Open Data and Open Governments – Possibilities for Kenya?

Posted by on 24th May 2010

Categories:   Open Government

A consortium of funders recently commissioned research on Open Data, which sought to explore the feasibility of applying the approach to open data that’s been pioneered in countries like the US and UK to relevant middle income and developing countries.  Mzalendo was one of the groups interviewed for the research study, and the results as well as a strategy checklist can be found here.  It remains to be seen how much traction a push for spreading the Open Government philosophy could get in a place like Kenya.

One of the biggest challenges facing Mzalendo, beyond the challenge of sustaining the site as volunteers, is the restrictive data formats that we have to work with.   For instance, while the Kenya Parliament website has show great improvement as far as the electronic versions of the Hansards (compared to when Mzalendo first got started), the Hansards are only made available in PDF format, making it hard to parse and for instance easily hyperlink MPs names every time they appear.  This would also allow for simple functionalities to be built in, for instance search by topic, party name, Ministry etc.

We have tried to engage the Parliament Clerk’s office on this issue to no avail…it seems to us that making the Hansards available in a crawlable format shouldn’t be such a difficult next step now that the documents are online.  Perhaps if someone like say Google was making the case, we might see movement 🙂

The same can be said for government statistics, budgetary information etc. – all of which the government spends lots of money to print and in some cases even burn onto CDs – but fails to make available online for no logical reason.  Civil society in Kenya has focused on the passing Freedom of Information Act as an important first step, but this ignores the opportunity to engage and push for better data formats in cases where the data is already being publicly distributed.

Imagine if you were a parent looking at schooling options and you could easily search DEO reports on government schools, or you could visualize a school’s KCPE performance over the last 10 years?

Opening up data could also create opportunities for local developers who could build software applications or mobile applications around the data, see e.g. the innovative work of Katiba.mobi

3 Comments

  • by David Sasaki on 25th May 2010

    It would be great to learn more about your strategy to get the parliament to publish the Hansard in XML. Who is in charge of making such a decision? Must it go to a vote in Parliament, or is simply the matter of finding the right IT person who is willing to make the changes? What was the response of the Parliament Clerk’s office? And have you been in touch with leaders of other, similar websites that use scripts to take text from PDF's and convert it into XML? Fortunately, the PDF's of the Hansards up on the website all contain actual text - they're not just scanned images. So it should be relatively easy to scrape, import, and convert the text. One thing I find somewhat frustrating about Becky's final report is that it gives the impression that outside of North America and Western Europe governments don't keep digitized records. I think that's the exception, and far from the rule. Even the Kenyan budget is up on the government website, but again, only in PDF.

  • by admin on 25th May 2010

    Well it's not a formal strategy in any sense, I've just been trying to ping the people who I've been told are the "go-to" people and also trying to get the Kenya ICT board to follow up since they have access to the government and e-government offices. So far zero response. It's not a matter of a vote and I think just the person to make the changes. So far haven't been in touch with other leaders of other websites. Just today I got a response from an IT consultant who helped work on the new parliament website and he said he proposed XML but was told to follow "protocol" whatever that means. Anyway, we'll keep you updated.

  • by Data dot (dot, dot): the story of open government data « The Barefoot Technologist on 28th May 2010

    [...] As well as Sir Tim, the report contains interviews with the lovely Ory Okollah of Ushahidi, Jonathan Gray of the OKF, Tom Steinberg, Ethan Zuckerman, and many, many more. It’s already attracted comment from Glyn Moody, and Ory’s done a very kind write-up. [...]