On July 8th 2011, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenyan Open Data Initiative, making key government data freely available to the public through a single online portal. The 2009 census, national and regional expenditure, and information on key public services are some of the first datasets to be released. Tools and applications have already been built to take this data and make it more useful than it originally was.
This is, so far, the story of open government data in many other countries; what's special about Kenya?
Firstly, as Johannes Zutt writes, this initiative arrives just as a new constitution is being adopted by the country. There's an opportunity to affirm the practice and principles of open government at a time of national change; there's a community of local developers and activists eager to make use of the data; and a genuine appetite from the public for transparency and accountability.
Secondly, our understanding and expectations of open data have matured. The oldest kid on the block, data.gov, is a little over two-years old. It's followed closely by the eighteen-month old data.gov.uk and some of the 22 other international open government data sites around the world. In the short time these initiatives have existed, we've started to figure out what works, what doesn't and why. Kenya's open data initiative has already learned from the successes and failures of others, has connected with the global open data community and is prompting thinking beyond open data and towards open development.
Finally, Kenya is the first low-income group country to have an open government data portal. This brings into focus the supply and demands sides of government information that other countries may take for granted. Raka Banerjee writes that the call for open data should go hand in hand with a call for better quality data: data that might be collected by official government agencies or in this age, by citizens themselves.
On supply: The World Bank's indicators on country-level statistical capacity measure various aspects of a government's statistical systems. You can see from an overview of Kenya where World Bank programmes such as STATCAP add value by strengthening these national systems, improving the supply of official government data. Open government initiatives of course require more than this; and there's a team in Kenya working across ministries and departments to make open government a sustained success.
On demand: with over a hundred requests from the public for new datasets on the opendata.go.ke site, it's clear that there's a desire for more information. People want data similar to what they might want in the USA: land registry, company registrations and employment statistics to name a few. Kenyans also want data that citizens of more developed countries may be less likely to ask for: fire protection information (how many fire engines are there per county?), school payment disbursement data (do government funds actually reach schools?) and livestock populations.
Open data in Kenya is special: it comes at a time of national change; it’s got a head start on tools and expertise from the global open data community and it’s happening in a country where the information ecosystem is still maturing.