In his first piece for the School of Data blog, our 2018 Fellow, Kelvin Wellington, reflects on his experiences at the Standard Group Conference in Accra in July 2018.
To date, the conversation around open data has been firmly centred in its importance and the implications of championing the cause. Is it a cause worth fighting for, and are policymakers doing the right thing by opening up data to the public eye? As citizens, is it important to know the finer details of how our country is run? These are questions that were lingering in my mind during an open data presentation that was part of a data conference held by the Standard Group in Accra, Ghana a few days ago. I will attempt to dissect some findings from this session.
What can open data do?
Open data should not be a scary concept, and should be embraced. It should not be seen as a means of taking off ‘protective shields’ on data. When we talk about open data, we should be looking at the following:
- Empowerment: open data can give citizens of a country a stronger voice on public services they use and create a channel of dialogue between the citizen and local authorities or government.
- Transparency: open data should be the next frontier in citizens’ quest for transparency. Freedom of information enables citizens to make informed decisions regarding their government, and allows us to better understand our world.
- Participation: open data should bring about inclusiveness; from data providers to users. Everyone has a part to play in innovating with data and making a difference through building data-driven solutions.
Who should be driving open data?
Ideally, policy makers should be the driving force for open data in any setting. Policy makers in Ghana are, however, driving at a turtle’s pace. The public should be weighing in on the conversation as well, but at the moment thoughts are too scattered to produce a collective force. The private sector should also be heavily involved in the Open Data push since they have access to huge amounts of data.
In addition, the policies and procedures should be open as well, not just data. Ultimately, it is up to governments, public bodies, community groups, citizens and businesses to facilitate the growth of open data, propagate its benefits and see that it achieves its full potential.
The Open Data Initiative in Ghana has stalled with the online platform lacking in up-to-date data, and data unavailable for a good number of industries. Financial constraints have been pointed out as a major issue, and as citizens, we owe it to our country to challenge authorities to resolve this.
Why is it important?
We spend our time talking about making decisions without focusing on making data-driven decisions. If data is not being processed into knowledge and that knowledge does not become wisdom, then the purpose of data in itself is dead. Opening data gives us all a chance to contribute to creating more knowledge and making wiser decisions. Data has become a gold standard, and keeping an ‘open culture’ makes for a healthier ecosystem for policymakers and citizens alike.