The Kenya government initiated the Open Data Initiative in 2011 on the idea that Kenya’s information is a national asset. Agriculture is one of the main pillars, because food security and economic development can only move forward if decisions on agriculture are evidence-based. To be successful, data needs to be available, accurate, and open for all.
The goal of the Open Data Initiative is to make core government developmental, demographic, statistical and expenditure data available in a useful digital format for researchers, policy-makers, ICT developers and the public. The website opendata.go.ke actively supplies the public with currently 942 datasets, like the complete latest census, national and county public expenditure data, information on healthcare and school facilities, which all have been bundled in themes, like agriculture, energy, water, infrastructure, health, governance among others. Beyond this online portal, the Open Data Initiative is supporting the digitalisation of government records and processes that will supply the portal in the future.
Making data easily accessible is important for three key reasons. First, easy access to data will increase innovation and will generate economic and social value: from savings and efficiencies within government, service delivery improvements and citizen feedback systems to new wealth and jobs generated in the private sector. It also enables data-driven evidence-based decision-making by parliamentarians, policy-makers, civil society organisations and individuals that can see progress and make accurate, informed decisions on issues that affect people’s lives. The final reason is the foundation for improving transparency and accountability of the public sector.
Kenya is starting to see the beginning of a boom in applications that make use of open data. For example, DataScience is a software engineering company using data to develop big data analytics and research tools for business development. Open data catalyses the emergence of not only apps, but also open data labs and collaboratives such as the Health Data Collaborative, iLabAfrica and the Agriculture Data Community under the country’s national partnership on sustainable development data.
For the future development of sectors such as agriculture, livestock and fisheries, open data will be vital. Open access to accurate data will generate information based on evidence, which will help promote, accelerate, and contribute to economic development and food security. Open data will contribute to Kenya’s efforts to find answers to complex questions on climate change, and sustainable and productive agricultural development. Although in some instances agriculture is a contributor to global environmental challenges, we must find ways in which it is part of the solution. Making use of big and open data is one way to make interdisciplinary analysis possible in our quest to deliver comprehensive policies to address these emerging issues.
Such developments are not only important for Kenya, but for the whole continent. 70% of the African population relies on agriculture. The only serious way to improve the economies in Africa is by including agriculture in economic development policies and making the data available for monitoring and review. That is why the Kenyan government is a focal point for a movement to stimulate open data in Africa especially within the context of the continent’s agricultural transformation agenda. That agenda is implemented through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program which is based on the African Union Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Livelihoods.
Pledges of African governments
As a result, African governments are exploring options for investing in and achieving sustainable and inclusive agricultural development. During the Africa Green Revolution Forum that took place in Kenya in September 2016, governments made commitments to increase access to credit for farmers, for example, or to stimulate technological exchange in terms of resilient varieties to make agriculture more productive. Further improvements and cooperation can benefit from the use of open data. Agencies and governments made pledges at the Forum totalling to many millions of dollars and have established new initiatives on building capacity and systems to increase data collection and sharing. With adequate data, we will open doors for local African-made solutions to address our aspirations for resilience, productivity and further development of priority commodity value chains.
The new drive since 2015 has not been unnoticed. In July 2015, the portal was voted as a finalist in publishing open data in a global competition held by Bloomberg and the Open Data Institute in the United Kingdom. Still, there are some important questions to be answered. How do we increase capacity so data is collected in a proper and adequate way? How are we able to give every smallholder farmer access to data so he or she can use it in a relevant manner? How do we sensitise the population and increase collaboration to collect data and make use of it? How do we protect citizens from open data abuse, especially the very real concerns many have about privacy and security?
There is no time to waste, time is running out. Action and leadership are needed now. Investments are necessary for the technology, implementation and roll-out of a proper mechanism that not only secures open data, but also protects us from misuse. The Kenya government wants to become a greater champion for open data and, therefore, has become one of the advocates of the open data movement, especially in agriculture because Kenya depends on its future on agriculture.
What has been done so far?
The implementation of the open data portal was the first step. The initial expectations were high and the initiative received praise from all over the world. After two years in operation some critical of the initiative began to appear questioning the real impact of the open data initiative, especially due to lack of an increase in available datasets, data quality, and lack of efforts to sensitise the public on the opportunities of open data. Some datasets were also structured in ways that made it difficult for developers to extract and use the data in their applications.
However, the newly designed Kenya Open Data Portal, which was launched in 2015, improved the number of datasets available significantly, addressed the quality aspects, implemented better visualisation of the information, and featured timely and interactive feedback to data consumers. As the portal looks towards its growth, several strategies have been instituted to greatly increase usability. For example, the data lens is a new tool to interact, explore and discover insights from data easily. It makes it easy for citizens and others to get answers to their questions in a visual, intuitive way.
In addition, eight fellows were embedded in three government ministries and a county government to help with data acquisition, information systems design and setting up of data desks. Already, 25 government agencies are sharing their data through the portal. The initiative is expanding partnerships with data producers and users with the aim of increasing utilisation of the data through outreach initiatives. The focus on county data makes specific data from and about counties easier to find and adds to the relevance of the open data portal within the context of a devolved system of government.