Data Mining in Kenya

I usually think about data journalism within the boundaries of the Western world. Data mining, infographics, and the use of visualizations are still relatively new journalism tools, so I was surprised to find out about the Kenya Open Data Initiative project. But it was the first link that showed up on my Google search for “data journalism and education”.

In 2011, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki created the Kenya Open Data Initiative to make government data publicly available as part of his effort to stop widespread government corruption. The KODI has published the country’s 2009 census data as well over 390 datasets. The data is organized by Socrata, a data service company that also serves several American cities from New York City to Seattle.

The available datasets are raw, which means that people – either journalists or policy analysts – have to review the information to check for accuracy and provide contextual meaning for the public. For example, here is the dataset on poverty rates by district:

As a foreign observer, I don’t understand the data since there isn’t a legend. What is the poverty rate in Kenya? Is it by household salary? What’s also interesting is that the chart doesn’t list all the districts names. I only found out some of the districts after seeing the pop-up information boxes over the bars. I’m not sure if this is the fault of KODI programmers or of Socrata’s developers.

The most interesting section in KODI is the dataset suggestions. Here, you can see what kind of data journalists and/or analysts are seeking from the Kenyan government. The requests range from a map of public libraries to special education schools to road construction. In fact, there are several requests for education data.

The status update from these requests is also available, but I’m not sure if “approved” means that the comment was approved or that KODI is working to publish the dataset.

While I think government accountability is important, there’s something off-putting about KODI. I’m not entirely sure that the data is as transparent as government officials make it seem. There are no HIV/AIDS statistics even though it’s still an epidemic in Kenya. I also wondered if the information is only provided in English. I emailed KODI to find out if there is a Swahili version of the website.

Regardless, KODI is an interesting project, and I’m curious to know whether Kenyan or African journalists have taken advantage of the data in their reporting.

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