Me and two of my colleagues (well, three actually if we count Oludotun Babayemi) recently attended the second Africa Open Data Conference (AODC), 2017 in Accra, Ghana. For me, it was exciting to be in Accra again, see my beloved friends in the city, eat banku and okro stew, have another taste of ghana jollof (naija jollof is still king though) and of course, go to Makola market for some kente materials.
The conference itself was a full five-day packed affair; conference discussions and panel discussions during the day and cocktails/networking events in the evenings. Amidst all the conversations, fun and everything else in between, there are five key take aways that stood out for me from the conference:
- Open Data (OD) is not just about government data
There is usually that strong inclination for those of us working in transparency and accountability and open government networks to think of Open Data solely in terms of government data. So, for us, it is mainly about tracking government expenditure, processes and activities. However, OD is much more than that: OD is civil society (inclusive of International NGOs) ensuring that results of studies and researches are publicly available to be used by everyone for development purposes. OD is universities ensuring that researches from the institutions are accessible to the public so that they can be used for development purposes. OD is tech innovators ensuring that their tech applications and resources are available to rural farmers in hard to reach areas….the list is endless!
2. Adaptability and innovation is key
Innovation is a word that in my opinion has been overused, abused and misconstrued in the last decade or so. When people hear innovation, they often think in terms of some grandiose plans or tech applications that are built to confuse the average user rather than make his/her life better. Most times, innovation is just adapting existing or known tools in ways that they have not been used or deployed before to solve acute problems. For instance, you want to help farmers in a rural community to better monitor weather conditions to help them decide the best times for planting certain crops and you then develop an application that needs internet connectivity when the end users do not have access to the web or smart phones. Get real please, you are not helping in any way!
3. Open Data holds enormous potential for national transformation and sustainable development, and these remain largely untapped
During one of the sessions where the discussion was mainly on education data, I just sat in my chair imagining what it would be like if people and communities had access to some of the results that come out of our research institutions. What if mothers in rural communities can access results from clinical experiments that provide insights on simple, local, yet effective ways of preventing childhood diseases? What if farmers in rural communities had access to research on simple, biological means of improving soil fertility and crop yield using locally available and abundant natural resources and methods? What if community-based organizations had easy access to information on capital expenditure for development to equip people in local communities better to hold their governments accountable?
4. Sometimes, Open Data may not be so open
Yes, I know it sounds kind of cliche, but in my experience working with OD this past year, I realized this is happening a lot. I have come to understand that even with data that is supposedly open and proactively disclosed, one often has to read through hundreds of pages of non-essential information to get the data one needs at a particular time or even make additional requests for data that is missing. I look forward to a time when we can have the data disaggregated in such a way that I do not have to spend days going through pages of information to get the particular data I need.
5. There is still a lot of work to be done!
Ah! We have come quite a long way in the last decade or there about regarding OD but a lot still remains to be done and this can only be achieved if governments, civil society, corporate sector, institutions and sectors work together. The fact that of all 54 countries in Africa, only about 20% have existing freedom of information laws that enable citizens have access to information and even this is fraught with a lot of bottlenecks. I strongly advise that countries that do not currently have a freedom of information law learn from the implementation of countries that currently have so that they can avoid some of these bottlenecks and maybe come up with better versions of their own laws.
Finally, I want to say Meda w’ase to all my people in Ghana. I’ll surely be back!