible, accurate, credible, timely, user-driven evidence/data/information that is disaggregated to the lowest levels of administration for decision making. Existing national and sub-national strategies for the collection, processing and use of data will have to be revised and expanded to include all forms of data. Core pillars of planning, decision making, resource allocation, project implementation, monitoring and reporting will have to be established, including how citizens and other key stakeholders plug in and effectively participate to influence key decisions.
  2. Political will in the prioritisation, financing and leadership of the Data Revolution. County governments acknowledge the centrality of data in decision making, planning and resource allocation, and commit to the vision and principles of the ADC.
  3. Creation of a well-coordinated and grounded data ecosystem at the county level. A data ecosystem is needed at this sub-national level to tackle the informational aspects of development decision making in a coordinated way. The county governments must play a pro-active role in engaging this community, and other stakeholders should prioritise partnership with government. This will involve government, private sector, academia, civil society, local communities, development partners, and all other players working at different levels.

We are now designing the inclusive framework for further consultations and testing at the sub-national level, while formulating the vision and set of principles for both national and county governments. In the coming days meetings are planned with key national and selected counties to present the draft framework and obtain feedback and buy-in, after which the key pronouncements, engagement strategies, and the core elements for coordinating the ecosystem will be drafted and implemented.


For more information contact Davis Adieno at the DI Africa Hub.

Davis Adieno, Capacity Development Manager

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