Kenya’s Open Data Initiative: Behind the Scenes | World Bank Institute (WBI)

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Kenyan Government just launched their Open Data Portal, which houses over 150 datasets including a full digital edition of the 2009 census, seven years of detailed government expenditure data and the 2005 household income survey
  • With this launch, Kenya joins the Open Government Partnership—a new global movement to be formally launched by the governments of the United States and Brazil in September 2011,
  • The World Bank Institute along with other parts of the World Bank is supporting this effort to make Kenya’s government data freely available to its citizens. 

 

August 1, 2011 — Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications for Kenya Dr. Bitange Ndemo spoke about the Kenyan government’s launch of their Open Data Portal at the World Bank On July 13th. This initiative, several years in the making is the first of its kind in Africa. Joined by Shaida Badiee, Development Data Group Director at the World Bank, and Aleem Walji, Innovation Practice Manager at the World Bank Institute (WBI), Ndemo reflected on the process, challenges and potential of the Open Data Portal and his country’s renewed push towards transparency and social accountability.

President Kibaki launched the portal on July 8th to nearly 3,000 attendees in Nairobi. This website houses more than 150 datasets including a full digital edition of the 2009 census, seven years of detailed government expenditure data and the 2005 household income survey.  It will provide unlimited data access on the web and through mobile phones to researchers, web and software developers, journalists, students, civil society and the general public. An estimated 11.5 million Kenyans, over 28 percent of the population, use the Internet while 25 million, or over 80 percent of the adult population, use mobile phones.

Putting a Plan Into Motion

“You never have more than 20 minutes to speak to the President, but our initial 20-minute meeting about the power and potential of opening government data lasted 4 hours,” explained Ndemo. “The President then said if it’s going to create employment, let’s move ahead”.

As the driving force behind the initiative, Dr. Ndemo and his colleagues worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure support from different Ministries as well as in identifying, curating and publishing the data. Demand for government data reached Dr. Ndemo from members of Kenya's vibrant technology community and civil society, calling for a more transparent and accountable elected office. In line with Kenya’s new constitution, the portal is an effort that underlines President Kibaki’s commitment to facilitating the free flow and access to information. Indeed, a Freedom of Information bill is also in the pipeline, as a strong legislative framework is necessary to ensure continued access and up-to-date information.

The data housed on the Open Government Portal is drawn from several sources, including the Ministries of Finance, Planning, Health and Education, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, and the World Bank. WBI along with other parts of the World Bank is supporting this effort to make Kenya’s government data freely available to its citizens.

Joining Global Open Data Trendsetters

With the launch of its Open Data Portal, Kenya joins the Open Government Partnership—a new global movement to be formally launched by the governments of the United States and Brazil in September 2011, when the eight founding OGP governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) will gather in New York to embrace an Open Government Declaration, announce their country action plans to promote open government principles, and welcome the commitment of additional countries to join the Partnership.
 

open-quotesInformation is power and we are aiming to empower citizens by enhancing their access to usable data that was not easily accessible to the public.close-quotes Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications for Kenya Dr. Bitange Ndemo

Public engagement in Kenya has already proved impressive, as there have been over 50 public requests for new datasets on the site, and software developers have responded with applications that merge datasets, map public services, provide an SMS query tool so information can reach users in remote rural areas, and map the location of Members of Parliament who refuse to pay their taxes, among other such applications. 

Information is Key to Openness

This initiative highlights the importance of strong public statistical systems: the supply of timely, trustworthy, high-quality information is the foundation of open government data and vital for these initiatives to be a sustained success. Opening government data, part of a larger ICT effort in Kenya, is supported by the World Bank through a US$114.4 million Transparency and Communications Infrastructure Project, but opening public data is just the beginning, and open data is simply a means to an end, Ndemo said.

The broader release of such data will enable more scientific policy-making, cut down on corruption in Kenya, and engage more people in government by empowering them with knowledge they can use to challenge political leaders. For example, on the health section of Kenya’s Open Data Portal, users can seamlessly and visually find information about where health facilities are located, what is the level of health spending in each county, what is the relationship between rates of illness and health spending, and what is the relationship between health spending and poverty. “Information is power and we are aiming to empower citizens by enhancing their access to usable data that was not easily accessible to the public,” explains Ndemo.

Ndemo told the story of Americans sending food aid to one African country some years ago. Along with the food, he said, they sent Frisbees. Upon receiving the food aid, locals were pleasantly surprised when they realized the Americans had sent plates to accompany the food. After they ate, kids began to throw the plates for fun, realizing they were perfect for such an activity. In thanking the Americans for the food, they made a special note to tell them that their plates could also be used to play games.

“Once we are exposed to something new, and have access to something new, we will ultimately figure out its use. This is the human spirit,” stated Ndemo, referring to the possibilities of opening government data for citizen engagement.