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Impact Series: Improving Data Collection Capacity in Non-Technical Organisations

- June 5, 2017 in OD4D, Open Data

Open Knowledge International is a member of Open Data for Development (OD4D), a global network of leaders in the open data community, working together to develop open data solutions around the world. In this blog, David Opoku of Open Knowledge International talks about how the OD4D programme’s Africa Open Data Collaboration Fund and  Embedded Fellowships are helping build the capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa to explore the challenges and opportunities of becoming alternative public data producers.

Nana Baah Gyan was an embedded fellow who worked with Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) in Ghana to help with their data needs.

Context 

Due to the challenge of governments providing open data in Africa, civil society organisations (CSOs) have begun to emerge as alternative data producers. The value these CSOs bring includes familiarity of the local context or specific domain where data may be of benefit.  In some cases, this new role for CSOs serves to provide additional checks and verification for data that is already available, and in others to provide entire sets of data where none exists. CSOs now face the challenge of building their own skills to effectively produce public data that will benefit its users. For most CSOs in low-income areas, building this capacity can be long, logistically-intensive, and expensive.

Figure 1: CSOs are evolving from traditional roles as just data intermediaries to include producers of data for public use.

Through the Open Data for Development (OD4D) program, Open Knowledge International (OKI) sought to learn more about what it takes to enable CSOs to become capable data collectors. Using the Africa Open Data Collaboration (AODC) Fund and the OD4D embedded fellowship programmes, we have been exploring the challenges and opportunities for CSO capacity development to collect relevant data for their work.

Our Solution

The AODC Fund provided funding ($15000 USD) and technical support to the Women Environmental Programme (WEP) team in Abuja, Nigeria, that was working on a data collection project aimed at transparency and accountability in infrastructure and services for local communities. WEP was supported through the AODC Fund in learning how to design the entire data collection process, including recruiting and training the data collectors, selecting the best data collection tool, analysing and publishing the findings, and documenting the entire process.

Figure 2: Flowchart of a data collection process. Data collection usually requires several components or stages that make it challenging for non-technical CSOs to easily implement without the necessary skills and resources.

In addition, the embedded fellowship programme allowed us to place a data expert in the Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) team for 3 months to build their data collection skills. ACA, which works on land issues in Ghana, has been collecting data on various community members and their land. Their challenge was building an efficient system for data collection, analysis and use. The data expert has been working with them to design and test this system and train ACA staff members in using it.

Emerging Outcomes

Through this project, there has been an increased desire within both WEP and ACA to educate their staff members about open data and its value in advocacy work. Both organisations have learned the value of data and now understand the need to develop an organisational data strategy. This is coupled with an acknowledgement of the need to strengthen organisational infrastructure capacity (such as better emailing systems, data storage, etc.) to support this work. The hope is that both organisations will have greater knowledge going forward on the importance of data, and have gained new skills in how to apply it in practice. WEP, for instance, has since collected and published their dataset from their project and are now making use of the Kobo Toolbox along with other newly acquired skills in their new projects. ACA, on the other hand, is training more of its staff members with the Kobo Toolbox manual that was developed, and are exploring other channels to build internal data capacity.

Lessons

These two experiences have shed some more light on the growing needs of CSOs to build their data collection capacity. However, the extent of the process as depicted in Figure 1 shows that more resources need to be developed to enhance the learning and training of CSOs. A great example of a beneficial resource is the School of Data’s  Easy Guide to Mobile Data Collection. This resource has been crucial in providing a holistic view of data collection processes to interested CSOs. Another example is the development of tools such as the Kobo Toolbox, which has simplified a lot of the technical challenges that would have been present for non-technical and low-income data collectors.

Figure 3: CSO-led data collection projects should be collaborative efforts with other data stakeholders.

We are also learning that it is crucial to foster collaborations with other data stakeholders in a CSO-led data collection exercise. Such stakeholders could include working with academic institutions in methodology research and design,  national statistics offices for data verification and authorisation, civic tech hubs for technical support and equipment, telecommunication companies for internet support, and other CSOs for contextualised experiences in data collection. Learn more about this project:

Announcing the 2017 International Open Data Day Mini Grants Scheme

- January 25, 2017 in Events, Featured, Open Data Day

open-data-day-social-media-sizeopendataday.org

The year is 2017! Some of you (like my fellow Ghanaian citizens) may have just voted in an election that you hope will bring with it the promise of socio-economic growth. You believe that having a better understanding of how government works will foster better engagement and efficiency. Others are exploring new ideas in research that could change the lives of millions if not billions. A new business idea is in the making and you will like to explore a little more about your target demographics. Others may just have realised the magnitude of the refugee crisis across the world and want to do something practical to help. You can see where I am going with this. If your main challenge at the moment is exactly where to go from here, why not start by organising an event on International Open Data Day this year and join hundreds of events around the world? For the benefit of those of you who are new to Open Data, one definition is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. With this comes another avenue to explore many insights, innovations, collaborations that can enhance the social issues we care about as societies. This year’s Open Data Day will take place on Saturday, 4th March, and with funding from SPARC, the Open Contracting Program of Hivos and Article 19, and OKI, we will distribute $12,500 worth of mini-grants to support your event ideas.

I got your attention now, right? So what exactly are mini-grants?

A mini-grant is a grant of between $200-$400 for groups to create Open Data Day events. In past years, we gave grants to groups based on location. This year, we want to take ODD up a notch and focus on problems that open data can solve. This year, there are four categories to the grant – Open Research Data, Open Contracting and tracking public money flows, Open Data for Environment and Open Data for Human Rights. I hope this has gotten you excited and ready to apply. But if you do so, there are a few important things  to be aware of:
  1. To all grants: We cannot fund government applications, whether federal or local. This is since we support civil society actions. We encourage governments to participate in the event themselves!
  2. For Human Rights or Environment: groups based in the US cannot apply for funding due to our funder restrictions.
  3. For  Tracking public money flows: only groups from low/medium income countries (based on this OECD DAC list).
Event organisers can only apply once and for just one category, so choose well.
Open Day 2015 participants in Buenos Aires Argentina

Open Day 2015, Buenos Aires Argentina

Writing A Successful Application

Now that’s out of the way, here are some tips for a successful grant application. Open Data Day is a great opportunity for outreach to new stakeholders and show-off our great work. However, we want people to work and think about open data as part of their work year round, and not only on one day. Successful applications will be those who will show how open data day is connected to other future activities and not a one off event in the community. Here are some guidelines for successful applications:
  • Think of concrete output – Open Data Day is one day, so we don’t expect you to solve global warming in less than 24 hours. Think of tangible outputs like a network map, small prototype or even a video.
  • Less is more – We prefer to see one good, well thought through output, then a lot of them who are not realistic to this timeframe.
  • Part of a process, not standalone – Show us how ODD fit in the grand scheme of things of your community.
  • In the human rights and environment, Priority will be given to:
    • Connected to current datasets – Replication is not a must, but we want to see how these projects are connected to other open data projects that are done already and not only reinventing the wheel. In term of human rights, any event that will use HDX will get a priority. In terms of the environment, any event that will use existed datasets (like EU or local open dataset).
OR
    • Connected to current OKI Labs projects – If you can’t find a dataset that is connected to your work, we will give priority to groups who will use/test/contribute to one of our OK Labs projects.

What is the timeline for the mini-grants?

Applications are open now through Monday, 13th February 2017 and the selected grantees will be announced on Monday, 20th February 2017. However, it is important to note that all payments will be made to the teams after ODD when they submit their blog reports and a copy of their expenses. Payment before the event will be considered on a case to case basis.  Need some inspiration for you Open Data Day events? OKI Staff curated some ideas for you! If you are all set and ready to organise an ODD event, apply for a mini-grant HERE.  

Announcing the 2017 International Open Data Day Mini Grants Scheme

- January 25, 2017 in Events, Featured, Open Data Day

Africa Open Data Collaboration Fund: Building civil society capacity for Africa’s emerging data revolution.

- September 28, 2016 in Featured, Open Data Partnership For Development

Open Knowledge International is a member of Open Data for Development (OD4D), a global network of leaders in the open data community, working together to develop open data solutions around the world. In collaboration with the OD4D program, Open Knowledge International coordinates the Africa Open Data Collaboration Fund which is designed to provide seed support to empower Africa’s emerging open data civic organisations and entrepreneurs. Almost a year ago in Dar es Salaam, the first Africa Open Data Conference brought together information activists, government officials and technologists to push forward an ambitious agenda for open data on the continent. The two-day conference highlighted several opportunities and challenges for open data in Africa with a general consensus being that Africa only stands to gain from both actively engaging with and shaping the data revolution. aodcf-pablo The conference ended with members of the Open Data for Development (OD4D) network setting up the Africa Open Data Collaboration (AODC) Fund to provide seed funding to innovative civil society organisations interested in using or producing open data. Some of the areas selected to be supported by the fund were data-driven journalism, community-focused data collection using open data tools, government budgets and spending and ICT skills building. As members of the growing Africa Open Data community met recently in Nairobi on August 17th and 18th for the East Africa Open Data Festival, it is only fitting to provide an update of the work that recipient organisations have done so far with the AODC Fund. The following projects are currently being managed by Open Knowledge International (OKI).
HeHe Labs, a mobile technology organisation focused on developing socially-relevant applications, has been working on the HeHe Labs Code Clubs project which aims to enhance research and collaboration among students by training embedded fellows. Despite no direct use of Open Data during this fellowship training, HeHe Labs is interested in incorporating these skills into the on-going learning of its current and future fellows. Fellows’ technical skills also present an avenue to build the scarce open data expertise across the continent. HeHe Labs has also created the InventEd platform to foster collaboration and research among youth and are currently working with both public and private organisations including universities to scale up it adoption.
aodc1Some of the fellows trained by HeHe Labs to lead high school Code Clubs in Rwanda

Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) Tanzania is working to improve CSO assessment of new construction in Tanzania through developing an easy-to-use assessment tool and then make this data open and available for everyone.  CoST is currently working with a consultant from Uganda to replicate the assessment tool used in Uganda with the goal of having a Tanzanian version in use by local CSOs in the coming months.  Training sessions on how to use the  tool will follow and  provide an opportunity to learn best practices that can be used in advocacy work.


Outbox, a civic technology hub based in Uganda, is designing low-cost urban environmental stations for Kampala. In partnership with National Information Technology Agency of Uganda (NITA-U), their locally developed sensors will measure environmental conditions in Kampala and make this data open. This project intersects with work around smart and open cities, environment and Internet of Things (IoT). Priority is being given to the partnership with NITA-U to ensure project adoption and sustainability.
Women Environmental Programme (WEP) wants to promote transparency and accountability in local governments through open data. With a deep understanding of the local community contexts and partnerships with both the National Bureau of Statistics and OKI, WEP designed a survey to collect data on the availability of various public services at the community level. So far, WEP has completed a 7-day data collection exercise of 160 local communities in 3 Abuja area council on top of training 20 data collectors to use the Kobo Toolbox, a mobile data collection tool. The data will be made open and analysed to provide insights to communities and governments.
aodc2Data collectors with WEP and OKI trainers after two-day data collection training

Afro Leadership is a civil society organisation based in Cameroon that is working to fight corruption, improve local accountability and ensure effective service delivery by collecting and publishing  approved budgets and accounts for all local authorities on the OpenSpending Cameroon platform. Additionally, they will strengthen the capacity of journalists and civil society actors to understand budget data by providing a number of offline trainings and developing online resources and courses, all in collaboration with School of Data. The Afro Leadership team is in the process of collecting the 2015 budget reports from all of the regions in Cameroon.
aodc3Charlie Ngounou (4th from left in front) of AfroLeadership with members CSOs in Cameroon

The Association of Freelance Journalists in Kenya (AFJ) is working to train 6 of its members in skills relevant to produce data stories in Kenya and will be working with OKI to adapt School of Data materials and the World Bank Sudan Data Journalism Program resources into a curriculum. The goal of the training is to build a team that will be capable of producing data stories as a norm. The outcome of the data journalism training will be to provide a minimum of 12 stories (2 per AFJ participant) that will be published on AFJ’s TalkAfrica platform.

How you can get involved

As this is the first iteration of the AODC Fund, we value the lessons these organisations accrue through their projects. The goal is not only to obtain tangible project outcomes but gain a better understanding of what it takes to build open data capacity in Africa. Insights into how much it costs to do data-driven journalism, to produce data on environmental conditions in cities, or to train the next generation of data practitioners in Africa will help shape how we approach open data capacity development in the future. The AODC Fund’s vision is to expose civil society organisations to the open data space, strengthen their capacity and set them on a path to be champions of open data in their local contexts. In the meantime, if you’re reading this and  have any lessons to share or want to connect with any of the organisations above, please reach out. I am very active on Twitter. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared on the OD4D website.

The State of Open Data in Ghana: Policy

- October 20, 2015 in fellowship, ghana, Policy

open-data-barometer

2014 chloropleth of Open Data Barometer Readiness and Impact

 

I joined the School of Data in April as one of the fellows for 2015. As a data scientist and software developer who had moved back to Accra in August 2014 — after 8 years of being away from school, — I wanted to understand the key stakeholders of the open data community and what role I could play in strengthening their work. I wanted to know what the State of Open Data in Ghana was.

Taking a pulse of any community, especially at a national level is never simple and will be always filled with degrees of subjectivity. This coupled with a young global Open Data movement, introduces challenges in identifying the right stakeholders who themselves are still trying to understand whether and where they fit into this nascent ecosystem.

In trying to assess the state of the Ghana open data community, I looked at 3 main areas: Policy, Research and Innovation, Capacity-Building.

I will be sharing my thoughts around these 3 areas over a series of blog posts. With these, I hope to start a conversation around the Open Data movement in Ghana which leads to more collaboration and innovation. So for this first post, I will talk about the State of Open Data in Ghana from a policy perspective.


Open Data Policy in Ghana


ghanaportal

Ghana Open Data Initiative portal


Ghana Open Data Initiative

Search for the term “Open Data Ghana” on any search platform and you will be presented with a list of links on initiatives and events — portals, conferences, hackathons, grants etc — dating back to 2010 and 2012. First among these is one for the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI), a platform created to release public data sets for easy access and use by ordinary citizens.

The origins of the Open Data movement in Ghana can be traced back to a Web Foundation project in August 2010. This established an initial partnership with the government of Ghana through the National Information and Technology Agency (NITA), which eventually served as the agency responsible for implementing GODI. It was created in 2012 as a platform and framework to promote the release of government data for public re-use. It was

“to promote efficiency, transparency and accountability in governance as well as to facilitate economic growth by means of the creation of Mobile and Web applications for the Ghanaian and world markets.”

The vision was to start off with a repository of government data from which journalists, developers, advocacy groups and citizens could access for numerous civic, social and economic benefits. With this came several hackathons and workshop by organisations to unleash the power of these data sets through capacity-building, research and innovation.

laws and regulation RTI

Right to Information Law

GODI is a major endeavour and in its infancy, it will lack many data sets that ideally should be readily available to the public. In such cases, interested parties should have the ability to request the release of specific data from public institutions. This is where the Right to Information(RTI) Law comes to play. Other names for this are the Freedom to Information(FOI) law and Access to Information law.

Efforts to pass a RTI law in Ghana has been ongoing for about 13 years. However, there is growing work by advocacy and media groups, parliament and ordinary citizens to ensure the passing of a law. After many years of consultation, Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary “advanced an amended right to information bill for consideration by the full Parliament.” This means as of October 10 2015, Ghana has no RTI law! In order to strengthen the Ghana open data movement, it is important to have in place the RTI law as a tool for open data enthusiasts to request access to relevant data.

The effort to pass the RTI law in Ghana has been long and it is worth highlighting the continued work by many advocacy organisations and individuals invested in making this a law:

There are many more advocacy groups and individuals who have contributed to advancing the RTI bill to this point not listed above. Their work continues to be essential and is worth supporting. If you know of any, please do share.

The way forward

What is the way forward with regards to policy? Ghana’s Open Data movement is young and this means there is a lot to learn, understand and implement to reach the standard of a world-class open data community. Ensuring that the right laws and mandates are in place and executed is key to creating the foundation for stakeholders to research, innovate and build capacity with open data. Taking the steps to implement GODI is a great start. However, GODI is still lagging behind. As of this writing, the data portal is still down from when I first noticed it at the end of August which does not help in building the reputation of the Ghana Open Data community. I hope the portal comes back online soon with an well-defined strategy to improve access to quality data sets and tools.

With regards to the RTI bill, the great efforts by some of the advocacy groups listed above will eventually get this law passed. It is important that journalists and citizens remain invested on this issue in order to give it the necessary attention to be passed.

In the next series, I will talk about the State of Open Data in Ghana from the research and innovation perspective.

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How can we improve Ghana Government Services?

- May 18, 2015 in fellowship, impact

Independence_Square,_Accra,_Ghana Since returning back to Ghana after more than eight years away, I have heard many recollections from family, friends and strangers about their exhausting experiences visiting government institutions and agencies for various services. Whether it is following a government-given mandate to move from handwritten passports by a given date, renewing an almost-out-of-date driver license or obtaining a work permit for some people seeking to work honestly. Ideally government institutions will have structures in place to encourage improved performance. However in many emerging nations where government resources are stretched or inadequate, such systems are not instituted even when they exist.  In such a situation, what role can ordinary citizens and non-government institutions play? I have thought about things I can do as an individual to make these experiences better and on many occasions, nothing tangible has occurred. Many of these government agencies struggle to respond to their customers, tax-paying citizens and residents. From what I can see, there are two main factors on which this issue persists:
  1. Government agencies have no incentive to improve the standards of the services they are offering
  2. Users of government services have no collective and reliable information to highlight the poor quality of service provided by such institutions
  Proposal rating_stars What if there was a way to incentivize these institutions openly to improve the quality of services they offer? What if users of these services, journalists and government had a reliable resource that easily and consistently showed the performance of agencies we rely on for keys services? Can we build a data-driven tool or service that consolidates these deficiencies together to encourage and demand change? I believe we can! Creating a crowd-sourced Government Agency Rating system could be one avenue to tackling this. Such a system will produce a rating based on selected factors that reflect the quality of services of these institutions. Factors could include quality of website, ease of payment, presence of online service and duration of service. Ideally, data about these factors will be sourced from a large pool of individuals who use these services for various reasons. Eventually, this data could be collated into an interactive visualization open for public use.   Challenges The goal of this project will be to provide access to data about government services to stakeholders. They will then have a reference point to discuss the performance of any service and demand improvements where needed. This means that the system must:
  • Identify the main stakeholders and how they will use such a system on a regular basis
  • Create a structure to efficiently collect data
  • Demonstrate the credibility of the rating system
  • Encourage the use of the system through open access and visualization
  • Train stakeholders on how to effectively use such a system for maximum impact
  freedom_and_justice Ghana as an emerging nation is still learning ways to utilize open data to drive civic and social policies and decisions. Aside creating the relevant infrastructure on which data literacy and engagement can thrive, we must create a culture where individuals and organizations are invested in utilizing and providing data. I believe starting with a simple data-driven approach that targets a major pain point for many Ghanaians creates an opportunity to understand the Open Data landscape while also showing stakeholders the power of demanding and driving a more Open Data culture. I believe the Government Agency Rating system could be a start in fostering this. Flattr this!