From DC to Kampala: Sharing Open Data Stories in first Virtual Exchange
As part of our efforts this year to connect more with similar hubs around the globe, On June 2nd the Open Gov Hub in DC hosted its first Virtual Exchange with the Hive Colab in Kampala, Uganda's premier co-working space and tech incubator for fast-growing startups revolutionizing Uganda's digital economies and one of the oldest hubs on the African continent.
The goal of this Exchange was to introduce the complementary Hub and Hive communities to one another and open the door for ongoing conversations and possible collaborations around issues of shared interest. In particular, this videoconference discussion focused on the shared challenge of how to best collect, make sense of, and persuasively visualize and share findings from open data related to governance issues.
With 8 participants each around the table in DC and Kampala (representing a total of six NGOs in DC and five startups in Kampala), the Exchange began with all participants briefly introducing their work and highlighting one specific paint point they face.
Some of the top themes and shared challenges included:
- how to best make data usable and understood by people (both government officials and citizens), and the need to constantly ask and think about who are your users
- the gap that exists between the law and practice on open data (the law may mandate it, but in practice often only certain types of information are available), which often makes it difficult for NGOs or startups to access information that would enable them to both monitor and support government to better deliver services to their citizens
Then three Hub organizations provided brief snapshot presentations of their work related to open data and East Africa:
1. Development Gateway shared the example of a dashboard it created for the Tanzanian government - using key information from Tanzania's open data portal - to visualize and simplify viewing a wealth of rich data about water quality, types of health facilities, and primary and secondary schools' pass rates across the country. One notable feature of this project was the ability to easily view both aggregated and disaggregated data at the local level.
2. Open Data Watch gave a brief description about its flagship Open Data Inventory (ODIN) program, which assesses both the availability and openness of national statistics on a range of economic, social and environmental issues for over 170 countries around the world. They noted that for 2016, Uganda received a score on this ODIN index of 38, slightly below the median score for all countries that year. Uganda is more likely to publish economic data than environmental or social data, and one recommendation Open Data Watch gave that would improve Uganda's score is to publish more data in machine readable format, as it is currently all only available in PDF.
3. Akvo then discussed their work developing open source software that helps organizations capture, understand and share data. Akvo actually has one team member at the Open Gov Hub and another at the Hive Colab, so each person briefly discussed the work from their perspective. That included Akvo's work in Uganda specifically that helps local NGOs in the water and other social service sectors make sense of and visualize their data, in order to help them more effectively use that data to advocate and lobby at the local level. Also, one of Akvo's tools, Akvo Flow, is also being used by the UN to track data about refugee migration into Uganda.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear that there is a real opportunity for Open Gov Hub organizations to help provide useful information and tools about a variety of development and governance issues in Uganda, while Hive Colab organizations can help ensure that such information is actually useful and useable by local stakeholders to empower their own efforts to seek change.
For example, Global Integrity's Africa Integrity Indicators take a close look at the implementation gap highlighted by one of the Ugandan participants that exists between the law and actual practices related to open data, and the Ugandan startup Evidence and Methods Lab specializes in simplifying the type of governance research findings that organizations like Global Integrity produce, in order for that information to be accessible and understood and actually used by local government officials and citizens. Meanwhile, the Open Data Watch can offer technical expertise and information on good international practices in open data policy to help local Ugandan NGOs like the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda who might want to effectively comment on Ugandan open data policies as they are being developed.
The group also discussed the idea that Hive Colab organizations could look for look organizations with great data that would be important to share with the public, while Hub organizations could try to find opportunities to fund the work then needed to actually simplify, visualize and make sense of that data.
As a next step, several individual organizations agreed to follow up with each other on fruitful ares of possible collaboration, and the group as a whole decided to continue connecting via Virtual Exchange once per quarter.