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Experimenting with open data in Africa

Web Foundation · March 4, 2016

At the World Wide Web Foundation, we acknowledge that open data is still a young field, and our work is at the frontier. This means we often find far more questions than answers when it comes to how open data can fuel social change.

This is why our Open Data team is in the trenches testing hypotheses, synthesising evidence and scrutinising truth claims: We believe in the value of doing rigorous research, taking risks and challenging assumptions to chart the way forward.

Until now, our Open Data Lab Jakarta has been doing much of the work on the ground, experimenting and innovating across Southeast Asia and sharing the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Not to be left behind, our open data team in Africa has rolled up its sleeves to start testing how open data can better the lives of Africa’s citizens too.

So what is the team working on? Here is a look at the activities and insights taking shape as part of our research “Harnessing Open Data to Achieve Development Results in Asia and Africa”:


Transparent value chains for coffee growers

Beza and François and from African Minds invited a company of coffee farmers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with certifiers, agronomists, exporters and roasters to explore how open data could benefit everyone in the coffee production chain. The consensus was that open data on coffee wet mills – where coffee is washed prior to drying – would benefit everyone. This is because washed coffee commands a higher price in global coffee markets. François and Beza think that data sharing is more likely than open data in value chains, but that there may nevertheless be “sweet spots” in value chains where the publication of open data is possible. This is because there is always likely to be data to which no competitive advantage is attached. But it requires a concerted effort by everyone in the value chain to discover where the sweet spot may be. Following the meeting, the mapping of wet mills in the Great Lakes region has begun, and plans are underway to enrich the data collected and to look for more innovative ways to use it.


Trusted data intermediaries for farmers

Alex and David from Stellenbosch University and adooreLabs Ghana have been digging deep into the histories and operations of organisations such as Esoko and Farmerline in Ghana. These open data intermediaries repackage open data to provide farmers with information about the weather, market prices, soil conditions and more. Alex and David are curious as to how these organisations are able to play this brokering role effectively – an important question to answer if governments wish to nurture sustainable open data ecosystems.


Increased data sharing among civil society

Concerned about the amount of time it takes the Tanzanian government to release official health data, Mahadia from the University of Dar es Salaam has been talking to health CSOs in the city to find out what they are doing to share their data. She has discovered that most CSOs do not have policies governing data collection or dissemination. Of greater concern is her discovery that most CSOs – especially those engaged in similar activities – do not share data due to competition for donor funding and restrictions on data sharing imposed by donors.


Investigative journalism on illicit money flows in the extractive industry

Khadija from the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting has deployed a squadron of investigative journalists to over ten African countries to investigate the illicit flows of money in African extractive industries. She is curious to find out whether the journalists make use of any of the growing number of open data portals available to them (see, for example, Mafia in AfricaFatal Extraction or The Miners of Mozambique). The journalists are keeping data diaries to log their experiences, and she hopes these diaries will provide new insights into the value of open data portals to journalists in Africa.


Improving city water delivery

Lindiwe and Richard from the Palmer Development Group and Open Data Durban have met with eThekwini Municipality in South Africa to examine ways in which the city could use open data to improve the delivery of water to the citizens of Durban. Their hope is that they will not only succeed in making open data work for the city, but also that they will leave in place a diverse and inclusive open data community who can work with the city to improve service delivery.


Creating new businesses and jobs

Ome and Johanna from Ilorin University and the University of Southampton have just gotten underway talking to businesses in Nigeria to find out whether they have been able to use open data as a resource to create new and sustainable ventures. Of particular interest will be whether these business are using open data to create new job opportunities for Africa’s youth bulge.

We can’t wait to see how these projects develop and what more we learn. If you’d like to stay up to date with our progress, follow the @webfoundation on Twitter or sign up to our newsletter. If you’d like to ask for more information on the specific Africa projects, you can contact our Regional Research Manager for Africa, Francois van Schalkwyk on Twitter @Francois_fvs2.

This project is supported by the Open Data for Development (OD4D) program, a partnership funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the World Bank, United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), andGlobal Affairs Canada (GAC).



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