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Kenya’s accountability website marks anniversary with new-look portal

NEWS
By Frankline Sunday | August 25th 2015

NAIROBI: It has been four years since former President Mwai Kibaki launched Kenya’s open data portal, making public data that was once held closely by Government agencies and ministries.

The launch of the Kenya Open Data Initiative (Kodi) saw the country become the first in sub-Saharan Africa to liberate official government data.

This elevated Kenya’s profile in the continent as a technology powerhouse. In the four years it has been active, the portal has recorded 44 million page views, and over half a million downloads and embeds of data on users’ websites.

According to Kodi, half the users accessing the site are from within the country, while of the other half that is outside Kenya, 10 per cent are from the United States, and three per cent each from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The ICT Authority (ICTA) — which is tasked with collecting data from various Government departments, standardising it and publishing it on the portal — last week launched a revamped, more user-friendly portal to mark Kodi’s anniversary.

Dubbed Open Data 2.0, the new portal has some features that, according to the team behind the project, have been informed by feedback from users and critics.

“When we launched, many people were skeptical that you could open up Government data to the public on the scale that we were proposing,” said Victor Kyalo, ICTA’s chief executive.

“In the last four years, however, we have faced many challenges and criticisms, taken them all in stride and have grown from incubation to a data repository that provides users with information that was once very difficult to obtain.”

NEW TOOLS

Linnet Kwamboka, Kodi’s project co-ordinator, said the new version of the portal has several tools to improve user experiences, and widens the scope for developers interested in making apps using the available data.

“This is a very exciting phase of the open data portal because it has enhanced interactivity to improve user engagement, and users can mine the data in new, different ways,” she said.

Some of the tools that have been introduced include a data calendar — an index of specific timelines by when Government departments, ministries and agencies are expected to produce and publish public datasets.

The Data Lens and Explore Data tools allow users to filter search results and customise them to their specifications.

The revamped site also includes customised mapping tools and county-specific datasets, which include statistics on Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos counties.

DATA TRICKLE

The lack of availability of up-to-date data has been a consistent criticism of Kodi, with users particularly taking issue with records from the company registry and lands department.

ICTA admits that in the beginning, the flow of data was more of a trickle as custodians in Government offices were reluctant to share or were yet to appreciate the significance of liberating public data. However, things are changing.

“We are seeing a lot more Government agencies sharing their data with us, so there is going to be a lot more data available to users,” said Ms Kwamboka.

Developers have also introduced an Open Budget App, which provides a dynamic and interactive window into Kenya’s public fiscal planning, which has since been digitised through initiatives like e-Promise and IFMIS system.

The app, which plugs into data that is as recent as this year’s programme-based Budget report, is expected to increase civic participation in Budget making to improve accountability and transparency.

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