Tracing the evolution of open data in Kenya

In 2013, Development Initiatives-Africa Hub, Open Institute and Development Research, and Training, Uganda carried out a study tracing the evolution of the open data movement in Kenya and Uganda. It aimed at assessing the role that this movement plays in accountability and the equitable allocation of financial resources for the eradication poverty. The study was carried out as part of the Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) initiative, which seeks to explore the emerging impacts of open data in developing countries. It is centred on a number of case studies across the world.

As covered in our blog last week, the study findings were launched in Uganda on Thursday 5th June, assembling diverse stakeholders from government, CSO, tech community and media. Details of the dissemination can be found here. A similar launch takes place on Thursday 19th June 2014 at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, to disseminate the findings in Kenya and share highlights of the key findings in Uganda. The meeting will also provide a forum for stakeholders in Kenya to share ideas on how open data could better impact on resource allocation and poverty eradication.

Central to the research methodology was the open development ecosystem which avers that in order for open data to yield effective outcomes for citizens it will on one hand necessarily be interlinked with key nodes in the data-information-analysis-policy value chain, and on the other that it will be conceptualised as part of a complex web of interactions between data availability; data access; narratives; policy messages; communication; programme design and policy impact. The report provides insights on the successes and challenges of four key drivers of this ecosystem namely; legislative, political, technical and capacity, lastly, demand and supply drivers.

Key findings from the report for Kenya in this regard were;

  • Legislative

It was noted that the presence of a legal framework was a key cog in the open data ecosystem, facilitating provision of data and information to the public.

The report also notes that article 35 of the Kenyan Constitution empowers the people with the right to access information from government. This provision facilitated the setting up of the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) in 2011. However, four years down the line, the Freedom of Information law is yet to be passed in Kenya to fully implement article 35.

  • Political Drivers

Without a legal framework in place, it was found that efforts to setup KODI were largely attributed to an open data “champion” in government, who intensely lobbied for support from the executive to birth the initiative.

  • Technical and capacity driver

The ICT board played a crucial role in the setting up and implementation of KODI, providing the necessary technical support in collecting and organising data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), to outputting this in open standard format. The board also played a significant role in marshalling the tech community in Kenya to support the initiative.

The report further notes that in Kenya, there exists a vibrant and active techie community as well as sufficient technology infrastructure to support an open data ecosystem. That said, the existence of a digital divide between rural and urban populations is affecting access to and use of open data, citing that rural communities found it challenging to work with open data. There was a noted lack of financial capacity to fully support opening up of all public data due to the need to digitise bulky hardcopy records and providing the technical support to avail the data to the public.

  • Demand and supply drivers

The report reviews the initial challenges faced by KODI in data collection, noting heavily the hindrances caused by negative attitude towards opening up data by line ministries that limited projects such as Code4Kenya. That said, even when data was made available, concerns were raised about the quality, relevance and timeliness of the data available. Additionally, the good technological infrastructure has not translated to increased capacity to use data. This was observed for majority infomediaries, restricting their ability to access, use and disseminate quality information from open data.

Key recommendations from the report include;

  • Enhanced collaborations and partnerships between stakeholders within the open data ecosystem
  • Enhanced support  for civic education on open data, its availability and use
  • Providing resources to support and sustain open data initiatives
  • Enforcing data standards and quality; and lastly
  • While noted it did not hinder the setup of KODI, the enactment of an access to information law is needed to provide a policy framework for data provision and use, and safeguard the initiative.

On the impact of open data on resource allocation, the studies found no direct link between open data and resource allocation. This however was attributed to the fact that open data is a relatively new concept in Kenya, but the potential exists for this to happen.