This post is adapted (in part) from talks I gave at Open Data Day Arusha on March 4, 2017.
About a month before International Open Data Day was set to commence, I received an email from HacksHackers Nairobi announcing a round of grants for local Open Data Day events. Having attended Open Data Day Nairobi a couple years back, I was pretty stoked at the thought of bringing a similar experience to Arusha.
Without wasting time, I put together a Google Form to identify hot topics and early supporters of the initiative. It soon became clear that most people were interested in financial transparency, so I completed the grant application with the theme “Open Budgets and Spending”, and pressed forward to spread the word about the upcoming event.
Ultimately, our grant wasn’t approved. But fortunately, the kind folks at Habari Node offered to fund us. And since Mobisol gave us use of their facilities for the event, we were officially “open for business.”
We kicked Open Data Day Arusha (ODDA) off by thanking our sponsors and supporters:
- Arusha Coders
- Mobisol Tanzania
- Habari Node
- JR Institute of Information Technology (JRIIT)
- Farm Radio’s The Hangar
- AISE - Twende
Then I gave a brief introduction of what Open Data Day was all about.
Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world.
I explained that ODDA was about identifying key issues in Arusha and solving them with open data. Open data itself is information (usually provided by the government) that is
freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
I also added that data is typically considered “open” only if it is available in “machine readable” formats such as
In order to meet the stated goal of “solving problems in Open Budgets and Spending”, Open Data Day Arusha revolved around discussion, consensus building, and collaboration. The first discussion of the day served to uncover the existing problems.
With a bit prodding, I surfaced a variety of issues from the participants: mobile money, doing business, accessing student records, etc.
Each attendee then voted on their top 3 issues. I used a Python script I prepared the night before to calculate the two most popular. The script applied a preferential voting system technique called Schulze single transferable vote to an input
csv file similar to the table below.
For this table, each row represents a single ballot. You can interpret the first row as, “the issues ranked from most to least important are
E, B, A.” As you may have noticed in the above picture, the top 2 issues were
E (getting in touch with businesses) and
F (contacting government officials).
The reason it’s so difficult to accomplish these tasks is that email is not a preferred means of communication for many businesses and government agencies. You are best off calling one (of the up to 3) phone lines most business people have. And to contact a government official, you will most likely have to resort to DHL-ing a letter to their office.
Now that we were on the same page about the problems to solve, it was time to equip the participants with tools for obtaining and working with data. Our key sponsor, Habari Node, provided cloud storage to which I uploaded relevant data and reports. You can view the list of downloaded files here. Contact me directly if you would like access to our Open Data Day cloud.
In addition to pointing out the uploaded files, I also reviewed several other data sources:
To give the participants an idea of some of the things they could do with the data, I create some simple visualizations using the
Teachers Service Commission Estimates of the Executive Budget Proposal 2016-2017 Volume II (available here).
Armed with the issues and a basic understanding of how to handle data, the participants next began a discussion of potential solutions. We discussed existing initiatives such as AsokoInsight and investment promotion in Rwanda.
The ideas we came up with ranged from a letter tracking service to a government wide customer service ticketing system.
Following the same voting procedure as before, we identified the top 3 solutions:
- A (an updated business directory)
- C (something to tell people who to contact based on the task)
- D (something to help people write official letters to government agencies)
Now the real fun began. The participants split into 3 groups (1 per solution) to flesh out their respective ideas and prepare a 10 – 15 minute presentation.
Team A tackled the problem of getting in touch with businesses and presented a web and mobile based business directory application. Their app would be continually updated, provide business locations and contact information, and allow the public to comment on the businesses.
Team C presented a similar idea to help citizens locate public services such as schools, hospitals, and banks. Their app allowed a user to pick a region and then drill down by category to find the appropriate contact.
The example user flow they gave was as follows:
Arusha -> Education -> Universities -> Arusha University -> <Contact Info>
Finally, team D presented a web based letter writing assistant. The user would simply select the purpose of their letter, e.g., visa application or letter of invitation, and the app would choose the appropriate template, recipient, and mailing address. The app would then allow the user to customize the letter prior to printing, stamping, and mailing it on her behalf.
After mailing, the app sends email and sms notifications as the letter makes its way to the intended recipient. The app sends its final notification after the recipient responds.
To encourage businesses and government agencies to participate in the letter notification features, the app would enable officials to process letters more efficiently and accurately than their current methods.
To bring Open Data Day Arusha to a close, I presented the following ways to maintain communication and stay involved in open data:
- Arusha Coders meetup
- Open Data Arusha mailing list
- Data Summit: March 23 in Scotland
- Africa Open Data Conference: July 17 - 21 in Accra, Ghana
- Data Science Africa: July 17 - 21 in Arusha,Tanzania
- International Open Data Conference: Oct 16 in Europe
Finally, Saad from Mobisol talked about how Data Clubs played an important role in his adolescence and encouraged the students in attendance to start a Data Club at their school.
We ended the day with a discussion on how to improve things for next year. Overall, I think everyone got a lot out of ODDA and are excited to continue their journey into the world of data.
This was my first experience organizing an Open Data Day event and I learned quite a bit in the process. In the frantic weeks leading up to (and including) this day, two things were more challenging than I had anticipated.
First was the amount of effort required to get public sector organizations and government agencies involved. I contacted individuals from over 35 corporations, organizations, and gov’t agencies via email and twitter.
Of those, ~1/3 responded (~1/4 if you remove my personal contacts from the list). And at the end of the day, I wasn’t able to get anyone representing the government or public sector (excluding education) to attend.
Second was attendance estimation. I read that you should expect around half of the people who RSVP to an event to show up. We advertised ODDA as a Facebook event to which around 45 people responded “yes” and another 80 responded “interested”. I also figured the numerous mailing lists we advertised on would draw in a few people who didn’t bother to RSVP. So with an expectation of 30 people (
45 * 50% + 80 * 10%) up to 50 on the high end, imagine my surprise with the actual turnout of 15.
Did you attend an Open Data Day event this past weekend? If so, how did it go? What do you think about the issues and solutions presented in this post? Are you involved in or interested in staring a Data Club? Tweet me @reubano with your thoughts.