Saturday, May 9, 2015

Opening up to the digital world through Open data, Open Knowlegde and the Open Access

When you use a computer which is connected to the world wide web or internet, you have the opportunity to access to data, information, knowlegde and content of all sorts free of charge (open) or not. Data consists of small portions of information that have all the human meaning squeezed out of them (6).Content on the other hand, is information put to use, information and data all together (6). Knowlegde is any internal information, understanding, or capacity to accomplish tasks which has  been learned (7). We are living in an information age or an information society which produces data, information and content of all sorts. Our rights to access information, data or web content is becoming more than ever before an important factor for development and this anywhere we might be on planet Earth. Different cultures have different ways of producing and sharing information and knowledge (3). Yet the ICT Culture is unique in the history of humanity in how it shares information. The terms Open Data and Open Knowledge reveal to us that data and knowlegde are available and produced constantly and free of charge. In Cameroon the concepts of Open data and Open knowledge we should say were relatively unknown until the training on Open data was done. In fact, from the 4th to the 8th of May, at the headquarters of Citizens Governance Initiatives (CGI) at Bastos in YaoundĂ©  the concepts of Open data and Data journalism were introduced to a multidisciplinary audience made up of researchers, journalists, computer scientist ,  computer science students and telecommunication ,school counsellors, clinical psychologist, teachers, and bloggers. The training was done by Jean-Brice Tetka, Data and Technology Coordinator at Transparency International in Berlin and Open Data Knowledge Ambassador for Cameroon. ICT and Kulture participated in. this training to get informed so as to inform its readers. All citizens of the world have the right to access information. You do not need to be a specialist to be interested in open data. For the African reader, naturally as you would have asked yourself while reading the title of this article, what is Open data and Open Knowledge? What makes data open?  You are right to ask yourself these questions and many more for in an African context the concepts are still very new and even in the Western world. In fact, it barely started to be used in the West  in 2009 (1).

Open Knowledge Cameroon would provide an candid Opportunity to promote open data and performance in the domain of data professions  Photo  Courtsey CGI

What is Open Data and what is it not?

            Open data is  data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.(1). The most obvious and abundant type of open data is government data.  Open Governmental data not only is diverse in terms of content but it is produced in great quantity. To make sense open data has to be transformed into ways that can readily be understood and used. The converstion and analysis of open data is based on the use of simple and affordable methods. Visual representation of open data is very usual and enables to identify new patterns of investigation which the data alone could not show. Generally, open data looks like excel spreadsheets , however, several formats of open data are availabale (word, PDF, Jpeg).

Open Knowlegde Cameroon Ambassador Jean Brice Tetka at CGI during the training. An important step in data journalism is to convert the data collected into a way it can readily be used and unserstood by anyone Photo Courtsey CGI 2015

What makes data open?

            Data is open when it is free to access and can be re-used for any purpose (1). The free access to data, knowledge and information especially scientific is still in most regions of the world a problem (2). The Open Access (OA) movement emerged in reaction to removing access barriers to scientific literature. The aim of OA is to accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make scientific literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge (2). The link between open data and open access becomes even clearer when we consider Drott’s (2006) definition according to which “OA is a concept, a movement and an economic model that refers to work that is freely available to users via the Internet without financial cost and without economic, legal or technical barriers other than those intrinsic to the Internet (2).

Who can produce open data?   

           Anyone can produce open data provided certain steps are followed (1, 5). However, the state is the most efficient and reliable source of open data production. The world bank , the national Institute of Statistics in Cameroon  are examples of databases which provide extentive open data material on a variety of variables (education, health, energy, etc). At a national level however, open data barometers have been developed to provide systematic indicators of the open data produced within a country (5). This is very useful to control the validity of data available

Women , and youths  professionals interested in data/information collection can be involved in producing open data. Photo Courtesy CGI 2015

What is the importance of open data in the African society today and what does it imply?

            Apart from the fact that open data contributes to transparency and improved governance and government service delivery (1), open data enabled by open access (OA) can contribute significantly in developing bigger and varied knowledge pools readily accessible and usable. A lot of knowledge is still stored in most parts in Africa in ways which cannot be used easily to promote human wellbeing and development. Moreover, a lot of scientific knowledge/data is still inaccessible to African scholars, students and researchers. In fact, open data can lead to open knowledge through research which can contribute to the development of science and research consequently. There is no true development without research.  The agricultural and industrial ages of human evolution, in Western and Asian cultures more to talk of the Kamit Kultur  have always put research at the center.  However, in an African context there can’t truly be research without open data/knowledge (1). Open access to information, enables the use of open data at an individual( a citizen) and collective (state) to make more informed decisions and choices.. The Open Access Movement enables great quantity of data and information to be accessed freely. Indeed, Rapid access to information is a powerful indicator of a performant and efficient IT sector. The more people would get involved in open data , and the open access movement  the easier quality education and professionalism would be enabled in Africa. We can posit that there is a significant relationship between access to quality information and behaviour ( learning behaviour , work behaviour, study behaviour etc).


The advent of   this Open data training in Cameroon is another indication that the IT sector is developing and can contribute significantly for developement. It is important to note that this developement is involving different disciplines. The more open to the opportunities the information society provides in terms of science, research and innovation the more competitive and efficient would  the Cameroonian  IT sector be and many other sectors now relying heavily on ICT's .


(1) Open Knowledge Foundation (2013).  Open Data Handbook Documentation
(2) Salager-Meyer, F. (2012). The open access movement or “edemocracy”: its birth, rise, problems and solutions. IbĂ©rica 24 : 55-74 ISSN 1139-7241
(3) Aliakbar, E., Rosman Bin Md Yusoff and Nik Hasnaa Nik Mahmood (2012). Determinants of Knowledge Sharing Behavior. International Conference on Economics, Business and Marketing Management IPEDR vol.29
(4) Alexandre Ardichvili, Martin Maurer, Wei Li, Tim Wentling and Reed Stuedemann (2006). Cultural influences on knowledge sharing through online communities of practice. Journal of Knowlegde Management j vol. 10 NO. 1 , pp. 94-107, ISSN 1367-3270 DOI 10.1108/13673270610650139
(5)Open Data Institute, Worldwide Web Foundation, and Exploring the Emerging Impacts   of Open Data in Developing Countries (2013). Open Data Barometer: 2013 Researchers Handbook
(6)  Boiko, B. (n.d). Defining Data, Information, and Content A CM Domain White Paper
(7) Matsumoto, D. (2009) Cambrigde Dictionary of Psychology. Cambrigde :Cambrigde University Press.ISBN-13 978-0-511-63157-3

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