“Open Africa” Summit – An Open Door on Open Data in Africa

Allow me to set the scene: the idyllic island of Zanzibar, replete with palm trees, sparkling blue water, mojitos on a deck and crystalline sand. Global Integrity attended the Open Africa Summit on the 7th and 8th of October to discuss open data and the progress toward open government, transparency and accountability.

Preceding the conference, over 80 journalists, developers and “techies” gathered at “Tech Camp,” part of the African News Innovation Challenge – a news innovation challenge requiring “disruptive digital ideas for improving the way that news is collected and disseminated.” Forty finalists (made up of individuals and organisations) were selected to attend the camp. The Tech Camp was an opportunity for involved parties to bring exceptional minds together to brainstorm ideas on new ways of using technology to improve news reporting and dissemination. The conference and tech camp were organised by Justin Arenstein of the African Media Initiative in collaboration with the World Bank and various other partners.

The Open Africa summit and the themes discussed led directly from the innovation challenge presentations. The conference followed the Tech Camp focusing onfurther ideas of innovation, not for news reporting but for further innovations on open data in Africa, to create further technological and data potential for advancing development, accountability and transparency. The conference setting broke away from the traditional mould of lengthy discussions and endless paper briefs on what should happen. Interactive breakout sessions and fireside chats motivated enthusiastic participants to discuss about how to make things happen.

The members of the Open Africa Summit conference, including representatives from AllAfrica network, the BBC, Free Press Unlimited, HIVOS and the World Bank, amongst others, gathered in the African House conference centre. Global Integrity was a good fit for this conference, considering our involvement and support for OGP, the newly introduced Innovation Fund and our drive to create open, easily usable data. Ideas were brought to the table by each partnering organisation to discuss how to effectively use open data for greater transparency and accountability in governance, from an African point of view.

An important point, introduced by Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza, was the notion of human centred design, and the importance of having a “human” face for developing open data and using technology. The point was emphasised that we need to understand situations we are facing in Africa from a human perspective, as opposed to swallowing issues of development up in extensive coding and techie programmes. Issues of transparency and accountability need to be understood and tested on people, to ensure there is knowledge before using data to understand developing nations’ challenges.

Conference sessions strove to define open data and its influence on governance and development, as well as unique ways to fund projects. In “breakout sessions” that required ‘less talk and more think,’ we created room for debate on the changing nature of funding for projects,  the need to develop new ideas on how to use open data to transform development thinking and new implementation ideas. GI participated in a session focused on “Lean Development Methods” – how to design the ideal prototype for a development model that makes use of technology to enhance capacity to function effectively.  This tied in with how we use Indaba as a primary resource for Global Integrity fieldwork projects. Indaba allows for lean, efficient ways of collecting and publishing data – definitely an ideal prototype for allowing researchers around the world to contribute to our reports and projects, even in countries with relatively low bandwidth.

The hope that more projects will evolve out of this conference and the preceding camp is concretised by the enthusiasm of attendees to discuss these new ideas. The demand for and efforts towards openness in Africa is tangible and it’s essential that all actors move fast to make sure all these efforts do not collapse.

— Erica Penfold

— Image Credit: Flickr | On The Go Tours

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