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#DataFestKampala: Using the new oil effectively

“Data is the new oil” – this statement was highlighted quite often during the first DataFest in East Africa, hosted by Pollicy and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in Kampala from 6th to 7th of March. Twenty speakers educated and discussed with over 200 participants about different aspects of data such as data management, analysis, security and visualization. Stakeholders from NGOs, the private sector and the government came together to increase collaboration and knowledge.

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During their opening remarks Neema Iyer, Director of Pollicy, and Donnas Ojok, Program Officer at KAS, emphasized the importance of data for the present and the future of citizen focused service delivery by governments across all levels. Mr. Ojok stated: “Politics and policies start to wrong if data is misused, misguided, misinterpreted.” Therefore, he urged that data management has to become a key ingredient for policy making to improve good governance.

The keynotes of Michael Kategaya and Bernhard Sabiti focused mainly on the aspect of access to data from the government, which was identified as a main problem for the effective utilization of data. While Mr. Kategaya clarified “Governments need to use data to understand the needs of their citizens”, Mr. Sabiti pointed out that researchers should not sensationalize data and rather use it as unit to influence decision-making processes.

Patrick, who works as researcher of Poverty Action, highlighted the significance of evaluating the impact of development programs on a large-scale. He presented his work in Kenya: The issue there was if either providing school uniforms or deworming children would help to increase their attendance. The clear result was that the latter method was suited better achieving the aim.

The opportunities and challenges of open data were introduced by Tina Mutabazi and Tunga Mahadia. Mrs. Mutabazi talked about the use of open geodata to improve the planning of service delivery such as waste management. Transparency, participation and accountability were mentioned by Mrs. Mahadia as the social values of open data. With regard to the challenges of open data, one participant stated: “The fact that you never know who contributes makes open data vulnerable for false information”.

During parallel panels the participants were able to discuss about machine learning, the opportunities of data innovation within civil society organizations and the engagement of young people in data-oriented research projects. One participant stressed: “Young people can and should be at the center of research, providing vital voices and evidence-based recommendations in ongoing conversations on youth issues.”

The second Day started with a keynote by Paul Green about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Uganda. He defined AI as the study of teaching machines to obtain knowledge so that they are able to fulfill tasks better than humans. Disease detection and monitoring in the agricultural sector, capturing views and opinions for media analysis and Chatbots for better healthcare were identified as opportunities for AI. Mr. Green extolled the high levels of interest among young people for AI and the existence of free trainings and informal networks, but also mentioned the limited access of data, expensive hardware and the public perception as key barriers for AI in Uganda.

Bernhard Wanyama addressed the issue of data security and underlined the role of the state protecting citizens’ data: “Data Privacy is an individual right and needs to be protected. Therefore, new laws are necessary”. During his workshop on network security John Ombagi directly showed how easy it is to hack a Wifi-network.

Interactive, hands-on workshops on software suited for the different stages of data management were at the center of Day Two. Shelmith Karuiki gave a lesson on R and Python, two of the most used programs for data analysis, while Daphne Nakabugo explained the data collection software KoboToolBox, and Wairimu Macharia introduced infogram, a software for data visualization, which is the art to communicate the results of data analysis to a broader audience.

The two days of the DataFest were packed with enlightening keynotes, fruitful discussions and useful software workshops. Participants from different sectors met, exchanged their knowledge and got inspired by each other in a cheerful and respectful atmosphere. The increased stakeholder collaboration will help to overcome challenges and improve the effective of use of the new oil – data.

Written by Valentin Penczek

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