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Field work notes: chiefs' centres and churches could be critical for access to open data for marginalised communities

Jesuit Hakimani Centre report on early findings from mapping out how open data might reach marginalised communities and impact governance. 

As debates on whether open data could improve public service delivery take centre-stage in governance sector, there are numerous initiatives at different levels of society aimed at encouraging governments and public sector to make their data open to the public. However, champions of open data initiatives are still grappling with the question of impact. How can open data be linked to improved service delivery, accountability and transparency? What are the legal frameworks and formats of release supporting the initiatives? How will different data users access it?

Several things could be observed in the unfolding debates on the potential of open data? Firstly, as pieces of evidence are being sort to demonstrate the benefits of open data initiatives and the impact it has on the way social institutions function especially in service delivery, in some sections of society the infrastructure on which the data is accessed is crucial. It appears therefore, the gap between the data provider and users is still wide, especially to disadvantaged communities – most of them inhabiting informal settlements.

Data Dredger from InternewsSecondly, how will the study on social impact of open data to marginalized communities be organized? It is based on this that Jesuit Hakimani Centre (JHC) is seeking to find out how open data could impact of public participation and service delivery for marginalised communities. In the ongoing study, several things are emerging. The feedback from the pre-test and focus-group discussion reveal to us how institutions such as the local chiefs’ centres, church, mosques, social networks, local media (radio) and constituency offices are crucial information sources for people living in marginalised areas. But, where do majority of these institutions get their information? In mapping out our possible respondents to of our study, we came across data journalism initiative.

Finally, interesting to our preliminary findings is the critical role data journalism plays in making information accessible to larger audience. One such initiative is the “the Data Dredger project” run by Internews-Kenya that supports news media in data journalism to help us understand how through such initiatives support grassroots civic engagement. The data Dredger project transforms data from government into interactive sets and visualised it to encourage traditional media to embrace data-driven journalism.