Open data is data that can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose. Our ability to use and re-use information from the government as freely as possible is grounded on access to information legislation. The Kenya Access to Information Act no. 31 of 2016 grants citizens the right to access public information or data held by a public entity. In a well-functioning, democratic society citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data. Citizens’ desire more openness on how public funds are sourced, spent, disclosed and impacts on their livelihoods; how public services are delivered; the responsibilities and mandates of various levels and arms of government.
Due to expected benefits such as citizen participation and innovation, the release of Public Sector Information as open data is getting increased attention at various levels of government. It is important for citizens to engage with government data as part of good governance to reap the values of transparency, accountability and public participation. The Kenyan constitution strongly emphasizes the need for public participation in governmental decision-making processes. This demand came to prominence in 2010 when the new constitution enshrined down-up social accountability as a national priority.
Participation is mainly determined by access to information. Access to data makes it possible for citizens to engage, it will further empower them in making better decisions and help improve communication between the government and citizens, enabling citizens to hold their governments accountable for not meeting stated goals and targets.
In county governments in Kenya, there are two major processes that require citizen participation: integrated development planning and the budget. Process in which public participation should be considered and proposes methods for effectively engaging the citizens which could be a major leap towards open government initiatives. As of now, Elgeyo Marakwet is the only local government in Kenya participating in the open government partnership’s local program, the County Government is working with stakeholders both domestically and at the global level to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and transform the manner in which the county government serves and engages with its citizens.
The barriers to open data in government are more cultural and administrative than technical. The belief that making data open disempowers public officials or makes them more vulnerable as they risk unveiling faults, can at times create an environment among civil servants, or even policymakers, which does not fully support the implementation of open government data initiatives. There therefore exits an opportunity for capacity building with government Ministries, departments and agencies to further explore open data and its affordances for them.