Data for good!

Blog by Sally Akinyi, October 18, 2018

Open data is the new future

The future is open! This was the main message at the 4th International Open Data Conference. On 27- 28 September 2018, 1,500 participants from the data community drawn from government, civil society, academia and private sector convened in Buenos Aires, Argentina to share experiences, learnings and collaborate on the future of open data globally.

The growth of the data community has significantly risen in the last couple of years. Brought together by a common goal of using data to solve structural problems in society, these enthusiasts identify with the belief that open data in itself is not just about sharing data but using the mechanism to influence decision making in good governance.

A panel discussion during the conference opening

Open contracting the leading frontier in public procurement reforms

During the conference, various front-runner governments that have become known as the flag bearers of transparency and accountability shared their experiences in the use of approaches such as open contracting to improve service delivery.

Countries such as Paraguay, Colombia and Ukraine were lauded for their efforts in using the open contracting data standard to transform service delivery in the public sector. Colombia is now a leading example of how to run an effective school-feeding program. To curb inefficiency and corruption in the provision of school meals to over 800,000 students, the country’s procurement oversight authority in partnership with the ministry of education introduced use of open data through open contracting to propel radical reforms in the school meals system. These reforms have seen better regulation of prices, transparency and delivery of quality meals to students adhering highest standards of food safety.

But while these stories of change continue to triple globally; much still needs to be done to entrench transparency and accountability not only in governments but also in the private sector. At least these were some of the glaring insights in sessions such as the open cities summit where experts noted that other than just publishing data, systemic change leading to a culture of openness is necessary in the push for transparency in the use of public funds.

A critical example was given of the New Mexican airport where the government is publishing incomplete data about contractors and the actual beneficial owners that are benefitting from the tenders.

Open cities and open contracting works

Cities and municipalities were also challenged to be part of change by embracing the current data revolution wave that is not only driving smart cities in order to provide information to citizens and improve public service delivery, but disrupting decision making in the use of public funds. These can be done in various ways: adopting open budgets, opening up procurement systems, working with infomediaries to provide actionable data to citizens so as to upscale sustainable solutions that can improve the quality of life in cities.

Right to information

The legal context was also seen as integral component of propelling transparency. Access to information laws plays a critical role in guaranteeing the right to access information. Most scandals in the use of public funds have been propelled by lack of disclosure. It was further noted that provision of data using such laws promotes inclusivity in decision-making and encourages public participation on matters concerning the quality of life of citizens.

Movement building in Africa

In its continued traction to build a coalition of the willing for open contracting, Hivos East Africa’s session at the Open Data in Sub Sahara Africa Workshop, inspired data enthusiasts in Africa to forge a multi-stakeholder working group made up of governments, civil society and academia to spearhead the adoption of contracting data and beneficial ownership in different countries.

Hivos East Africa’s Regional Open Contracting Project Manager (on the second left) shared experiences on the adoption of the approach in Africa

Hivos East Africa together with partners and infomediaries such as Budeshi (in Nigeria), Article 19 and the Africa Freedom of Information Centre in Uganda, have been leading the open contracting movement in Africa. Together we are driving procurement reforms in government to bring lasting change in the delivery of quality goods and services for citizens. In fact there exists progressive procurement institutions and devolved governments such as the Makueni County in Kenya that have adopted the open contracting approach to promote transparency in public contracting.

As the event ended on a ‘high’ it was clear that the age of the data disruption is spreading its tentacles to Africa. The data community in the continent welcomed the good news of the next International Open Data Conference in 2020 that will be hosted in Nairobi, Kenya. This only proves that the momentum to involve the global south in development for good using data is alive!

Hivos team at the IODC 2018