Al Kags

Getting Open Data to the people – An example: GotToVote!


I am really excited.

Just yesterday, I was speaking at a conference organised by Development Initiatives in Nairobi, where Civil Society Oorganisations were thinking through how to work with Kenya Open Data Initiative, how they can use it and add value to it and so on. Despite not being in perfect health, with the cold acquired from my trips to the Open UP 2012 in the UK and to the INternet Governance Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan, I could not fail to attend.

I made a couple of proposals for the civil Society:

  1. That they not wait for government to divine what data is useful for their sector but to seek specific data from government in a collaborative way – rather than be adversarial. And that they add value to the data to make it relevant to ordinary folk, in the communities they operate.
  2. That they advocate passionately for open legislation which includes – Access to Information, including “proactive publishing of government data using prevailing technology” as a way to secure KODI. Also, insert open licensing as standard rules.
  3. I said to them that “people who live in glass houses mustn’t throw stones.” Civil Society cannot push for Open Government without Open Civil Society and therefore Civil Society must open up their data to the public especially aid data, spending data, impact data etc. This will enable us to see the other side of the development coin.

Maybe the biggest point I tried to make is that Open Data projects do not have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming and that Civil Society organisations have almost the largest responsibility to make sure that the public understands the data – by building tools to simplify them. I became aware of work that a one of our team members on Code4Kenya did just hours before.

I learnt that the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Bounderies Commission released a PDF of the Election 2013 voting centres for people to register themselves. As you can see in the PDF, the data is complex and is really only useful to someone with both expert and technical knowledge or lots of time on their hands. Very few ordinary people would use the document. But, a project that Open Institute is incubating for the African Media Initiative and World Bank, Code4Kenya, immediately saw the possibilities and this complex document. Code4Kenya’s lead developer David Lemayian and Data Fellow Simeon Oriko managed to extract all the information from the PDF so they could build simple web-based tool,, in just 24hrs. The site attracted over 2,500 users in the first day, and seems to be gaining even great traction since then.

This is a clear demonstration that these things need not to be expensive, complex, or time consuming to create.  See more on the Open Institute blog


1 thought on “Getting Open Data to the people – An example: GotToVote!”

  1. Great points, Al. Open Data certainly provides an amazing opportunity to change the way citizens and governments interact and communicate. As you note, citizens can now organize better, coordinate advocacy efforts based on a fuller slice of information, and have tangible "asks" of their legislators and government. Excited for what is to come with these pieces in place in Kenya and elsewhere.

    The web tool is amazing. Clean. Functional. Awesome. Fantastic job by David and Simeon.

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