On the 8th of July 2011 the Government of Kenya launched a new Open Government Data Portal that will for the first time make several large government data sets available to researchers and the general public. The data will be available online in a flexible, user-friendly platform that will allow data users to view different data (including the national census data) at national, province, and county levels, compare different data sets, create maps and other visualizations, and directly download underlying data for their own uses. The portal will be one of the first and largest government data portals in sub-Saharan Africa.

The President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, visits the Ushaidi and iHub Nairobi stand at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch

The President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, visits the Ushaidi and iHub Nairobi stand at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch

Ushahidi welcomes the launch of the Kenya Open Government Portal. Openness is one of the three guiding principles of Ushahidi together with innovation and community. At our core, what Ushahidi does is build tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.

“Data is the foundation of improving accountability and governance.”
President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki,
Speaking at the launch of the Kenya Open Government Data Portal

For the past 8 months Ushahidi has been working on Huduma. Huduma is a citizen initiative of Ushahidi and SODNET. It is a strategy and platform that enables citizens to amplify their voices in the demand for services. The goal of the strategy is to contribute to the improvement of service delivery by providing simple technology/media based tools and channels to amplifying citizen’s concerns, dis-pleasures, complaints or suggestions emanating their perception of performance by duty bearers.

Daudi Were demonstrates the Huduma platform for senior government officials at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch

Daudi Were demonstrates the Huduma platform for senior government officials at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch

The Huduma platform can operate independently of government data but the availability of government data allows the roll out to be faster and more comprehensive. A key policy of the Ushahidi team has been to engage with data holders in government to negotiate the release of data to use on the Huduma platform. This has placed Ushahidi at the forefront of the initiatives calling for the Kenyan government to make data sets available to the public.

Ushahidi joined the taskforce lead by the Ministry of Information and Communication of Kenya and the Kenya ICT Board working towards the launch of the Kenya Open Data Portal in order to share our experiences and our concerns. It was important to us at Ushahidi that local developers were represented at the table.

The President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, watches a demonstration of the Huduma platform at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch, looking on is Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications

The President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, watches a demonstration of the Huduma platform at the Kenya Open Government Data Portal launch, looking on is Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications

Ushahidi was selected as one of the key partners to get access to the data on the portal before launch to demonstrate how this data could be used by local developers. In just under two weeks Emmanuel Kala one of our developers who is also the Huduma Platform Lead working together with other Nairobi based team members Henry Addo, Linda Kamau, Ahmed Maawy, Erik Hersman, Hamilton Juma and Daudi Were, developed Open Data web, mobile and sms portions on the Huduma platform to demonstrate how local developers with access to government data can develop tools useful for policy makers as well as the general public.

Using the Huduma platform we were able to demonstrate how different counties in Kenya with similar populations have a widely different numbers of health facilities. We were also able to demonstrate how these differences are being addressed through the development of new health facilities in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030.

While we recognise and appreciate that the launch of the Kenya Open Government Data Portal is a major milestone, what happens next is also important. We would like to see more data sets and better data set released. Even more important is that developers, activists, policy makers start work on the existing data sets in innovative ways so that the conversation stops being about the technology behind the data and progresses to what can be done with the data.