What is Open Data?
Open Data is data which is made accessible (usually online), in a standardized machine-readable format, and under a license that allows it to be re-used. In the same stead, An Open Data initiative is any organized activity focused on providing open data (Supply side), or on securing access to open data (demand side) – Our work in the Sub-Saharan African context however has compelled us to call for a broader, context-based definition of open data, to cater for traditional and informal open initiatives that remain the bedrock of data and information sharing in many African countries.
The Open data landscape in Uganda
While globally open data has its foundations in technology, in Uganda, open data is about the provision of data and information largely using off-line methods or when online, pdf and word documents some of which may not be considered “open”. The processes by which citizen voices are expressed, and the methods through which data and information is passed on to citizens to support decision making and advocacy have been hinged on methods that do not require the heavy use of ICT, with which there can be wider participation of the majority of citizenry. Internet use and coverage in Uganda is growing, but it only covers less than 2% of the population in Uganda and is largely centered in urban areas where only 11% of the population live. On the other hand, 90% of the population in Uganda have radios in their households, while 95% listen to FM radios every week. These statistics are key in determining the practices and processes of open data initiatives in Uganda.
While open data is a relatively new term in Uganda, the idea behind the concept isn’t new. Uganda has attempted to promote transparency and accountability by adopting extensive decentralization in the 1990s, and adopting hands on resource tracking tools such as the Public Expenditure and Tracking Surveys (PETS) which was launched in 1996. Other endeavors to promoting openness in Uganda have included; the establishment of institutions like the Auditor General’s office, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit of the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. These have made government accountability information (including tracking and monitoring) available to the public with varying levels of successes.
The Uganda Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development (MOFPED) also enhanced budget transparency when it started issuing financial releases of district quarterly financial allocations in the print media. Open data is therefore largely exhibited in the traditional transparency and accountability mechanisms.
Dimensions of data openness:
- The data must be technically open, which means they must be published in electronic formats that are machine readable and non-proprietary, so that anyone can access and use the data using common, freely available software tools. Data must also be publicly available and accessible on a public server, without password or firewall restrictions.