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Building an Open Data Ecosystem in Tanzania with trainings and stakeholder engagement

- August 14, 2016 in community, Event report, tanzania

Open data is often defined as a product: events, portals, hackathons, and so on. But what does the process of opening data look like? In Tanzania, among many other things, it’s a gradual, iterative process of building capacity in Tanzanian government, civil society and infomediaries to manage, publish and use open data. Of late, the open data scene in Tanzania has been growing from strength to strength. image alt text Participants in an open data training session related to the Tanzanian health sector The following milestones are testimony to this growth:
  • last September, Tanzania hosted the first ever Africa Open Data Conference (AODC).

  • the drafting of the country’s open data policy ,which is in the final stages of government approval before it can be passed as policy.
  • formation of the Code for Tanzania chapter,which, among others, will spearhead establishment of local chapters of the global Hacks/Hackers community, as well as a flagship civic technology ‘CitizenLab’, with a core team of software engineers, data analysts and digital journalists, who will work with local newsrooms and social justice NGOs.
  • the establishment of Tanzania Data Lab (Dlab), serving as an anchor for the Data Collaboratives for Local Impact (DCLI) programme, which aims at enabling data analysis and advocating for its prominent use in Tanzanian governmental decision-making. Since the exciting news broke that Tanzania will be joining the Global Data Partnership, the DLab has also started working with the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics, and other stakeholders, to support the process of assessing what data is needed to drive progress, as defined in the Global Data Partnership Roadmap and, ultimately, leverage the data revolution to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Tanzania Open Data Initiative

June and April saw another round of training organised under the Tanzania Open Data Initiative (TODI) umbrella, geared towards Tanzanian government agencies covering three key sectors: Education, Health and Water. These are collaborative sessions, tailored towards civil servants working with data related to these sectors, which have been running for three straight years since 2014. They focus on building skills about data-management, cleaning, visualizing and publishing data, open data principles for navigating the legal and professional challenges of managing open data innovation and communicating results to a wider audience. Often, these sessions produce as many questions as answers – “How precisely do we define ‘access to water’ in rural areas?” or “What does an ‘average passing rate’ really mean?” – but this is encouraged. Indeed, we’re already noticing that a primary beneficiary of open data initiatives is the government itself. Although conventionally billed as a tool for citizens, open data can also be a powerful mechanism to reduce frictions among the multitude of ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) of a government. One notable difference between these rounds in April and June, and previous ones, was that there were a few selected participants from civil society in attendance. This enriched the quality of discussion which resulted in increased engagement of all participants during the sessions: their presence facilitated sharing of experiences for mutual understanding, thereby collaboration between the government and civil society.

Open Data in a day

June’s week-long sessions culminated in an “open data in a day” event at Buni Hub, which for the very first time had a strong focus on media and technology developers. It was amazing seeing the enthusiasm and the level of interaction of this group and how excited they were to put into action key takeaways from the session. image alt text Participants from the media and technology industry at the Open Data in a Day event at Buni Hub. These activities are testimony of the progress that Tanzania is making in the open data arena and, with similar activities planned for the future, there is good reason to expect the country’s open data ecosystem to experience further growth in strength and quality.
Infobox
Event name: Tanzania Open Data Initiative
Event type: Workshop
Event theme: Open data in practice
Description: Training organized under Tanzania Open Data initiative collaboratively between National Bureau of Statistics and E-Government Agency supported by the World Bank tailored towards civil servants working with data
Trainers: Dave Tarrant ,Emil Kimaryo, Joachim Mangilima, John Paul Barreto
Partners: Open Data Institute (ODI)
Location: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Date: 7th – 14th June 2016
Audience: Statisticians, Economists and data managers from ministries and government agencies for the first two sessions and journalists, start ups developers and civil society for the third session
Number of attendees 95 across the three sessions
Gender split: almost 50/50
Duration: 6 days
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Mobile data collection

- December 16, 2014 in data-collection, mobile, Skillhare, tech

This blog post is based on the School of Data skillshare I hosted on mobile data collection. Thanks to everyone who took part in it!
Of recent, mobile has become an increasingly popular method of data collection. This is achieved through having an application or electronic form on a mobile device such as a smartphone or a tablet. These devices offer innovative ways to gather data regardless of time and location of the respondent. The benefits of mobile data collection are obvious, such as quicker response times and the possibility to reach previously hard-to-reach target groups. In this blog post I share some of the tools that I have been using and developing applications on top of for the past five years.
  1.       Open Data Kit
Open Data Kit (ODK) is a free and open-source set of tools which help researchers author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions. ODK provides an out-of-the-box solution for users to:
  • Build a data collection form or survey ;
  • Collect the data on a mobile device and send it to a server; and
  • Aggregate the collected data on a server and extract it in useful formats.
ODK allows data collection using mobile devices and data submission to an online server, even without an Internet connection or mobile carrier service at the time of data collection.   Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 20.15.30 ODK, which uses the Android platform, supports a wide variety of questions in the electronic forms such as text, number, location, audio, video, image and barcodes.
  1.      Commcare
Commcare is an open-source mobile platform designed for data collection, client management, decision support, and behavior change communication. Commcare consists of two main technology components: Commcare Mobile and CommCareHQ. The mobile application is used by client-facing community health workers/enumerator in visits as a data collection and educational tool and includes optional audio, image, and audio, GPS locations and video prompts. Users access the application-building platform through the website CommCareHQ  which is operated on a cloud-based server. Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 20.20.30 Commcare supports J2ME feature phones, Android phones, and Android tablets and can capture photos and GPS readings, Commcare supports multi-languages and non-roman character scripts as well as the integration of multimedia (image, audio, and video). CommCare mobile versions allow applications to run offline and collected data can be transmitted to CommCareHQ when wireless (GPRS) or Internet (WI-FI) connectivity becomes available.
  1.      GEOODK
GeoODK provides a way to collect and store geo-referenced information, along with a suite of tools to visualize, analyze and manipulate ground data for specific needs. It enables an understanding of the data for decision-making, research, business, disaster management, agriculture and more. It is based on the Open Data Kit (ODK), but has been extended with offline/online mapping functionalities, the ability to have custom map layer, as well as new spatial widgets, for collecting point, polygon and GPS tracing functionality. Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 20.21.48 This one blog post cannot cover each and every tool for mobile data collection, but some other tools that can be used to accomplish  mobile data collection each of which having their own unique features includes OpenXData and Episurveyor. Why Use Mobile Technology in Collecting Data There are several advantages as to why mobile technology should be used in collecting data some of which include,
  •         harder skipping questions,
  •         immediate (real time) access to the data from the server, which also makes data aggregation and analysis to become very rapid,
  •         Minimizes workforce and hence reduces cost of data collection by cutting out data entry personnel.
  •         Data Security is enhanced through data encryption
  •         Collect unlimited data types such as audio, video, barcodes, GPS locations
  •         Increase productivity by skipping data entry middle man
·         Save cost related to printing, storage and management of documents associated with paper based data collection. flattr this!

Education Data Dive in Tanzania

- November 10, 2014 in Data Expeditions, datadive, education, Events, tanzania

We recently had a round of training in Dar es Salaam to continue growing momentum and capacity around open data in Tanzania, which is part of a bigger commitment by the Tanzanian government to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global initiative that aims at promoting transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and encourage use of new technologies to improve governance. In Tanzania this commitment covers three main sectors: education, health and water. “Open Data Training: Education Data Dive” workshop was held on 6-10 October 2014, in Dar Es Salaam, with representatives from Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), Prime Minister’s Office- Regional Administration and Local Government, National Examination Council of Tanzania (NECTA), E-Government Agency (EGA), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and National Council of Technical Education (NACTE), Tanzania Education Authority and other institutions.
Group photo for training in Dar es Salaam

Group photo for training in Dar es Salaam

This was my first time co-facilitating a workshop of this kind as a School of Data Fellow in Tanzania. And it was a fantastic opportunity for me to sharpen my facilitation skills and also to learn from other facilitators, including the main facilitator and a more experienced among us all, Michael Bauer from the School of Data. It was a wonderful thing seeing all these government agencies responsible for education, in one room, learning and sharing from one another, which even by their own admission is very rare situation. When we were preparing for this workshop we knew that there is an existing expertise and knowledge about specific education datasets, but the challenge is mainly in letting other agencies know this so that they can be able to collaborate between themselves. It was fitting then that we had several datasets from some of the agencies that we used during our workshop to bring participants to a common understanding of open data concepts, teach and practice data wrangling skills and clean and join key datasets that some of them were already familiar with. We started the workshop by focusing on developing a common understanding of open data and data management with concepts such as improving usability of already available public data providing better metadata and improving data workflows, to open licensing of data. Then we proceeded to introduction of various tools for data cleaning, analysis and visualization, including Open Refine, QGIS, Fusion Tables and Pivot Tables. This was the first time that most of the participants were using these tools, and they were excited to see how these tools opened up a world of possibilities that they did not know that existed with the datasets that they are working with often. An example was clearly illustrated by one participant from the PMO-RALG who was glad to have discovered Pivot Tables, as most of the tasks that he is working on most datasets would be simplified a lot using Pivot Tables skills. These practical hands on sessions were met with enthusiasm by all participants, and despite dedicating two full days, they were still up to spending more time cleaning, merging, analyzing and visualizing their datasets using these tools.
Brainstorming during the workshop

Brainstorming during the workshop

One major discussion that resonated throughout the workshop and how these agencies through working together might be able to come up with solutions about this , was the lack of unique codes that can be used to identify schools by different education stakeholders when dealing with education datasets containing schools. Most participants were of the agreement that merging data sets and coming up with analysis and visualizations during the workshop, would have been much easier, if we had unique codes used by every agency whose data sets were used during the workshop. The latter part of the workshop was mainly spent, collecting feedback about the workshop and jointly plan the way forward for the implementation of what participants learned in their daily workflows. The follow up plan was drafted in which we will have a bi–weekly sessions with some of the participants to work together to implement what they learned during the workshop and also to revise various techniques about the tools learned and to dive deep into techniques we could not cover during the workshop.
Post-it notes from the workshop

Post-it notes from the workshops

The highlight for me of this workshop was the informal discussions that participants were having during breaks in which most of them were of the agreement that Open Data initiatives need not be seen as a foreign based concept imposed on Tanzania, but rather Tanzanians themselves need to see the benefits and take ownership of this concept. flattr this!