data.gov.gh: Is this a near future possibility or unrealistic scenario? That’s the question we are trying to answer with the Open Government Data (ODG) feasibility study started in July which brought Aman Grewal, who is the latest addition to the Web Foundation Team, and myself to Accra for 10 days of interviews and meetings over the past 2 weeks.
Personally, I feel that, while the initiatives in UK and USA and the number of new services made available to citizens have been impressive, the potential for OGD initiatives in low-income countries can have an even greater effect.
I’m convinced that the Web is broadly under-utilized in developing countries due to a lack of relevant, local content. I remember reading statistics (can’t find them now, if anybody has links this would be greatly appreciated) showing that in countries like France and UK, Web users are, in vast majority, accessing sites in their own country. In e.g. Ghana, there is still a very limited offer of Ghanaian sites. The availability of data would certainly encourage developers and IT companies to develop services using these data, and therefore provide information about things happening very close to people in Ghana (i.e. Where is the nearest school/hospital/doctor? What is the safest path (or the least congested) to go from point A to B in Accra or in Ghana?, etc.).
In my view, not only could an OGD initiative increase transparency of the Government, but it might also be a way to more fully realize the potential of ICT to improve people’s lives in the country, by providing the raw information from where services could be derived.
However, while the potential is obvious, the implementation is another story. The report published in April by B. Hogge gives a very good overview of the key dimensions to capture to establish the feasibility of such an initiative. Building this big picture was the goal of our visit in Accra.
We met lots of people from very different groups: activists campaigning for the Right to Information Act (RTI) to be improved and passed at the parliament, government officials, people in charge of the eGhana project, journalists, people from ministries (justice, communication, etc.), from national agencies (National IT Agency, Ghana Statistical Service, etc.), and we have now a relatively good picture of the current situation.
When we arrived in Accra, I was curious to explore the readiness in Ghana for an OGD initiative. Now, after few dozens of interviews, there seem to be promising opportunities, with new agencies like NITA, or with specific events like the national census taking place now which could bring very useful data to civil society, universities, etc.
We are now working on a more complete and consolidated report that will integrate all the contributions we received, and some ideas and headlines for a strategy in Ghana.