‘Open data has never been more open’

Code for Africa data journalist Soila Kenya shares her experience at csv,conf,v4 — and the surprise of finding a community ready to share.

Code for Africa’s data journalist Soila Kenya. (Serah Rono)

By Soila Kenya

What happens when you bring together scientists, researchers, journalists, technologists, librarians and representatives from government all interested in open data?

Before applying to be a speaker at the csv,conf,v4, I was doubtful. I have a background in journalism and felt I would feel left out of a conference whose literal name references data analysis. With my barely two-years of experience in data journalism and no coding experience (collective gasp!), I didn’t think I would make the cut or fit in with the crowd if I did.

However, to my pleasant surprise, the conference held in Portland, Oregon on 8 and 9 May, had an eclectic collection of people and professions involved in the open data space.

My talk covered the tips and tricks of community-sourcing for openAFRICA.net — the largest independent repository of open data on the African continent — used in order to digitise deadwood to give citizens actionable information.

Data availability in many African countries is dismal. Reams of files of important government information lay gathering dust in abandoned storage rooms. Journalists and citizens need this information to keep governments in check and ensure they are receiving the right services. So how do you turn paper-based government archives into machine-readable and API accessible digital files?

See Soila’s full presentation here

Specifically, I was speaking about open data in Kenya and Nigeria.The audience was very receptive and had lots of questions on the data situation in these countries — some empathising that they were in the same situation and others curious to learn more on the working of the site.

I also received a lot interest in the data projects which grew from our expanding open data community, especially among journalists.

Everything from how open infrastructure is helping environmental scientists ease their workflows to how open data is being used to keep track of military-grade weapons in Africa was covered by the speakers during the conference.

It was eye-opening to see how many different ways open data can be used or created by different people trying to solve an array of different problems: from the journalist trying to crunch the numbers for his story or the developer seeking a way to create reproducible code for her project.

It was exciting to see attendees being interested in everyone’s projects and keen to learn from each other’s trials and errors.

The conference was the right breeding ground for future collaborations, ideas and learning in different spheres than the ones we are used to working in.

And what would a conference be if not for a surprise llama visit.

About Us

Code for Africa (CfA) is the continent’s largest federation of indigenous civic technology and open data laboratories with CfA labs in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda and a further five affiliate labs in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco and Sierra Leone and funded projects in a further 12 countries. CfA manages the $1m/year innovateAFRICA.fund and $500,000/year impactAFRICA.fund, as well as key digital democracy resources such as the openAFRICA.net data portal and the GotToVote.cc election toolkit. CfA primarily supports grassroots citizen organisations and the media to help liberate data and empower citizens, but also works with progressive government agencies to improve digital service delivery.

In addition to funding and technology support, CfA’s labs incubate a series of trendsetting initiatives including the PesaCheck fact-checking initiative in East Africa, the continental africanDRONE network, and the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) that spearheaded Panama Papers probes across the continent. CfA is an initiative of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).