This past week I had the privilege of attending and participating in the International Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government (CeDEM14), at the Danube University Krems in Austria. This year’s conference brought together 133 participants from 33 countries to discuss issues related to e-democracy, e-participation and open government. I presented on the Kenya’s open data journey, looking back at the movement from the launch of the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI)’s open data platform in 2011. The initiative had a promising start, but stumbled on itself and nearly lingered into obscurity, facing challenges from every step of releasing data – from releasing through to ensuring continued use of the data. Some of the biggest challenges it faced were:

  1. ‘Data hugging’ syndrome
    On the supply side of the open data spectrum, getting data released from publishers is almost like pulling teeth. In the absence of clear policy, the initiative was starved of its critical supply of data by the culture of data hugging.
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  3. Lack of demand and interest
    While new activity was triggered from the catalytic effect of the government rolling out open data portals in other departments such as the Ministry of Health, it didn’t take long for domestic disillusion to be realised. The primary audience targeted by the initiative (particularly journalists and software developers) did not consume the data in the way that was originally anticipated, and most felt that high value data remained elusive.

    “A year after the launch, both Ndemo and Kukubo noted that software developers, the media and the public had not used the open data portal as widely as they had anticipated. The ICT board reported that as of June 2012, it had no data on commitments from civil society groups or even government ministries to use data from the site.” – (Rushda Majeed, 2012)

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  5. Political will and champions in government
    Nearly three years since its launch, KODI has been noticeably inert, especially since the exit of its most prominent champion, Bitange Ndemo. Prior to his departure, Dr Ndemo was able to mount pressure on his counterparts in other ministries as well as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) to obtain additional data for the initiative.
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  7. Lack of capacity and the digital divide
    Access to technology and infrastructure play a significant role that could, under the right conditions, either hazard or enhance the open data experience. The National ICT Master Plan 2017 aims to drive Kenya forward and lay claim as the African leader in ICT, with a heavy push towards closing the digital divide and giving Kenyans access to the information they need by further developing ICT policies, infrastructure and initiatives.
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  9. Low awareness
    The ICT board had an active communications office through which information about the platform and the initiative was disseminated, and carried out activities aimed to grow awareness of the portal within different parts of the ecosystem (academia, technology, media, etc) and engage with communities. Despite this engagement, however, as the recent iHub study found, few people were aware of the initiative – and the few that were, do not use it. Those within government, too, were found to be oblivious of the initiative, which would also explain, in part, the resistance to which they had in publishing data to the portal.
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  11. Open data ‘siloed’ as a technology conversation
    Open data is much more than building an open data portal, releasing data and building apps. In pursuit of a more transparent, accountable and effective government, the conversations that surround open data go beyond just the technology itself. By fostering inclusion by bringing in together stakeholders and formulating solid legal, policy and institutional frameworks will prove to be the way forward in strengthening the open data movement.

 

You can also view the presentation on our Slideshare: www.slideshare.net/Open_Institute/kenyas-open-data-journey-cedem14

 
 
Despite the slow start, there are signs that the open data movement is set to gain back some much needed ground. The most notable effort being the ICT Authority’s invitation for firms to apply to consult on the Kenya Open Data Initiative late last year. The awarded firm will provide the following services towards the initiative:

      design programs to support outreach to citizens;
      generate demand-driven engagement and partnerships; and
      promote co-creation as a tool to create new products and services

The firm will also be responsible for coordinating the open data Task Force, as well as the open data fellows program. Outside of government, events such as the Open Data Breakfast and the Open Data Day Hackathon are promising efforts contributing towards strengthening demand, engagement and awareness of the initiative. And, since writing the paper early this year, at least two projects related to open data in Kenya were launched, namely Open Duka and KCPE Trends – both of which were released by our team here at Open Institute. Even the government’s eProMIS portal showed a lot of promise (pun intended), opening up its portal for the public to access for the first time in March of this year.

Attending CeDEM14 has been one of my favourite experiences, the highlight of which, without a doubt, was the crowd. The conference was in high supply of some of the friendliest, interesting and intelligent people I’ve had the delight of meeting and hope to meet again soon. The CeDEM conference series continues, with Hong Kong hosting the next event in December and it’s back to Austria for CeDEM15. Call for papers are open for both, with more information available here.