A roundtable discussion about using open data at d|Bootcamp Kampala 2015. Photo: Code for Africa

Open Data Day 2016: African ‘data liberators’ focus on projects to empower citizens

Africa’s growing open data community is using the 2016 Open Data Day on March 5 to kickstart initiatives that give citizens ‘actionable information’ and digital tools to hold governments accountable.

Initiatives include ‘data liberation’ scraperthons in some of the continent’s most challenging environments, from Ethiopia to Sierra Leone, along with the launch of major civic campaigns that use election data to help citizens keep government honest everywhere from Kenya to Ghana.

The #OpenDataDay activities by members of the Code for Africa federation are deliberately designed as independent events championed by local indigenous organisations to help build a broad-based pan-African movement with local ‘ownership’ and a focus on local priorities. Other international capacity partners who have partnered on events include institutions ranging from the World Bank, to advocacy champions such as Open Knowledge and the World Wide Web Foundation.

The best data project ideas from the meetups will be eligible for either Code for Africa’s $500,000 impactAFRICA fund for data-driven storytelling or its soon-to-be launched $1-million innovateAFRICA fund for civic technologies.

Using Data To Improve Elections

Code for Kenya used #OpenDataDay to launch its GotToVote tools to help citizens register for the country’s elections later this year.

The toolkit helps citizens find their nearest registration station, either via a website or SMS. After registering, the toolkit helps citizens combat voting irregularities by checking the voters’ roll to ensure their details are recorded correctly. And, once election campaigning starts, the toolkit helps citizens send ‘peace SMSes’ to politicians and their supporters to warn against any repeat of the kind of violence that killed 1,00os in the past elections.

GotToVote was originally developed in Kenya ahead of the 2013 elections, and has since been successfully deployed in Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The toolkit has been updated and improved for Kenya’s 2016 elections, and will run alongside the soon-to-be-launched WAZImap Kenya and a range of other data tools to help voters shift the focus from ‘personality politics’ to a focus on core delivery issues, such as healthcare, water, sanitation, education, etc.

Kenya’s focus on ‘citizen tools’ echoes similar approaches across the continent. Here’s a quick overview of what is happening elsewhere in Africa:


Ethiopia

Code for Ethiopia, in partnership with Open Knowledge Ethiopia, is targeting grassroots organisations and activists to help identify the most important data they could use to empower citizens. The #OpenDataDay event follows a successful government-focused open data workshop, and will feed into a series of proposed pilot projects to be co-funded by Code for Africa and the World Bank. The March 5 event is at the Addis Ababa University, from 9am.

Ghana

Code for Ghana and the Hacks/Hackers community in Accra will first meet at the iSpace in Labone to discuss data-driven fact-checking methods to keep public information ‘honest’, followed by an all-day hackathon at Mobile Web Ghana focused on election data. The hackathon will identify data that would be important to Ghanaian voters, and will then scrape and clean the data so that local civic technologists and digital activists can use it to help improve citizen engagement ahead of the elections.

Nigeria

Code for Nigeria, in partnership with CODE, are using #OpenDataDay to initiate an entire new group of citizen data ‘liberators’ by teaching them to use spreadsheets to collect and analyse data, during a 2-hrs crashcourse (between 10am and midday) at Bassan Plaza in Abuja.

Nigeria is a big place though. So, in Benin City, Code for Nigeria has also partnered with SabiHub and other open data organisations to brainstorm new projects using data to empower local citizens, with new partnerships including the Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition movement.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is using Open Data Day to kick off the continent’s most ambitious initiative: a six-week long Data Festival (#OpenDataFest16) that is designed to kickstart a civic technology movement in the country. Code For Africa is helping the World Bank and Government of Sierra Leone, by co-hosting a two-day data ‘scraperthon’ on March 4 and 5 to help find public data that citizens could use to build data-driven tools or services. Serah Rono and Robin Kiplang’at (from our CitizenLab in Nairobi) will lead the scraperthon, along with pan-African data evangelist Jeanne Holm.

South Africa

Code For South Africa will inject some fun into all the earnest stuff happening on #OpenDataDay, by hosting an Open Data Easter Egg Hunt at the Whizz ICT Centre in the Khayelitsha shantytown, in Cape Town.

The event is designed to demystify ‘data’, by helping activists and ordinary citizens quiz scores of key South African datasets without having to first master complex technology skills. Interested is finding out why “data is the new bacon”? Register here.

Open Data Durban will meanwhile host a 4 hour ‘open house’ session at its CitizenLab on March 5, for activists, journalists, or ordinary citizens to pitch ideas for data-driven projects, ask for help to analyse datasets, or identify datasets that need to be liberated. Previous open house sessions have resulted in projects ranging from ‘citizen sensors’ that seeks to monitor air and water pollution, to initiatives to create data tools that improve response times for ambulances and other emergency vehicles in shantytowns. Interested? Join the fun here.


Would you like to join the Code for Africa federation? Or, do you have an event or project that you’d like our community to support?

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Happy #OpenDataDay. Stay open!