Going beyond the ‘Open Definition’ in the Uganda case study

By Bernard Sabiti

The Uganda/Kenya ODDC case study seeks to answer two major research questions namely;

1. How open data initiatives in the two countries are contributing to poverty reduction through impacts on resource mobilization

2. How  the contribution of open data initiatives to poverty reduction resources allocations could be strengthened in the future?

As the study nears to a close, we are in the middle of report writing. The first question has been the most difficult to answer, at least for the case of Uganda. The dilemma has largely centred on what to regard as “Open Data” since within the tight confines of the Open Definition there are very few initiatives in the country.

These questions were at the centre of the discussions we had in a recent report writing meeting the researchers convened.

According to the Open Definition, 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)

Following the definitions strictly especially in relation to Uganda would ignore many initiatives which are enforcing openness in governance but for which new tools and ICT technologies are not at the heart of their operations. In our research therefore, we had a more open approach as we interviewed different stakeholders.

Most of what is at the core of openness advocacy in Uganda is access to information or open information, not so much raw or hard data

So, the use of “machines” (computers), online assets, etc as enshrined in the Open Definition made the open data concept alien to most of our respondents yet there are traditional mechanisms of information sharing, access and use that have been in place in the country for years.

Examples:

1. A notice board is an important feature at every district and many other public institutions in Uganda. and every time the central governments allocates different sectoral funds to these regional administrative centres, officials are by law supposed to display this information on the notice boards

2. The Barazas (community meetings in which public officials account to citizens what they did with public money) though chaotic and not very well organised are important examples of citizen agitation spurred by information to demand for better service delivery

3. The ministry of finance prints expensive newspaper pullouts every quarter to show the amount of money it sends to each district, and for what it is supposed to be used.

Are all these “open data" initiatives?

For at least the last 20 years, there have been measures, Institutional and statutory, aimed at making government spending public, however traditional and old school these might have been. The Inspector General of Government’s (IGG) and the Auditor General (AG)'s offices have been producing credible reports that have exposed corruption and misuse of public resources. Measures have been put in place to police public expenditure through providing oversight and information. An access to information law was passed in 2005 as well.

One can argue about the success of these initiatives but they exist all the same. For example, the AG’s and IGG’s reports are bulky, bible-seized hard books or if in soft form are PDFs

In the end, the meeting agreed that we would describe the initiatives (two, perhaps three) in Uganda that tightly fits within the confines of the open definition. We will then connect that section with the reality and discuss how traditional information access and accountability mechanisms and campaigns have been impacting resource allocation for service delivery. We shall urge how these can be improved to be more effective and how the use of technology can augment, not replace them.