Data and statistics are a hot topic in African studies at the minute. In this blog, Nathan Boublil tells us about the launch of SmartGov Africa. Nathan is trained as a political economist and policy fellow at Cambridge University. In 2012, he co-founded with Elliott Verreault the data lab SmartGov Technologies to improve the use of data within public sector decision-making.
This month, SmartGov Technologies Ltd, the Cambridge (UK) based data lab, announced the launch of the SmartGov Africa project. SG Africa was designed to aggregate, geo-reference and enable discussion on all African public data. It is now the largest single pan-African data portal, with 1.2m data-points already available, across 54 African countries. The platform is open for anyone to use.
Strengthening the information base that we have across African continent is crucial for citizens, governments, journalists and academics alike. Access to information helps people to make better decision-making both personally and collectively. It can also help pushes by civil society for government accountability, strengthening moves towards democratisation.
Whilst the promise of data may be great, aggregating and analysing data presents several challenges. One is that the quality and volume of open data/statistics are unequally distributed. This is a serious issue, but one that is being mitigated over time thanks to the global momentum behind the Open Data Movement. Africa is no stranger to this movement. An increase in data, however, raises a second issue: in its raw form, data becomes unwieldy and hard to digest: Members of the general public will not necessarily have any training in analysing data of this volume. As British sociologist Evelyne Ruppert has noted, without a concerted effort to make data handling accessible to all, Open Data could create a new technocracy.
In 2014, SmartGov Technologies was tasked by a consortium of NGOs, under the umbrella organisation of Making All Voices Count, to provide a data service that tackled these challenges as far as possible, and provided an accessible, flexible data service.
We decided to follow the path of successful internet start-ups in the commercial world and translate a large scale data aggregation into a user-friendly platform. The outcome is a service that aggregates over one million data-points, which users can easily visualise and discuss. Clear, intuitive visualisation or mapping of data is crucial. We believe that anyone with a basic internet knowledge can create and understand our data-based graphics.
France’s data chief Henri Verdier rightly pointed out ‘opening data is nothing without dialogue and consultation around the data: the aim is to create the conditions for an active, informed, and responsible citizenry’. SmartGov Africa is the first platform to allow anyone to comment on any datapoint. This is do-able easily and opens the door to a data-based dialogue. The dialogue can relate to a location or to the data itself (availability, quality etc).
You can access the SmartGov Africa project and visualize its 1M+ datapoints here. You can also find us on twitter.
About SmartGov Technologies: SmartGov Technologies Ltd, founded at Cambridge University in 2012, is a data lab building data-driven solutions for both the public and private sector. The lab is backed by Microsoft Ventures, Cambridge University and Startup Chile. Feel free to get in touch here.