by Femi Longe
These datasets has been made openly accessible for anyone who wants to use them to make critical business decisions driven with empirical fact.
Exactly one month ago today (12th of September, 2013), the Edo State Government launched an Open Data Portal at data.edostate.gov.ng.
The portal is described as “the official data repository for Edo State Government. For anyone interested, the portal “provides an easy way to find, access and reuse public datasets from the State Government, international organizations and non- state actors.”
The portal launched with 85 datasets aggregated from 16 ministries, departments and agencies with the Ministries of Health (16) and Ministry of Budget Planning and Economic Development (14) providing the largest number of datasets.
The dataset range from the very practical and utilitarian directory of all licensed patient medicine shops in the state to the Budget of the state for the last 8 years to a more esoteric list of local gods in Edo State and their towns and many more.
These datasets has been made openly accessible for anyone who wants to use them to make critical business decisions driven with empirical fact. In my last article here, I talked about how the scarcity of credible data in Nigeria was limiting the growth of the Nigerian technology industry.
In the words of the state government, “we hope this data will become a platform for improving transparency, catalyzing innovation, and enabling social and economic development. We encourage all users to leverage the information in this portal to develop tools and applications which benefit all Edo State citizens.”
This initiative is a great start in a warped democracy like ours where power-holders retain control by hoarding information releasing only in piecemeal to whom they choose. 2 years after the Freedom of Information act was signed into law, cases where information has been released by invocation of the law are still very few and far between.
Initiatives like the Edo State Open Data Portal address that gap and it is hoped that more states and the Federal Government will adopt the same open approach with information.
But why is this a big deal?
Service delivery in Nigeria is ripe for massive disruption and information technology can allow this. Getting basic things done in Nigeria take significantly more time and effort than necessary.
Getting a driver’s license or an international passport, registering a business, finding an address, getting the nearest (insert whatever you are looking for) is significantly more complicated because you need to pass through a human being who often want their palms greased before they agree to help out.
Mobile phones, tablets, portable computers and connectivity are starting to become ubiquitous in our society. They can play a role in removing the human factor from the equation if the right information is gathered and put within reach of people when and where they need it in a format that makes sense for them.
This provides significant economic development opportunities whether delivered as an initiative of government or by entrepreneurs looking for financial returns.
Nigerian government agencies, by virtue of their activities, have access to reams of information but they are often rotting away in rat-infested storerooms not adding value where they are needed.
It is common that the person who can exploit data is different from the person gathering and storing the data. By putting the data out in the public domain, you expand the pool of talent available to make sense out of it and to utilize it in driving services and policies that improve quality of life for all. This is the thinking that is driving the open data movement world over.
Having a government take the effort to digitize and then freely distribute this data with explicit request for it to be turned into “tools and applications which benefit all Edo State citizens” is worthy of praise.
This effort will be however be wasted if entrepreneurs, software developers, statisticians and everyone else who can do not leverage this opportunity.
Let us drive innovative applications with the information that has been put at our disposal and use that as leverage to ask for more states and the Federal Government to open more datasets.
Femi Longe is a co-founder and Director at Co-Creation Hub Nigeria (CcHub), an uber-cool social enterprise dedicated to co-creating innovative solutions to social and commercial challenges in Nigeria using technology. He is a learning experience designer, facilitator and social enterprise consultant. Follow him on twitter @femilonge and he blogs at www.femilonge.com
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.