Rwanda takes the next step towards a Data-driven Future

By Stephen Abbott Pugh –

If something is described as the “new black gold”, everyone from leading businesspeople to presidents tends to listen.

So when a panel at last year’s Transform Africa Summit in Kigali described open data in this way, it was only a matter of time before countries across the region started making moves to capitalise on this opportunity.

Rwanda is now on the verge of passing a ‘data revolution’ policy which will enshrine the country’s move towards creating an open data ecosystem. A final version is due to be considered by the Cabinet soon and is part of national efforts to “build a data driven economy”.

The policy is also a component of the Smart Rwanda Master Plan in which the government has committed to “openness and transparency, as well as [recognising] the enormous potential that lies in data use for business and decision making”.

The draft policy covers two main areas: open data and the ‘data revolution’. So what do these terms mean?

Open data is data or information which can be “freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose”, according to the Open Definition.

Advocates believe that the release of timely, machine-readable open data from a variety of sources has the potential to revolutionise business, technology and government by unlocking the value held in combining datasets which often lie unused or underutilised.

In the last six months, Rwanda has come top of African countries in Open Knowledge’s Global Open Data Index, second in sub-Saharan Africa in the Open Data Barometer and ranked fourth globally for the availability of national statistics as open data. These findings have been welcomed by the Government of Rwanda and ministers but more is still to be done. In particular, the Open Data Barometer showed that, despite the efforts made so far, Rwanda is yet to feel much impact from open data.

Ideas about how to increase impact abound. The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources has signed up to be a member of the GODAN movement to share open agricultural data while the Ministry of Infrastructure has started to integrate Rwanda’s geographical and spatial data on a new portal.

Both initiatives look to unlock the value of existing data for people looking to improve farming or building practices in the country. Another programme is underway with the aim of helping one million farmers in Rwanda get better access to climate data. Local experts also say that insurance firms and banks should move fast to take advantage of the increased availability of data.

However in terms of both open data and the ‘data revolution’, challenges lie ahead. The ‘data revolution’ is the shorthand used for the steps needed to move from existing systems of decision-making and planning to new ones driven by better, more up-to-date data.

Much of the international conversation across Africa about this revolution has focused on the paucity or poor quality of existing data. This has led to calls for an “African data revolution” with organisations like the United Nations and the Web Foundation working to get countries to sign up to efforts including the African Data Consensus and the Open Data Charter.

Improving data quality and provision are integral steps towards giving countries the ability to measure their progress towards the Global Goals which will set international development policy to 2030.

Many organisations found it difficult to accurately work out how much progress many countries had made towards the Millennium Development Goals which preceded the Global Goals and they want to do everything possible to get hold of more accurate data as well as filling gaps in knowledge.

In Rwanda, the government wants to measure advances towards EDPRS II targets with open data and one local advocate estimated that targets within 15 of 17 Global Goals – also known as the Sustainable Development Goals – can be measured using GIS mapping data.

A key pillar of any data policy is that a lot of people from government, civil society, technology and the private sector need to work together in order to capitalise on the opportunities arising. So it is great to see that Rwanda’s draft policy–drawn up by the Ministry of Youth and ICT– enshrines the principles that Rwanda’s data revolution will be demand driven as well as calling for engagement with data users, more public/private partnerships and the creation of a data innovation hub to generate ideas and new opportunities.

With such a national policy in place to guide efforts, the stage will be set for Rwanda to start digging into this data to find the “black gold” which could help power the country’s growth up to 2020 and beyond.

The writer is the co-founder of Tumenye, a Rwandan technology company focused on open data and civic technology

Source: The New Times

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