It’s been an exciting week in Accra. My colleague Stephane Boyera and myself have spent the last week there in meetings to kick-start a new project. It is our pleasure to announce that the Web Foundation will be supporting the National Information Technology Agency (NITA), to spearhead the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI).
The Web Foundation published Open Data feasibility studies for Ghana and Chile in May last year. The Ghana feasibility study showed that Ghana was ready to start an Open Data Initiative, some recommendations on where to start, and that there was government and civil society support and willingness to do so.
The Ministry of Communications through NITA has engaged the Web Foundation over the last few months in discussions over the feasibility report and how Ghana can take advantage of the conductive environment with the roll-out of the eGovernment Network Infrastructure (GovNET) across the 10 regions in Ghana. With the GovNET in place, date collection and dissemination by Ministries, Departments and Agencies will now be easier and will spark of innovation and development with reuse of data so disseminated.
Ghana is also one of the countries that have committed to be part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) joining the pledge of participating countries in the OGP to deliver country action plans that elaborate concrete commitments on open government. In each country, these commitments are developed through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.
NITA invited the Web Foundation to visit Ghana to discuss what Ghana can do to create an Open Data Initiative (ODI). I personally went with two other things in mind that I have highlighted a few times already:
- You can do Open Data without transparency and transparency without Open Data but if you really want to do Open Data well, you want to put transparency and accountability at the core.
- “Build it and they will come” is an approach that doesn’t work well for ODIs; you have to “outreach and engage from the start”
The Week of Meetings in Accra
We spent two days with NITA brainstorming about the establishment of the Ghana Open Data Initiative, the actors to be involved, the actions to be taken, and the timeline. We then participated at a stakeholders meeting and round table with several government agencies, civil society organizations and academia. This meeting, that took place on Thursday, 26 Jan 2012, at Novotel Hotel in Accra, can be considered the kick-start of the Ghana Open Data Initiative (GODI). You can read a press report of the meeting.
The meeting was opened by Mr. William Tevie, Director General, NITA, and followed by remarks by Dr. Nii Quaynor, Chairman of the Board of Directors, NITA; Dr. Tony Aidoo, Head of Policy, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Presidency and OGP point of contact; and my colleague Stephane Boyera, Lead Program Manager at the Web Foundation.
I then had the chance to introduce the audience to the topics of Open Government and Open Data and the first outcomes of the brainstorming meetings. We then engaged in a great discussion about the next steps and their participation, wonderfully chaired by Dr. Quaynor, who greatly encouraged people to participate.
As I repeated to the audience several times during the meeting (I’m sure I sounded repetitive): this is YOUR initiative. This very important. The Web Foundation is supporting NITA, and NITA is spearheading the initiative but all stakeholders are welcome and should collaboratively own the GODI. One of the things we discussed is the establishment of a Secretariat or Steering Committee that will be chaired by NITA where all the interested parties from government and outside government will be represented.
It is still to early to say how many datasets will be released, how, in what formats… but as Dr. Quaynor summarized at the end of the meeting (while calling again for multi- stakeholder ownership of the initiative), the main goals of the projects are to enhance transparency and accountability in government institutions, improve government efficiency, and spark off innovation from the demand side for applications and services to be developed to better serve the citizenry. I cannot agree more.
Our week of meetings finished with a brief meeting with H.E. Vice President, John Dramani Mahama, where NITA and the Web Foundation staff had the chance to debrief him about the previous event. Vice President Mahama showed great interest, asked for more information and mentioned he will champion the project within the Cabinet.
As I said at the beginning, it took us all several months to reach this stage since the publication of the feasibility report but it’s our feeling that things are now speeding up and gaining momentum and we all are trying to build on it. The project is scheduled for a 2-year period but we will steadily increase the pace over the next few weeks with the goal to produce deliverables and “quick wins” so all could see signs of progress and could continuously evaluate it.
Development of a strategy is just starting. Phone meetings and further visits to Ghana will follow. There will be increased room for public input, and many many other things are being lined up. Yes, there will be a portal (I’m sure you guessed the web address already) but we will work across the six dimensions of Open Data I usually refer to: political, legal, organizational, technical, social and economic.
I’d like to thank all the people and organizations that participated in the feasibility study, all that attended the stakeholders meeting and I hope we’ll keep on working together and add more and keep growing the community.
I’m sure that the Web Foundation, NITA and all the stakeholders will work hard on reaching the main goal of this project: create a locally long-term sustainable Open Data ecosystem in Ghana that will serve as a shinning example for others to replicate. Stay tuned.