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From literacy to participation: our goal for 2022

I started working on data as a tool for transparency in 2010 when my friends Jay Bhalla and Kaushal Jalla asked me to help with a strategy for getting Kenya to be the first country in African to have an Open Data Initiative that publishes data freely and in machine readable format. A few months later in May 2011, Kenya launched the Kenya Open Data Initiative.

Jay and I went on to work on the Open Data initiatives of several other countries – Ghana, Tanzania, Moldova and others with varied success over the next couple of years. We soon realised a significant problem: people were not using the data. People were not downloading the data and using it to fight for their rights, development priorities or even to learn. The hits on the platforms were low.

And so, we embarked on working with civil society organisations (CSOs), academics and journalists to become ‘infomediaries’ the people who review and analyse the data and tell stories from them – again with varied success. Others went on to build mobile apps that would help with the data uptake and help citizens use the data for different purposes. Again, the vast majority of apps went unused.

More recently, we have spent our time working directly with citizens in villages and working with governments as close as possible to villages and there we are seeing more success. More importantly, we are discovering reasons for the disaffection with data, that were before unclear to us.

Today, I was met by a series of questions that sum it up.

How do you expect me to participate in public participation activities when I can barely read? How do you expect me to engage with data, when I can barely count? Do you really expect me, a person who left school at primary level, to have the confidence, the language and lifeskills to engage with you on a conversation relating to data?

This year, you will see us at the Open Institute engage a lot more with people who ask these questions and see how we can bring data closer to them. Our work shall start at an unusual place – from literacy to participation.

I am a writer first and foremost. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, which I define by finding ways to innovate the world’s processes to make life better for people – whether in business or in the non-profit sector. I am professionally involved at the Open Institute, Thellesi Co and various agricultural ventures.

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