Kenyan Government Needs Techpreneurs to Help Create Open Government


The Connected Government Summit held in late May explained what the state is doing to mobilize services. In the course of the two day summit, via a live twitter feed, there was a request from entrepreneurs to government to open up data access and allow the building of services layered on the available information.
What many do not know is that 95 per cent of government generated data is available free of charge to the public.The problem has been the mostly offline systems in which the data is stored, creating information silos that lead to inefficient and often expensive management. Since independence we have lived in a culture of secrecy with data silos all over the place.
This has led to information hoarding and corruption as certain elements leverage the inaccessibility to extort money. What an open government initiative would do, is to empower developers and entrepreneurs with the data and the access mechanisms to build innovative solutions that would solve or ease the government's problem of service delivery while at the same time increasing access for the public.
A few years ago I was part of a team that developed Kenya's, first exam results service via SMS. The questions were interesting since no one could understand why we wanted data that would soon be posted on school notice boards countrywide.
They didn't see how or why someone would be willing to pay for free information.We were hard-pressed to show what the fuss was all about, but in the end the numbers spoke for themselves. In my mind, it was simple, for every KCSE or KCPE student, there are at least three people who would want to know the student's performance.
Sometimes schools hide results to get parents to clear fee balances or if the performance is poor, one would use the excuse "I haven't collected my results yet". A perfect example of an information silo.
When the service went live the platform processed over 1.5 million requests, each billed at a premium of Sh30, grossing over Sh45 million in revenue. It also generated the highest local traffic spike, on the Kenya Internet Exchange Point at that time. Think about it, this was free information!
What's the clincher here? Simple, the information was opened up and delivered in an easy to understand way. Now, imagine the possibilities with an open government initiative, having a platform on which service mashup's are created bringing innovative solutions to the general population that don't cost much but deliver true value by way of saving time, money and perhaps a long trip to the closest township only to get the very same information.