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The State of Open Data in Ghana: Policy

- October 20, 2015 in Fellowship


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


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


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




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.



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



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.

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