We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Across the United States, journalists and civic-minded coders are harnessing new online sources of government data to create mobile apps and websites. But the open data movement could have a deeper impact in developing countries, where it’s being used to improve government transparency and increase accountability of politicians and aid agencies. Tech Tuesday examines new global initiatives to open government with technology.
- Al Kags Chief Executive Officer, Goode Africa Ltd.; Chairman, Kenya Open Data Task Force, Government of Kenya
- David Eaves Open government activist / writer
- Tariq Khokhar Open Data Evangelist, World Bank
- Eric Gundersen President and co-founder, Development Seed
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. It's a surprising new frontier for open government innovation. For years, the East African nation of Kenya was one of the last places you'd look for cutting-edge experiments in transparency. Today, Kenya is widely recognized as a global leader in the movement to empower citizens with government data.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIKenyans can log on and compare teacher-to-pupil ratios of their local schools. They're using custom maps to shame parliament members who evade taxes and building their own maps with data from the census or international development agencies. And in a country where less than 30 percent have access to the Internet, they can use mobile phones to report political shenanigans or to pay their bills. The open government and open data story might have started in places like Washington, Chicago and New York.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut some of the most exciting tools and applications are being put to use in places like Nairobi. This Tech Tuesday, we're getting an international perspective on the movement to liberate public data. Joining us in studio is Tariq Khokhar. He is an open data evangelist with the World Bank. Over the last two years, the bank has moved to open up data from more than 8,000 global economic indicators. It's also mapped more than 30,000 projects across 142 countries. Tariq Khokhar, thank you for joining us.
MR. TARIQ KHOKHARA pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Eric Gunderson. He is president and co-founder of Development Seed, a Washington-based company that builds open source data mapping solutions and tools. Eric Gunderson, thank you for joining us.
MR. ERIC GUNDERSONThank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this Tech Tuesday conversation, the number to call is 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet at #TechTuesday or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Change the conversation there. Can website or mobile app or government data portal really transform the way people relate to their government, in your opinion? Call us, start the conversation early, 800-433-8850. Today, Americans have come to rely on public data, even if we don't always realize it. We use GPS, weather data to navigate our surroundings and make our decisions.
NNAMDIWe can use apps that tell us when the next Metro train or Metro bus is coming. We can file requests for a pothole to be fixed. These same tools that we use -- we can build our own maps, mashing up government data about campaign finance. These tools are also beginning to have a big impact in developing countries, even in countries with fewer connections to the Web. What is the open data movement, Tariq? And how does it differ around the world?
KHOKHARSure. I mean, my favorite quote about this subject is from Beth Noveck, who was the former CTO at the White House. And she says that what we call open government today is what we'll just call government in the future. So that's the scale of the ambition of this thing. It's not just about a bit of data here and a bit of data there. It's about a whole scale transformation of the way government works and the way society interacts with government.
NNAMDIHow do you characterize it, Eric, same way?
GUNDERSONI think it's about actually just putting out information and letting other government agencies better leverage it and also citizens be able to just grab it and do stuff with it. There's a...
GUNDERSON...lot of serendipity there.
NNAMDITariq, the World Bank wears a lot of hats in the international arena. It offers loans and development assistance. It invests in infrastructure. But the bank also generates a huge trove of research and original data on economic issues. Where do you fit in as the open data evangelist?
KHOKHAROh, yeah. All over the place, I'm glad to say. So evangelist means bringer of good news in the kind of most general sense of the word. So, for me, open data is good news for all of the bank. And we say that we're open about what we know and open about what we do. So when we're open about what we know, we share the details of all of our knowledge and research. If you go to places like openknowledge.worldbank.org, that contains all of our research outputs and knowledge products.
KHOKHARIf you go to somewhere like data.worldbank.org, that will contain the details of our development indicators, our statistics, all the intelligence we have on global economies. And I happen to sit with the guys who produce the world development indicators. I brought a copy of this green book for you to look at.
NNAMDIOh, I'd love to look at the green book. But is the World Bank or are World Bank employees open about what they also don't know?
KHOKHARYeah. That's a good question. I mean, it's certainly the case that there are gaps in what we know. And we work with countries to try and fill those gaps. So we work with a lot of countries that have constraints in their capacity to produce data and statistics. So we have programs that offer countries support to make their national data systems stronger.
NNAMDIEric, Development Seed is a local business that sort of spans the local-global divide. You've built an open source mapping program for visualizing data using something called the OpenStreetMap Project. Please explain what that is.
GUNDERSONYeah. OpenStreetMap is a -- it's kind of like Wikipedia, but for maps, and it's a huge community. It started back in 2004. And you have over a half million people that are going in and actually mapping their neighborhood and everything from putting in streets to drawing the building footprints of their houses. And together, this is kind of co-creation space, it has added up over the years that we have now an incredibly detailed world base map. That's a -- and you can take this data and design really custom maps that you can input into your apps or put online.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, this Tech Tuesday conversation is about liberating data and opening up government. We're looking at it from a global perspective, 800-433-8850. Tariq, when we talk about investing large sums of money and foreign aid or other development projects, it's important to know exactly how that money is being spent and who is benefiting.
NNAMDIBut for most of the past 50 years or so, that kind of information has tended to be found in tall buildings in the capital city or in Washington, D.C., away from the communities where the projects are taking place. Why is it important to get that information out?
KHOKHARAbsolutely. So -- I mean, to illustrate with an example, I'm sure the listeners will be familiar with the tsunami in Indonesia back in 2004. So in Aceh, about three or four months after the tsunami, there was a report of a measles outbreak about 100 miles south of Banda Aceh. So immunologists went from -- sorry, epidemiologists went from Banda Aceh to investigate this. And what they discovered was that the case of measles reported was due to children receiving multiple vaccinations from multiple aid organizations.
KHOKHARSo different aid organizations had vaccinated kids multiple times and given them measles, in effect. But that's a slightly farcical example, but, I mean, no one died or anything. But it's a clear illustration of why better information about who is doing what where is vital for coordination at the very least and then on top of that transparency and further accountability.
NNAMDICare to add anything to that at all, Eric?
GUNDERSONNo. I mean -- but that's a great example where it just has to be open by default, right? Those doctors might not have known that they should be talking to each other. They don't need to. If you're doing open data and these different organizations have a way of just to publish what they're up to, then people can actually communicate without having to talk to each other.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we're hoping to talk with Al Kags. He is in Malindi, Kenya, and we're working to catch up with him on the phone. But in the meantime, last year, Kenya became the first African country to create an open data portal for government information. For the first time, 300 different data sets were made available to all Kenyans with Internet access. What do you know, Tariq, about the Kenya open data initiative?
KHOKHAROh, I was there when they launched it. It was a really big deal. I think at the time of change for the country, at the time of a new Constitution, at the time towards the end of the president's term, it was a big deal and a lot of promise but also a lot of practical benefit, I mean, within months of being launched. We started to see activities which, I think, Al will talk about. But, for instance, the Ministry of Education had published details of all of the schools, where are all the schools in the country.
KHOKHARBut it was incomplete. They didn't know where every school was or what were all the details of these schools were. So a private company, a call center took this data and said, hey, you know, we can call all these schools up, improve the data for you and give it back to the government for a cost that's lower than what the government would have done it for. So within months of releasing this information, they got better data and new partnerships with the private sector in their country.
NNAMDIThere's also -- for most of its post-colonial history, Kenya has not exactly been known for openness and transparency. Back in 2007, that country was torn apart by political and ethnic violence in the aftermath of a hotly contested presidential election. In a way, the open government story actually grew out of that most recent disturbing chapter. Do you know anything at all about Ushahidi and how that affected what went on in Kenya?
KHOKHARYeah, I'm familiar with Ushahidi, as well as a whole bunch of other technology-related initiatives that are sort of centered in Nairobi, in Kenya. I think the interesting to bear in mind there is that there was a much broader technology movement happening in East Africa. And Nairobi just happens to be part of it. So tools like Ushahidi are now used in not only in Africa, but, I mean, there are several Ushahidi deployments here in North America. People will take the same tools that were built in Africa and use them here and in other places, too.
NNAMDIWhat is Ushahidi, Eric, and what is significant about groups like Ushahidi?
GUNDERSONMm hmm. It's a crowd source app that you can actually text in what's going on. So, you know, this was essential in 2007, and people were texting the violence, and there was a team there in Kenya that was then able to verify that. And so when the government was going quiet and had basically done a media blackout, this was actually a source to see where some of the riots were happening and where the problems were from people actually on the ground. So it's a really neat citizen engagement tool. And it was all made locally using open source software in Kenya.
NNAMDITariq, some activists are using these online tools to create their own data and build up communities to fight corruption. Tell us about I Paid a Bribe.
KHOKHARWell, I Paid a Bribe -- so I checked I Paid a Bribe this morning. But for listeners, I Paid a Bribe was founded, I think, a couple of years ago by a couple in India. And their theory was that petty corruption, sort of paying a bit of money here and there to get a government service would decline if people just knew where it was happening, how much it cost and, you know, what to avoid and who to name and shame.
KHOKHARSo, for instance, I was looking this morning, and someone about eight hours ago was trying to register some land in Mansa, in western India. And he was saying that the guy -- that the land registry clerk asked him for a bribe equivalent to $2,000. So he reported this online. He said, I didn't pay this bribe, but you should know this guy is asking two grand to register some land. So that's the idea there.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a Tech Tuesday conversation on liberating data and opening up government from a global perspective. In studio is Eric Gunderson. He is president and co-founder of Development Seed. That's a Washington-based company that builds open source data mapping solutions and tools. Tariq Khokhar is open data evangelist with the World Bank. Over the past two years, as we mentioned earlier, the government has moved to open up data for more than 8,000 global economic indicators.
NNAMDIIf you're interested in joining the conversation, the number is 800-433-8850. Have public data changed the way you plan your commute or the way you see your neighborhood? Do you think that experience will translate in developing countries? If you happen to be from a developing country, you might have a perspective on this, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIEric Gunderson, a map can be a very powerful thing. It tells us how to get from point A to point B, but it can also have more subtle yet profound effects on the way we see our surroundings, our government, our place in society. But if I'm a rural villager in Kenya or, for that matter, a city dweller in a place like Sarajevo, you might very well live kind of off the map in the online world, at least. How does the map project address that problem?
GUNDERSONYeah, no -- the fact that if -- OpenStreetMap has tools so that if something is not on the map, you can actually add it, like you can literally walk out with a GPS device or a smartphone or you can actually trace aerial imagery. So, you know, back to Kenya, for example, there's this group called GroundTruth led by Mikel Maron, who's just done a lot of open street map over the years. And he actually went into the slums around Kenya, specifically Kibera, and worked with the local community, start mapping out the slum. That wasn't even a recognized area.
GUNDERSONAnd more than just putting roads and buildings on, actually having the local community go out, they were able to put -- hey, what points of interests are important to me? Like, oh, wait, hey, here's a clinic, you know, here's where you go to play video games. Being able to have this kind of space of co-creation where the community chooses what's to put on the map makes for something incredibly rich. Sarajevo, it's a little more of an extreme story, you know?
GUNDERSONIf anybody right now is in front of their computer and, you know, goes to Google Maps and types in Sarajevo, they'll see this cross section of two big highways. If you go to Open Street Map, you actually see an entire city there. You know, there's a lot of places around the world, where traditional map providers are not going to be motivated by the market to add data, and adding data is really expensive.
GUNDERSONBut communities now can actually go in and put in their own data, and governments can start opening up certain data to get the process started. But, ultimately, it comes down to people on the ground, choosing what's important to them and putting that on the map.
NNAMDIAnd, Tariq, I suspect that's particularly useful in the area of development because I was just thinking this morning, if I go to Google Maps and I'm looking in developing country for a hotel, I'll find it because that's a place that tourists go to. If, on the other hand, I'm looking for the part of that country that is greater -- in greatest need of irrigation, I might not be able to find it.
KHOKHARYeah, absolutely, so that -- this idea of having good quality, sub-national information on where is the need for development, that's really important, and it's equally important to have visibility on who is doing what where -- who is doing what where already. So initiatives like the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the Open Aid Partnership with -- which the bank is part of, part of the goal of that is to sort of geocodes and put on the map all the activities that different aid agencies or different government departments are doing to try and help improve people's lives.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about liberating data to open up government and how that's operating globally today and expanding. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What kinds of information do you feel is most important for building accountable institutions and governments? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation: Liberating Data and Opening up Government. We're looking at it from global perspective with Tariq Khokhar, open data evangelist with the World Bank, and Eric Gunderson, president and co-founder of Development Seed, which is a Washington-based company that builds open source data, mapping solutions and tools. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can send a tweet at #kojoshow, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation right there.
NNAMDIWe were talking about the way that you build maps and for how people off-the-map can participate in that. Google currently makes some of the easiest, most intuitive tools for mapping information, like Google Maps or even the newer program Google Fusion Tables. But in this space, there's been a big backlash against Google, the search giant. Why, Eric?
GUNDERSONFor -- it's been for a variety of reasons. And, I mean, we -- you know, I clearly have a conflict of interest in this -- so just throwing that out there.
NNAMDIThank you for saying.
GUNDERSONBut what we're trying to do is we want control over our data, and the exciting part is to actually be able to tell a really custom story with the data. And you can only do that when you have control over it. So it inherently has to be open, you know? And I think that's an interesting problem that Google is starting to face because they were such pioneers in 2005, opening up their API so that you could -- that you could start doing mash-ups and start telling a creative story.
GUNDERSONBut there's only so much you can do there when the data is still ultimately closed. And you've seen some of that -- I mean, you've actually, I mean, describing as backlash is accurate because there are some real specific issues right now in regards to how they source data on the ground, you know. They have a tool called Google Map Maker. It's incredible. You can go in, and if you find a problem on Google maps, you can click edit and trace it and fix it. But the problem is when people do that, that data's then -- goes back and is owned by Google.
NNAMDIIt's controlled by Google.
GUNDERSONAnd so what gets tricky about this is what kind of relationship you want to have with the larger community around your data. I think companies can play a really good role here. But if the data is not open, then what's that relationship with the larger community? What can people then ultimately actually do with it? It really brings up some limits.
NNAMDITariq, the World Bank initially used Google products for visualizing data, but the bank recently moved to open-source tools. Explain the rationale for that move. Or did we just hear it?
KHOKHARNo, you had part of it. So, no, we continue to use tools for a whole bunch of different providers. We have a good partnership with Google and several fronts. So if you ever search for something like the GDP of Spain in Google, you'll see World Bank data popping up right there coming straight through the Google search. So we have partnerships with them on that. And when it comes to the tools that we use for building our own open data products and sites, again, yeah, we use a mix of those open-source technology amongst them.
NNAMDII mentioned earlier in the broadcast that we were hoping to speak with Al Kags, chairman of the Kenya Open Data Task Force. Last year, as we mentioned, Kenya became the first African country to establish an open-data portal. I said we were trying to catch up with Al Kags. Well, he caught up with us. Al Kags, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. AL KAGSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAl, we were talking about Kenya...
KAGSAnd I apologize for not being able to be reached.
NNAMDIWell, we have already discussed a few issues about Kenya, but there are a few more that I'd like you to talk about. One of the more interesting ideas to come out of the data sets came from a group called Virtual Kenya. That program, it is my understanding, is designed to shame members of parliament who don't pay their taxes. Tell us, how does that work and how is it working out?
KAGSWell, you know, Virtual Kenya is, I think, one of the various initiatives that have been sort of put together for this purpose. From the perspective of how successful that particular branch has been, I think it has been very useful in terms of getting parliamentarians to be ashamed at the very least. And a few of them have actually started paying taxes of their own volition, even though the law doesn't quite expect them to. But it was useful in getting a lot of the members of the public to pressurize their MP to start paying taxes.
NNAMDIFewer than 30 percent of Kenyans have access to the Internet, but more than 60 percent have access to mobile phones. Kenya is actually a world leader in mobile money through a program called M-Pesa. How does M-Pesa work, and what kind of linkages did that cellphone infrastructure have to this open-data conversation?
KAGSM-Pesa is all about money transfer. And, you see, you need to go back to the history a little bit when you're thinking about M-Pesa. The history of all of that by 2003, more than 60 percent of Kenyans were not working with formal banks. They were not placing their money in the formal banking industry or in any formal sort of fashion. So when M-Pesa came in, it sort of bridged the gap and enabled for a very convenient means of, A, keeping your money safely but also being about to transfer money in some formal way.
KAGSRight now, I think, out of the 26 or so million mobile phones that are in Kenya right now, more than 80 percent of them are using mobile money, being M-Pesa or Airtel Money or Orange Money and so on. The effect of that is that you're having a lot more people getting into the formal economy in some trackable sort of fashion. And as a result of that, it has made our banks a lot more competitive because of the fact that they want customers, and these customers are there.
KAGSM-Pesa also did one more thing that is important. It challenged the fact that -- it challenged the belief that the banks had, that most Kenyans could not afford to have a bank account anyway because according to economists, so many of them lived below 1 percent, it just turned out that with M-Pesa, a lot of the ones who live below 1 percent were using mobile money and transacting billions of Kenya (word?).
NNAMDIWe're talking with Al Kags. He is chairman of Kenya Open Data Task Force. He joins us by telephone. Al, I never got the -- gave you the opportunity to talk a little bit bout how the open-data portal came together in Kenya.
KAGSWell, the Kenya open-data portal came together last year, but this was one of the first time when Kenya had tried it. Kenya had been trying to open up its data from as far back as three years ago. All factors came together last year. And we started working with a permanent secretary as well as partners such as the World Bank, even -- I've heard you talk about Google and a few other private sector partners.
KAGSAnd at that point, we created a small SWAT team which is what the Kenya open data initiative task force became, a small SWAT team of domain experts who then worked over six weeks to gather as much data as was possible within that time and release it out to the public. Six weeks -- the reasoning behind the six weeks was just that the president -- we had the full support of our president, and he had given us a date, which was six weeks from the time that we briefed him and said, on this date, I can come and do it and launch it. So we worked round-the-clock.
KAGSWe gathered a few hundred data sets from population data, to economic data, to education data, to health data, and we were able to publish it. Since then, we have continued to gather even more data and push it out. And now, going forward, a lot of the work now is entrenching the usage of that data within the user community, such as the media, such as the people who are in education, our community and others, so that -- and, you know, the civil society so that we can them -- the data being used at the very local level.
KAGSI need to say here that a lot of open data initiatives tend to go -- tend to be focused on intermediaries. Our open data initiative is focused on the citizens. We want the citizens to use the data.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you mentioned that because we do have a question about how the media are using the data, this by way of an email from Debra, who says, "To what extent are journalists in Kenya using the open data portal? To what extent are journalists elsewhere in Africa using data that's accessible?" Al, first start with Kenya.
KAGSWell, you know, that's an excellent question because of the fact that in January, we held the, I think, what is the first ever Media Master Class on Open Data that was held here in Nairobi with about 80 journalists and developers. And what we did is that we paired up journalists and developers and showed them the data, showed them how they can make use of the data, showed them how they can tell stories out of a data, and then provided them with the opportunity to create different programs.
KAGSNow, some of these projects that these people have come up with include something called a country fact sheet, which is an online portal that -- it's called a county's score card -- sorry -- which is an online portal that is comparing data from different countries. So I can compare my county to yours. And for purposes of the international audience, a county in Kenya is similar to what a state is in the U.S.
KAGSAnd so I can compare my region to yours and see how much money is going into that region, how well we are doing in terms of development, various development indicators and that sort of thing. And as a result of that, the journalists are starting to tell some very relevant cutting-edge stories. I think one of the most important applications that has been built, in my own view, by a journalist and a developer, who, in this session, was one where the journalist has collected all of the accident data from the Kenya police and a few others -- and a few other sources.
KAGSAnd they have started tracking how a public transport vehicle called a matatu in Nairobi, how dangerous that vehicle is, what intersection is the most dangerous for you to be in, what -- it will even tell you the driver has had this many accidents, and, therefore, you may not want to be in that matatu, in that public transport vehicle and so on and so forth.
KAGSSo the journalists are very switched on and beginning to tell a lot of stories from the data and introduce some very interesting investigative stories out of the data. In fact, I would tell anyone to just look at -- take a cursory look at the business pages of some of our local newspapers, and you'll find some amazing stories being told.
NNAMDIAl Kags, chairman of the Kenya Open Data Task Force. He joined us by telephone. Joining us in studio is Tariq Khokhar, open data evangelist with the World Bank, and Eric Gunderson, president and co-founder of Development Seed, which builds open source data mapping solutions and tools. It's a Washington-based company. Joining us now by phone from Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada is David Eaves. He's a Canadian open government activist and writer.
NNAMDIDavid advises a number of governments at the local, national and international levels, helping them craft open data plans and strategies. David Eaves, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID EAVESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIDavid, last week government leaders from more than 50 countries came together with civil society activists in Brazil for the first annual meeting of something called the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership began with eight members. Clearly, there's a lot of interest in joining, but isn't there a danger that the more members that join the less exclusive this club becomes, the less it means?
EAVESSo there's two different points you're making there. One is the exclusivity of the club and the other is, you know, do they have meaning. I think the exclusivity is less of an issue. I actually love the idea that there are a lot of countries getting together and talking about how they can find ways to make government more transparent and find ways to improve government services.
EAVESThe part that I think we should be more concerned about, which I think is implicit, and what you're saying is, if everybody joins, then, you know, is this really about openness or is it just a club for anybody. And so when you have some countries that I think people would look at and say, wow, they don't seem to run fair elections or, you know, they treat journalists badly, or they don't seem to share any information. Why are they part of that club? I think it does start to raise some questions about what the organization is doing and how much credibility it has.
NNAMDIIndeed. Eric Gunderson, the city of Washington, D.C., has a lot of information that it makes available online. At one point, it was considered a global leader in this field, though I don't really hear that being branded around as much anymore. But that didn't do anything to ward off a storm of ethics and corruption cases, so this isn't really a silver bullet, is it?
GUNDERSONNo. It's definitely not a silver bullet, but I think a lot of that is because it's only happening in certain phases, right? D.C. came out really strong especially in the geospace, and we're also releasing crime data, right? They released so many different sets of data to help map the city. And, you know, that made really smart business sense for the city by publishing that.
GUNDERSONNow, all of these other different agencies within the city, when they need a data, they had one spot to go. So, you know, there were some real neat efficiency wins right in there. Getting to some of the other sets of data that help actually prevent corruption, that's some really hard stuff to put out there, and that's going to take a little longer.
NNAMDIBecause if I'm running a dictatorship, Tariq, I want to get into this open government club because, well, it just makes me look better. Should there be a distinction made about who gets in and on what basis?
KHOKHARI'll bear that in mind when you establish your dictatorship, Kojo. But, you know, you're exactly right. And the people who've done some good thinking on this are two academics from Princeton, and they made the distinction between open government data and government data that happens to be open. So you can be in charge of a government that is pretty unpleasant.
KHOKHARAnd you can open up later on maybe your finances or the locations of some trees, and you can say, hey, look, I'm transparent about my finances and my trees. But, in reality, you're not disclosing any of the juicy stuff. So it is kind of -- that's a problem. So you can call yourself open without being sort of open about the juicy stuff.
NNAMDIIs that a problem in Kenya, Al Kags? Because if you look at a list, Kenya ranks somewhere after 100 in terms of nations that are corrupt or that -- in which you will find corruption in the world. Al Kags, are you there?
KAGSI'm sorry. I didn't catch the question. The phone just sort of broke off a little bit.
NNAMDII was wondering how the open government -- the open data movement is affecting the environment having to do with corruption in Kenya.
KAGSYou know, there are two things. When we started working on the open data initiative here in Kenya, we were very conscious that if we sold the open data story as a transparency and accountability story, then it would not get the political support that it has gotten, especially from, you know, the political class and the leadership and that sort of thing. So we sold it as a development effort. Now, things are picking up momentum, and people are realizing that it is not the big bad wolf as much as they thought.
KAGSOne of the things that's happening is that both the open government partnership movement has grown -- has gotten a lot of support from within Kenya. If you take, for example, in preparation for Brazil last week, Kenya sent a significant delegation to Brazil. And there was a lot of preparation that has been done within the government to participate in, for example, putting together the action plan of the Kenya Open Data.
KAGSAnd also, there's been a lot of involvement from members of parliament as well, who are saying, yes, absolutely, we need to open it up. I think the fact that we are going into an election year helps a little bit, and I also think the fact that we have a new constitution, which guarantees openness -- you know, it guarantees citizen rights to open data, to an open government -- is helping that to pick a lot of momentum now, partly because of the fact that, for a very long time in Kenya, the closedness of government is what bred corruption.
KAGSAnd we're beginning to see that the more open things get, the more impact or the more fear is struck by -- into the hearts of the people who want to be corrupt. So we can definitely see some movement in terms of, at the very least, getting the citizens to hold their leaders accountable. And as a result, the fear of God is within the leaders not to misbehave. And we're actually seeing that happening now.
NNAMDIDavid Eaves, right now, there's a big push among national governments to build these data portals, which raises an interesting question, the question underneath what I've been asking. And that is, can you trust a government official to build a tool that can conceivably make his or her life more difficult? Will a politician who's engaging in some sort of corrupt behavior really support the creation of tools to detect that behavior? Will these tools really root out corruption or just make it more sophisticated?
EAVESSo I actually think the answer can be yes to both your questions. I mean, you know, when you turn the lights on in a room, which is full of cockroaches, the cockroaches scurry and go and hide. If you draw the conclusion that, oh, turning on the lights gets rid of cockroaches, you're wrong. I mean, the cockroaches just went and hid somewhere else. You didn't get rid of them. But you did make the environment which it -- in which it's safe for them to play much more constrained and smaller.
EAVESAnd, you know, I think if the metric is -- is open data going to solve government corruption? The answer is no. I mean, it's a bar that's far too high. I'm actually not sure that there's any policy that you can create that's going to ever solve government corruption. I think the bigger question is: Can open data be a useful tool in constraining the ability of actors to engage in corruption so it makes it harder for them to do that? And there I think it's the very early days, but I think there is hope and possibility here.
EAVESNow, the second part of your question is, you know, are government officials going to voluntarily disclose information, you know, that's going to make it easy for us to spot corruption? The answer is not necessarily. And I think you can't just talk about open data exclusively in terms of what is voluntarily disclosed by government. But one of actually the nice things that I think open data allows you to do is actually pass laws that make it mandatory to disclose certain types of data in legislation but then gets shared in open data format.
EAVESSo it's much easier to analyze and then do all the things that might allow you to identify corruption. So I don't think we should just limit open data to the kind of debate of what do governments choose to make open. It's also about ensuring that the things that they're forced to make open through the public will of the people is done in a way that makes that information easy to access and easy to understand so people can very quickly analyze it and find the problems.
KHOKHARI mean, in the U.K., there used to be the slogan if you don't open up, we'll open it for you. So it's easy to (word?) that if a government is not going to disclose information that the citizens want, citizens will find other ways of getting access to it, whether it's scraping things from websites or digitizing paper records. There's a constant tension between what people are demanding and what government is offering, and it's good to see that sometimes.
NNAMDIAnd we're increasingly seeing across the globe right to information laws. I know that such a law exists in Kenya. Right now, we've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Tech Tuesday conversation on liberating data and opening up government. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Is the Kenyan government more committed to open data and open government than the D.C. government? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation, Liberating Data and Opening Up Government: A Global Perspective with Tariq Khokhar, open data evangelist with the World Bank, Eric Gunderson, president and co-founder of Development Seed, which builds open source data mapping solutions and tools. Al Kags is chairman of the Kenya Open Data Task Force, and David Eaves is a Canadian open government activist and writer who advises a number of governments at the local, national and international levels.
NNAMDIDavid, you point out that the participation of some countries in the open government partnership ends up or can end up undermining the group. For example, South Africa is a member of the steering committee. But that country appears to be backsliding on transparency issues. It's in the process of making leaks entirely illegal under something called the protection of information bill. Can you talk about that? Oh, David Eaves, are you there? Oh, we seem to have lost...
EAVESI am here. Can you -- sorry. Can you hear me?
NNAMDINow we can hear you. Did you hear my question?
EAVESOh. Yeah, I did hear your question, and...
NNAMDIOh, go ahead, please.
EAVESSo for your listeners, I think the first thing to understand is to get into the open government partnership, there's a set of criteria you need to adhere to. So, you know, you have to make a certain amount of progress towards allowing for an access to information law and making certain types of information kind of public. So there's this entry bar to get into, so not anybody can join. There are some criteria that you have to adhere to.
EAVESI think the bigger question is what happens after you join? Because once you're in there, it's less clear how your progress is going to be measured and who gets to stay in and possibly who gets kicked out based on things that they do. And I think the South African case is going to give us a very early case study around what happens when -- you know, nothing that they're doing is actually -- kind of breaks any of the rules of the OGP.
EAVESIt doesn't say, like, if you did this, then you must leave. But I think it does run counter to the spirit of the OGP. And so for citizens and for civil society members who are participating in that process, when they see a government behave that way, if there's no repercussion, I think it will make them question kind of is this the right vehicle by which to encourage governments to engage in kind of transparency and openness?
EAVESSo it's going to be a very interesting test. And is it a failure? No, I don't think so. I think it's too early for us to tell, but it'd be very -- this is a case that we should all be watching closely. And I think we should all be agitating and encouraging the OGP to take action on it.
NNAMDIOn to the phones, here is Peter in Alexandria, Va. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERThank you, Kojo. Thanks for your show. I have a question and a commentary about using open-source software and mapping solutions to help farmers acquire better technologies or find out about better technologies. And by way of purpose, there are many thousands of wonderful experiences that have been documented of farmers here and there around the world who have done -- on their own or with the help of extension agents and resources -- have done wonderful things in specific local environments.
PETERAnd there are many others who don't know about these experiences. And my challenge, I guess, to your guests would be how can we put these farmers in touch with each other so that those who are needing information to a particular situation, ecological and environmental situations, are connected with those who already have found that particular problem in a similar environment? It could be from -- across continents or could be within a continent like Africa. That's my question.
GUNDERSONYeah. I mean, this is a great question because it's sort of asking, wait, what's the relationship between open data and open-source software? It's actually huge. And this is why we're seeing this new resurgence on conversation happening around open data because now people can actually do stuff with it. You know, if you're just putting out the data as a spreadsheet, I mean, what -- like how effective is that going to be to the general public, let alone, you know, other NGOs and civil society organizations? It's really hard to digest.
GUNDERSONBut if you have certain tools -- and we're building a lot of open-source mapping tools -- that you can actually take these spreadsheets, take the open data from your government, take OpenStreetMap, the whole data, and start designing a really custom picture, it provides a whole new lens onto the data. And so when we're thinking about, talking about open data, we also need to start thinking about how people are going to consume that, and a big part of that is actually open-source tools.
NNAMDIAnd this email we got from Harriet, Tariq. Harriet says, "I'm a recent convert to open source and open resources, et cetera, delighted to listen to this discussion. I wrote to Google Map recently when they showed my home back in the village of Puttige in South India as a temple. The temple is a mile down the road. I never heard back from them. I think it's not just an issue of access, but we need to set up small training centers for people to learn to use free and open-source software.
NNAMDI"Many companies don't support open source as we do not have enough trained people to help troubleshoot or even use the software. I hope the World Bank will support this as it costs money to train. I would like to do the Kenya kind of program for women in India. Even journalists know so little about using open-source software like OpenStreetMap." Tariq?
KHOKHARThat's a great question. And I think there's a huge role for institutions like the World Bank to play, both in directly helping to build capacity amongst people to use tools that contribute to open data and open-source technology, but also to sort of practice what we preach. If the default way in which institutions like the bank help to map social infrastructure or help to open up data, and if the default way is using open-source technology and systems, that's probably the biggest thing we can do, make open the default.
NNAMDIWe might -- you know, since this is Tech Tuesday and we can talk a little bit about hardware and software, can just anyone manipulate this information, Eric? What are the digital tools that make this possible?
GUNDERSONYeah. No, you can actually just log -- go to OpenStreetMap.org. You can log in and literally start tracing data or start uploading certain data that you have. The way -- but there's something really important about this kind of co-creation space, right, where you have multiple people, like you're doing it in a place, like it's somewhere in the world, right? So you actually have people around you that are also interested in that place. So you have a community by default that's interested in making sure that data is accurate and really well gardened and constantly clean and constantly improving.
GUNDERSONAnd it's really a fascinating process to watch. You know, somebody might go in there and start tracing roads, and then, a day later, somebody else is going to come in there and start putting in the names. And it really -- it's really a process. It's actually -- there really isn't kind of an end goal, especially in a world that's constantly developing -- I mean, look at all the cranes around D.C. -- and that process actually creates stronger community.
NNAMDIDavid Eaves, when we talk about the worlds of technology geeks and international development geeks, we're talking about people who are perhaps more prone than others to follow fads. Where is this conversation heading? What kind of data streams and new services do you envision in the years ahead?
EAVESSo I think there's two things. There's -- you know, there's, I think, a huge opportunity around kind of applications, you know, that people are already starting to develop. And so you see things like, you know, garbage day reminders, and, you know, people are, you know, identifying potholes in cities near them. And one thing that, I think, is exciting to me is the possibility of basically rapidly increasing the ability of the citizens to engage with their government on a whole bunch of more pedestrian things.
EAVESSo you're really turning every cellphone into a sensor, so, you know, the government learns more about what's going on in its city, whether it's air quality or potholes or whatever. So I think there's going to be an explosion in those types of applications that you already see with things like (word?). The other place where I get kind of excited and, I think, we talk about less is really the opportunity for citizens to become more engaged in what's going on in their community.
EAVESYou know, you were asking earlier, you know, who gets to use this data? I really feel like we may be on the edge of kind of a whole new form of literacy, kind of a data literacy. And if you think back, you know, 100, 150 years ago, you know, nobody really knew how to read. And we decided as a society that it was really important that, you know, we needed to teach that, and so we built libraries.
EAVESAnd the thing, I think, people often forget is we built libraries before anybody knew how to read, and we filled them with books that were really diverse 'cause we wanted to encourage people to try, you know, whatever it is that interested them. The most important thing is they needed to learn how to read. And I kind of want to -- my hope is that we start treating open-data portals a little bit like libraries of the 18th century, which is we fill them with all sorts of data because we don't know what citizens are going to be interested in.
EAVESBut we want them to come and learn and play and really try to cultivate a large part of our population that's data-literate so that they can go to the city council. They can go to their congressmen. They can go to, you know, the local, you know, local neighborhood group and they say, you know, I've looked at this information, and it's told me something interesting about our neighborhood that we didn't realize.
EAVESAnd we could be doing something that would make our neighborhood safer or more efficient or, you know, more interesting and engaging in some way, and to really kind of change the way the public talks about public policy, bring us, you know, bring us the evidence -- you know, allow us to exchange information in a kind of -- in an equal way where we have a common basis to work from. It's the analysis and the conversation around it that I think is really exciting to me. And so I'm really thinking about this as a potential data literacy revolution.
NNAMDIDavid Eaves. He's a Canadian open government activist and writer. He advises a number of governments at the local, national and international levels, helping them craft open data plans and strategies. David Eaves, thank you so much for joining us.
EAVESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIEric Gunderson is president and co-founder of Development Seed, which builds open-source data mapping solutions and tools. It's a Washington-based company. Eric, thank you for joining us.
GUNDERSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITariq Khokhar is open data evangelist with the World Bank. Tariq, thank you for joining us.
KHOKHARThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Al Kags is no longer on the phone, but thank to Al Kags for calling in. He's chairman of the Kenya Open Data Task Force. He was able to kill that rumor that Tariq and Eric were spreading that he was at a beach someplace. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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