November 22, 2012

GotToVote! A way to bring Open Data to the ground


The Open Institute is really proud to have helped birth an exciting new viral web campaign that is driving Kenyans to register and go vote.The GotToVote! campaign is the latest civic engagement project built by the pioneering Code4Kenya initiative. It was built in just 24hrs, by just two people, based on important but almost unusable information released by the the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The IEBC published the locations of voter registration centres around the country — but as a **pg PDF that is fairly large to download and really difficult for ordinary citizens to read. Even professional infomediaries, like the media and civil society organisations, would only use a fraction of the information in the PDF.

Code4Kenya’s lead developer David Lemayian and one of the initiative’s data Fellows, Simeon Oriko, realised that the information locked up in that PDF was just too important to ignore. So, they liberated the information, by scraping the data from the PDF into an interactive spreadsheet that powers the simple GotToVote! website.Over 2,500 people visited the site within hours of it going live, using it to find out where their nearest voting center is and where they should register for the elections. Simple but powerful.This proves that:

  • Open data projects need not be expensive. GotToVote! cost under $1,000 for everything from development, to logos, to domain registration. Compare this to the millions of US Dollars spent on similar sites, that seldom attract more than a couple hundred users – ever.
  • Open data projects do not need huge teams to be successful. GotToVote! was built by just two people, with passion, a clear vision, and the right skills.
  • Open data projects need not be time consuming. The usefulness of data, like news, is often time sensitive. GotToVote! proves that it is possible to build something meaningful and useful in just 24hrs.
  • Open data doesn’t have to be complex to matter. Simple, powerful ideas, with granular data, and a clean user interface can make a profound impact.
  • Open data doesn’t have to be handed to you on a plate. Often, the most useful data is the stuff that we liberate, by extracting it from the prisons that bureaucracy locks it up in, and then making it accessible for ordinary people to extract the bits that are most meaningful in their personal lives or local communities.

So, how was Open Institute involved? We are incubating the Code4Kenya project, on behalf of the African Media Initiative (AMI) and the World Bank (WB). Code4Kenya is designed to revolutionise the way that journalists and civic activists use data. It does so by embedding Data Fellows into three of Kenya’s largest newsrooms, as well as one grassroots civic organisation, to help kickstart experimentation with data-driven civic engagement tools. An Open Institute managed external software development team, headed by David, supports the embedded Fellows.

All the data used on GotToVote! is freely available on another Code4Kenya project: the AfricaOpenData portal which, in just two short months, has grown into the continent’s largest repository of public data, ranging from government budget and tender information, to data about parliamentarians and other public officials.

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