Information is power, and information is derived from refined data to have it make sense and translated to actionables that meet predefined objectives. In eras past, the hoarding or hiding of information was considered a necessary evil more so in government circles that saw acronyms such as “siri kali”, loosely translated as “dangerous secrets” adopted by citizens for whom access to information was but a mirage.
The tides are changing and the world over governments are exploring the concept of open data with a view to reap benefits of a more informed citizenry as well as better provide services while clamping down on vices such as corruption that thrive in environments with gatekeepers to information.
Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Technology recently announced a move by the government of Kenya to release various data sets that prior to this were not accessible, at least not easily to the public. What many people do not know is that ninety five percent of government data should be open and easily accessible, sanitized to protect the privacy of citizens it was collected from and this step by the government should be lauded.
However, what does the availability of this data mean to the citizen? First, I believe it marks the beginning of a truly democratic and transparent governance system where public officers are accountable for their decisions and actions as their inputs and outputs can be clearly monitored and evaluated against set benchmarks. It also allows for the citizen to better understand how government works and the policy making process that is informed by information on the ground. Participatory government also comes into play as citizens will be better empowered to lobby and give direction on developmental issues that affect them. Business people can better forecast or even develop new products and services based on information made available.
To the developer community, access to these data sets has been a song that has been sung time and time again, with many seeking to build innovative services layered on top of the available data. The variations in the data sets means that there must be someone to develop the tools that stitch the different sets together to create the fabric that is information in a way that a layman can query and understand, whether by way of visualizations or reports.
This challenge falls squarely in the hands of the developers, as they must think up models that will make it worth their while to get their hands dirty and make use of the data that will be made available. I believe however that the monetization should not be too big an issue. As with all services, value must be shown to the citizen for them to willingly pay for access.
There are many faces to the same sets of open data. Let’s get exploring, let’s get creating.