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One positive thing I came across last week was the Ghana Open Data initiative. This initiative facilitated by the Ministry of Communications and spearheaded by the National Information Technology Agency (NITA), the IT implementing agency of Government has a broad objective of promoting transparency in Government transactions and creating business opportunity for reuse of open government data. Coupled with the eGovernment Network Infrastructure (GovNET) and the passage of the right to information bill, these have great potential to allow civil society and researchers benchmark and track the performance of government policies and initiatives at the grassroots level.

The idea of making government data available for policy makers, researchers and development organisations cannot in anyway be underestimated. According to the UNFPA generating, analysing and disseminating population data –for example- is a critical process for sound and successful development policies and programmes. Planners need information and the results of analysis on the different population and development-related issues for the purposes of:

  • Assessing demographic trends
  • Analyzing the socio-economic situation of women and other gender issues
  • Designing evidence-based population policies, strategies and programmes
  • Integrating population factors into development planning
  • Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of policies and programmes
  • Tracking progress toward national and internationally agreed development goals
  • Raising awareness about the importance of population issues among government decision-makers and the public at large

Indicators in key areas such as health, education, communications and the extractive industry need to be tracked in order to promote accountability by the government to the citizenry. This may spark a new wave of innovation and development with the reuse of such data. Though the development datasets available on the Ghana Open Data initiative website are good, they are not user friendly in terms of infographically displaying content in charts and maps to allow easy visualization. The next step of this great initiative will be to get more developers build APIs and apps using open source technologies to display the info from these datasets visually within the web browser without a need to download for people just interested in observing trends. There is of course other employment creation opportunities this brings.

For example, unemployed youth who show an enthusiasm for IT can be trained to get the requisite proficiency to gather such data at the district level and input into the backend through the national IT backbone infrastructure. Others could also develop local apps and software that analyse such data to inform public policy decision making. Local media house Peacefmonline has started a similar Ghana Data Blog Initiative which also is a good way of disseminating such info for the populace. For example, a chart of the Consumer Price Index, the benchmark for inflation in Ghana from 1992-2013 is graphically presented below. I think the passage of the Right to Information Bill will greatly facilitate this move. Data forms the basis of good development planning and benchmarking of government performance.

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