August 16, 2023

A Decade of Devolution & The Pursuit of Transformation


This week, we join counties in celebrating a decade of devolution – ten years since Kenya’s 47 counties came into being. The counties were established under the 2010 Constitution, but were actualised after the 2013 general elections. At those elections, Kenyans elected 47 new governors for the first time. 

Scenes from the 2023 Devolution Conference held in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County

We are thrilled to have  been instrumental in creating transformative change, innovation, and empowerment throughout this revolutionary journey. In 2013, we thought that it would be especially valuable for the 47 new county governments to start off as open governments – establishing systems for transparency and citizen engagement using technology. 

All or None

When we proposed it to the 47 new governors, we wanted to have a pilot project of a few counties to start with. The governors responded in unison, “you work with all of us, or you work with none of us.”

And so our Open County programme was established. Through this programme, we have been working with the Council of Governors on several fronts. Through the Open County platform, we worked hard to digitise and publish county data from all sources that we could find, including the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey and many more. 

As the counties established their internal systems and built their capacity, our work was deepened to building the counties’ capacity to establish data desks, which are essentially statistical units designed to aid better decision making for service delivery for the county governments. By making data public in machine-readable format and visualised in dashboards, the counties would also strengthen citizen engagement – especially during the public participation efforts. 

We have seen wonderful stories of impact in many counties. We saw 800 young people work with Kilifi County to map out all of the projects that had ever been done in the county, checking on the status of each of those projects and engaging with the citizens about what they would want to be done. We saw the county make their budgets available publicly such that they could be analysed by more than 30 Community based and youth organisations. It was our pleasure to work with them to visualise the budgets here so that they could go to their wards and engage the community on their priorities and feedback to the counties. 

Data Desks 

Nandi’s Data Desk team review data on the platform as Benjamin (Open Institute) looks on

We saw counties like Makueni, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi establish great systems to regularly publish data to their citizens and increase their engagement. We are engaging with more counties including Mandera, Nairobi, Machakos and Nakuru to establish their own statistical units. 

In doing this work we have learnt many lessons, which we distilled recently into our 10 lessons in 10 years. We now have a strong sense that we must strive to build ecosystems around data within county governments and also among citizens to make sure that our two biggest goals are achieved: that governments are responsive to the people’s needs and that citizens are active and engaged enough to guide the development of their communities in partnership with their governments. 

The synergy between the Open Institute’s decade of work and the government’s devolution path also exemplifies the power of collaboration and commitment. For us, the Devolution Conference is a time of reflection and the promise of the future. The impact of Open Institute projects, as reflected in data desks, knowledge centers, campaigns, and innovations, demonstrates the power of collaborative efforts.

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