Kenya Open Data two years later
Now two years old, the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) has set a high standard for Open Data in Africa. The platform – the first of its kind in a developing country – has encouraged government transparency within Kenya and beyond. Software developers, NGOs, and other members of civil society have submitted hundreds of requests for new datasets to KODI, reflecting the public desire for even more information. Over 500 datasets now are available to the world.
The portal makes a large amount of public government data accessible to the people of Kenya. But just how useful is the data?
The program certainly has its challenges. Many changes were made to data in 2012, but 2013 seems to have been quieter. We find that only eight datasets have been added in the first six months of 2013. Similarly, only a handful of previous datasets have been updated in the same period.
The most popular dataset, Poverty Rate by District, has only 24,500 views in two years. The next most accessed, County Urbanization: Nairobi has 14,500 views in two years. These are not the biggest numbers given Kenya’s population is well over 40 million with well over 15 million internet users. Old data will not attract users. Still, the interest shown by Kenyans in the first year of KODI is impressive.
Greg Brown of OpeningParliament.org recently examined Opendata.go.ke as a “prime example of an emerging democracy making a concerted effort to open up government data.” He cites challenges but argues how numbers shouldn’t be used to gauge the usefulness of the project.
First, he acknowledges that there are downfalls of the program, but they aren’t necessarily unique to Kenya.
- Awareness is low. Limited internet penetration (especially outside of urban areas) prevents many from ever having the option to visit the site.
- Outdated data turns people away (who wants 2010 data if 2012 data is available behind the scenes).
- Many government departments are hesitant to disclose certain information with the public.
The value that cannot be quantified is how Kenya has become a regional – and international – example of how a developing nation can push for greater transparency. Additional success points in the case of Kenya Open Data include:
- how Tunisia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda have looked to Kenya for guidance in launching open government data portals.
- that “political will matters” – official support is crucial
- how citizens must see the value of open data to push leaders to implement
- how Kenya’s leadership within civil society led to KODI’s success
- developing countries may find useful to develop open data platforms since no overhaul is needed for outdated systems
The Ministry of Information and Communications did a thorough job training key stakeholders like journalists and software developers to access and interpret the data. Visualizations of data, often shown as a map overlay, are easy to understand. Although some critics denounce the lack of information to fight corruption (ie. officials’ wealth declarations have yet to be released), the net result of open data, KODI included, is undeniably positive in the long term.
As José M. Alonso of World Wide Web Foundation puts it, you need to put transparency and accountability at the core of open data to create meaningful change. Kenyan Open Data can do just that if its managers don’t become complacent as a continental leader.