Open Data/Development

the views here are mine and only mine! by Barbara Birungi

Open Development, Open Data, most of us have a different interpretation to the words which is totally fine because it has many different faces, meaning to different people. Last week I attended the Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest) organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation in Helsinki Finland. MY interest and reason for attending was to find out as much as I could about open Data, Development as I could from people that had already started on the open journey in their countries and some even gotten their governments to sign on, How do you do that? Especially in Africa! Kenya for example has started on this OPENDATA.GO.KE, there are different organizations in the western world encouraging open data, development like SIDA, IATI,Openforchange,Plan,IDS among others

So what is open development, to me open development is inclusion of all stakeholders in development that promote access to the end product’s source materials? While open data is information that is readily available to be used, reused, distributed and accessed by anyone who wants it?

Open is needed from government bodies to NGOs, if we are to erase certain traits that have for long filled these bodies because there is no openness. IN Africa how do you get a government to open up to open data, Kenya did, SO as the different workshops took place I wondered how do we get the Ugandan government to embrace open data, because I know the advantages that come with open, and to me the biggest would be cutting down on corruption! It stinks from every corner, but Open is not against governments, in fact it’s a plus for government to embrace open data because it gains more credibility when it comes to citizens and aid agencies, Uganda needs to embrace open and if government still needs some time to come on board, I say let citizens, stakeholders take it up, Now there are different organizations that are doing something on open data here and there, Here is what I am thinking, all these bodies should join hands and come up with one body and they all put what they have together to have one joint OPEN , this way we will erase repetition, time wastage and duplication and competition on who is providing more data, yet they all have different strengths and weakness. SO one organization has the data, the other has data visualization skill, the other does research, instead of being each on its on, when they join hands, all info put together creates something worth seeing and knowledgeable for the citizens.

As we work towards open data, knowledge there are factors to put in consideration, its not just about getting information out there to people like the budget, human rights, government spending trends, etc., etc. …. Before we get all this information beautifully visualized and simplified for easy understanding of all, lets ask, is it RELEVANT to the people we are trying to get it to? How is this data going to be used, analyze all the advantages and disadvantages of Open before making it Open. There is some data that should not be made open because of dangers it may bring both directly and indirectly, I heard of data about a certain type of fish that was publish, and today that species of fish is extinct because once news came out, fishing companies made it their target to get this fish and hey, they had directions of exactly where to find it! So we need to protect some data because of the harm it may cause. Is it relevant to the people you are trying to get it to? And will majority understand your visualizations, or the data itself? If so what other challenges are likely to be faced, is there a language barrier problem? How about the means you are using to make this data open? Most Open data is made available through the web, In Africa Uganda to be specific, how many people are going to make use of that data that is put on the web, and if they are able to access the web, will majority be able to understand it? Is language not an issue? Take for example hypothetically, telling an illiterate Ugandan in Karamoja that the government is spending 100,000USD on 4 Ministers lunch every month when there is no health center in your area, chances are they will not understand this very well, yet if you told the same story like this, government spends 100,000usd which is worth 50cows on 4 ministers lunch every month, this karamajong will understand you much better! So in consideration we need to think about the medium too used to get this info to the masses, will radio reach better than television? Who do we take into account, just the educated that can read English or do we translate to other local languages too, can they read? If they cannot read

Challenges with Open data

Language barrier

Medium of communicating open data,

Who is the target group?

What changes are likely to be brought on by the data being made open?

Lack of government support

Finding the data itself is a challenge, its not always readily available

Getting the data open and no one is using it? Too few people are using it?

We need to educate our governments that OPEN DATA is in there interest, not against them, we cannot avoid the political aspect of Open data, but we need not politicize it so much too because we do not want it to belong to a certain party as this will kill the purpose of making data open.

What sort of data is gong to make a difference in the life of a marginalized citizen? That is the sort of data we need to make open, and to provide data that is going to be used by some one who would not otherwise have been able to access it and yet now that they have it, its invaluable to them.

In Uganda by the access to information act made in 2005, government officials are mandated to implement the act but its not as it should be until today. Lack of open data, access to information is the reason Uganda is not moving forward with eliminating corruption in our public offices. BUT its not only public offices that are corrupt, we need NGOs that are funded by donors to embrace open data too! So how much should NGOs reveal? That is still to be discussed.

Organizations like ACODE, ACCU, HURINET, TWAWEZA, DRT and now HIVE COLAB are just some of the organizations that are working towards open data in Uganda, We need to work together as Ugandans with these organizations if we are to realize open data in Uganda, which will contribute to open development for Uganda.

OPEN SHOULD BECOME OUR SLOGAN AS CITIZENS IN THIS WORLD, if we are to realize this dream, not one-time demonstrations or demands, find ways that cannot be ignored, that let governments know its in their interest to support open data! We need to promote open at community level not just central government level, how are community local offices spending and utilizing their resources.

At this conference I wanted to learn mistakes, lessons and successes of others that supported open data in their countries and make sure we do not repeat the same mistakes. Open data is not just a privilege of a few masses but a basic right to all.

Just recently I have noticed corruption is on the rise in the country, there is not a day in the news that a corruption case will not be reported, as one closes a new one comes up, I watch NTV tonight every day, at this week its about the Cairo Bank payments to Ghost pensioners, ghost AIDS books bought for northern Uganda schools, among other FAKE programs and a total of 360 BILLION UGANDAN SHILLINGS

What does open data mean to a woman in Uganda? Find out in my next blog!

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