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