Data Revolution in Africa

Data Revolution in Africa

27 March 2015. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A two-day High Level Conference for policy-makers and community leaders on setting the scene for a sustainable development agenda powered by a Data Revolution in Africa.

Hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union Commission, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Conference tackled key questions including 

  1. What areas in Africa have the most critical lack of data and what needs to be done about it?, 
  2. How has the data ecosystem changed and where is it heading to?, 
  3. What role will “African” data play in the Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs?, 
  4. What lessons can be learned from existing data innovations in Africa?, 
  5. How can the IEAG recommendations be implemented at the national level?, 
  6. What other data revolution principles and concrete actions should Africa adopt?

Led by the World Wide Web Foundation, fifty African civil society organisations, open data advocates and technology pioneers came together to take the first steps towards establishing a groundbreaking new policy and investment framework to open up government data in Africa. Following the UN’s call for a Data Revolution, this coalition of organisations agreed on concrete next steps to unlock the potential of open data across the continent, which experts agree could help beat corruption, spark innovation and improve government services.

See the agenda of the meeting and the list of participants.

“We’re working to open up government data in Africa to deliver real improvements to the day-to-day lives of African people through improved government services, and greater accountability and transparency. Home-grown solutions to thorny challenges such as appropriate models of innovation, education and capacity building that can support community and government-led initiatives must be developed. Sustained leadership and investment are additional key success factors.” Jose M. Alonso, Open Data Programme Manager at the World Wide Web Foundation

Following on from the sister Regional Agenda Setting workshop for open data in Asia in Jakarta last month, the open data workshop had a similar aim of understanding the state of open data, this time in Africa rather than Asia, and scoping future research and lab opportunities. 

  • As with the Jakarta workshop, this workshop was supported by the IDRC-funded Harnessing Open Data to Achieve Development Results in Africa and Asia project and organised by the Web Foundation. 
  • The workshop also had another aim – it formed part of 17 data communities who were invited to form an African Data Consensus and present it to the High Level Conference (HLC) on Data Revolution in Africa. 

The open data community’s workshop agenda was packed and the room full with almost 60 participants from civil society, academia, government and private sector across Africa, including representatives of African Development Bank, USAID, ActionAid, Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Tax Justice Network Africa, Code for South Africa, IDRC, Social Justice Coalition, Friends of Lake Turkana, iHub Kenya, the Pan African Parliament, Ethiopian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and many more.

The press release of the African Data Consensus emphasised open data, states…

“African governments should acknowledge open data provided by recognised communities as sources that complement the work of national statistics offices for better decision making, service delivery and citizen engagement, concluded a group of data activists today in the Ethiopian capital”.  

… and the final adopted Data Consensus clearly states that official data should be open by default.

Further background on the current state of Open Data in Africa

The initiative has been informed by the release of the Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer, a review of the global state of open government data and right to information.

  • The study found that African countries lag behind other developing countries in regions such as Asia and Latin America. Only a small number of African countries such as Kenya and Ghana have established open government data initiatives, but these remain highly dependent upon a limited network of leaders and technical experts. 
  • Across the continent, only Ghana and Kenya publish data on government spending that could help uncover corruption and enhance service delivery, but that even this data is not provided in a format that can be easily used by members of the public. Similarly, only Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ghana publish data that could help improve health outcomes, although these are also in formats that are hard for members of the public to make use of. 
  • The study cited limited government, civil society or private sector capacity; limits on affordable widespread Internet access; and weaknesses in digital data collection and management in Africa as the main challenges that must be overcome. 
  • Support for the Open Data Barometer report was provided through IDRC Grant 107075 ( The 2013 report, and much of the methodological development, was also supported by the Open Data Institute.

About Open Data

  • Open data has been described as “content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose”.
  • Accessible – by being proactively published, and being made available without charge.
  • Machine-readable – by being published in file formats and structures that allow computers to extract and process the data: sorting, filtering and searching through the contents.
  • Re-usable – by being made available under legal regimes or explicit terms that place a minimum of restrictions on how the data may be used. At most the publisher can specify how the source should be acknowledged.

About the World Wide Web Foundation
The World Wide Web Foundation was established in 2009 by Web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Mission? To advance the open Web as a public good and a basic right. The work of the WWWF on open data covers:

  1. Research – As part of the Open Data for Development Network, WWWF supports research and research capacity building across three continents. From 2013 – 2015 the Open Data in Developing Countries project has been exploring use and impacts of open data, and a new phase of this project will commence in early 2015, supporting regional research agendas in Africa and Asia. WWWF also produces the Open Data Barometer (see 3, below)
  2. Innovation – including building the first Open Contracting Data Standard, aimed at putting the $9 trillion that governments spend annually on procurement into the public domain. The project puts the values and research of WWWF into practice, developing the standard through an open and inclusive approach, and keeping a focus on the participatory potential of open contracting data.
  3. Training and capacity building – The Web Foundation’s Open Data Labs are experimenting with how open data can make a real difference in the Global South. By trying out new approaches, WWWF wants to accelerate progress and ensure open data rapidly becomes a vital tool to tackle practical problems in developing and emerging economies. The first Open Data Lab of WWWF is now open in Jakarta, and WWWF will be announcing more soon.
  4. Engagement – To encourage and support more governments to open up their data to citizens, WWWF is co-chairing the Open Data Working Group of the Open Government Partnership, which brings together 80 governments and 120 civil society organisations to share practical know-how and promote good practices.

27/03/2015 All Africa. African Technology and Data Pioneers Gather to Spark Open Data Revolution

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