MEST Attends Ghana Open Data Portal Development Stakeholders’ Dialogue

Guest Contributor, Monday August 6th 2018

This post was written by Ali Noormohamed, a fellow at the MEST Incubator Accra.

In July, MEST participated in the Stakeholders’ Dialogue on the Ghana Open Data Portal Development. The event, organized by SBC4D and Mobile Web Ghana, brought together key players from CSOs, hubs, academic institutions, government, and media organizations. The event featured lively discussion regarding how the various stakeholders collect, use, and publish data in their work, with a focus on open data.

Open data refers to data which is readily available (in machine-readable formats) at no charge, and can be used/reused/redistributed freely for commercial and non-commercial uses. Open data is a key tenet of a democratic society, as it enables freedom of information in areas such as health, government, education, agriculture, environment, as well as elections.

Ghana was one of the pioneers in the Open Data initiative in Africa, with the first push for an Open Data portal in 2009, and subsequent publishing of the portal in 2010. To date, the portal contains over 133 datasets from 25 different agencies. In order for the portal to remain relevant, new high-quality datasets must be added and maintained, and feedback from users and stakeholders must be incorporated into this process.

The July session focused on issues that users and stakeholders have been experiencing working with open data in Ghana, and potential avenues of growth and improvement for the next iteration of the portal. Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

Stakeholders often lack access to high quality data

Perhaps the most common issue faced by all stakeholders is lack of access to the high-quality data - be it in the fields of agriculture, education, or health. The lack of available data on the portal is a Catch-22 situation: users (citizens, businesses) are less likely to use the portal if it only houses limited amounts of data. However, institutions which own the data (e.g. government agencies, extractives companies) are less likely to make the data available if there is no visible demand.

Timeliness and relevance of data is key

Second, inherent in the publishing of data for consumption is the issue of timeliness and relevance of the data. Collection of large amounts of data is a significant undertaking due to operational requirements, as well as aggregation of the data from different sources and different institutions. As a result, published data is often outdated, and therefore limited in its usefulness in certain scenarios.

Data privacy must be taken into consideration

Data which has been published with open data licenses is often only available at the aggregated level. This is typically done to protect the data privacy of those individuals or businesses analyzed in the data. While high-level data (e.g. regional data) can be valuable, the real insights to be gleaned are often found at the disaggregated, or granular level. In the process of making such data available, it must be stripped of any personal and sensitive information so as to respect and maintain the privacy of individuals, and adhere to data privacy laws in the appropriate context(s).

With these challenges in mind, the question arises: what needs to be done to ensure the success of the open data initiative in Ghana, and what role does MEST play in this process?

The role of MEST and its community

Institutions such as MEST, as well as its ecosystem members (including entrepreneurs) have a vested interest in the proliferation of open data systems. Agri-tech companies can use agricultural census data to perform market research and develop corporate strategies; freely available, granular demographic information can enable all startups to better understand their users and their needs. In this light, the following three things will provide a solid foundation upon which open data systems in Ghana can be built:

  1. Institutions and businesses who require access to high-quality data should request access to data from the appropriate owners (e.g. government agencies) in order to demonstrate that the demand for such data exists, and increase the incentive for agencies to publish the data through the open data portal.

  2. Citizens should apply pressure to their representatives in government to update the Data Protection Act, and ensure that it is being properly enforced. This would enable the publishing of disaggregated data without compromising the privacy and security needs of the affected parties.

  3. Stakeholders and companies working with data should collaborate with regards to sharing of data, expertise, as well as best practices. In doing so, data can be shared more quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, the sharing of expertise and best practices will inevitably strengthen the capacities of key players, and serve to bolster the field of data sharing and data analytics in the broader Ghanaian context.

The piloting of the Open Data portal in Ghana in 2009 marked the first of its kind on the African continent, and established Ghana as one of the thought leaders in this field. It is up to Ghanaian businesses, the government, and the population at large to ensure that Ghana maintains its commitment to open and accessible data for all.