Open Data Day Uganda – Promoting girls in Science and Technology

This post was written by Alwenyi Catherine Cassidy from Fund Africa Inc.

Fund Africa Inc. is powered by Open Knowledge International, in partnership with NetSquared and Communication Without Boarders. We’re excited to be part of the 2016 International Open Data Day celebration in Kampala, Uganda.

This event topic focused on open science and methods to encourage girls to join Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Africa. The event was attended by mostly non-profit representatives, developers, data journalists, and members of the private sector. Participants were briefed about open data, features, types of open data, and its importance.  This was followed by a presentation from a representative of the ‘One Million Code Girls Project’, a program that aims to teach up to one million girls in Ugandan Secondary Schools between the ages of 13 and 17 how to code. Other resources shared include learning skills in project management, use of software to be used interactively by teams, and the reasons for open data.

The presentations were followed by a focused group discussion and online twitter chats using the hashtag #TechchatAfrica.  A few recommendations were made, and the meeting concluded with a networking session.

The following are the presentations we had:

1. Trello – Ednah Karamaji

While we were waiting for more participants to attend, we had Ednah Karamaji from Communications without Boarders (CWB) make a presentation on Trello – an android app that can be a useful tool for project management, especially in organizing events like the Open Data Day.

She explained several features of Trello that include: team building, where a project manager can subscribe all team members to Trello, assign roles using cards, and allow the project manager to specify venue and time of the event.  Trello allows the user to set alerts for project deadlines, and indicate completion of activities.

SAM_18292. Introduction to Open Data – Alwenyi Catherine Cassidy

The meeting was officially opened with a prayer by Mr. Robert Kibaya of NetSquared, following which the participants were introduced to Open Data by Ms. Catherine Alwenyi Cassidy of Fund Africa Inc. The presentation described how open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.

The key features of openness are:

Availability and access: the data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.

Reuse and redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets.

Universal participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse, and redistribute — there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g. only in education), are not allowed.

There are many kinds of open data that have potential uses and applications:

  • Cultural: Data about cultural works and artifacts — for example, titles and authors — generally collected and held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums.
  • Science: Data that is produced as part of scientific research from astronomy to zoology.
  • Finance: Data such as government accounts (expenditure and revenue) and information on financial markets (stocks, shares, bonds etc).
  • Statistics: Data produced by statistical offices such as the census and key socioeconomic indicators.
  • Weather: The many types of information used to understand and predict the weather and climate.
  • Environment: Information related to the natural environment such presence and level of pollutants.
  • Transport: Data such as timetables, routes, on-time statistics.

3. One Million Code Girls – Ashiraf Sebandekke

Since our event was focusing on Open Science and how to engage girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). We had Ashiraf who presented to us about his experience working with girls on coding on the One Million Code Girls, a project of Google developers group Makerere University Business (MUBs – GDG) School that aims at training up to one million girls, coding through different programming languages including Scratch, Java, Java Script, e.t.c.  Ashiraf explained the different experiences as the project lead comparing two schools, one mixed secondary school (both boys and girls) and the other single school (girls only) and how they embarrassed the program. He observed that the girls-only schools were more conducive to learning than those in the mixed schools, as some students in the latter feel inferior, thinking science subjects are for boys; but altogether the students managed to change their mindset through the carrier guidance lectures given to them by the project facilitator and they expect to balance other subjects with science and technology.


4. Why Open Data – Mr. Joseph Elunya

This year we also had an opportunity to hear a presentation from Mr. Elunya a data Journalist from Media Initiative for open governance and Reality Check Uganda who explained to us the why data should be open and not restricted to patents and copyrights as follows; Transparency. In a well-functioning, democratic society citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data and information and to share that information with other citizens. Transparency isn’t just about access, it is also about sharing and reuse — often, to understand material it needs to be analyzed and visualized. This requires that the material be open so that it can be freely used and reused. Regarding the release of social and commercial value: in a digital age, data is a key resource for social and commercial activities. Everything from finding your local post office to building a search engine requires access to data, much of which is created or held by governments. By opening up data, governments can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value.

Participation and engagement – participatory governance or, for businesses and organizations, engaging with your users and audience. Much of the time citizens are only able to engage with their own governance sporadically — maybe just at an election every 4 or 5 years. By opening up data, citizens are enabled to be much more directly informed and involved in decision-making. This is more than transparency: it’s about making a full “read/write” society, not just about knowing what is happening in the process of governance but being able to contribute to it

SAM_1835Discussion Session

The presentations were followed by active discussions; some of the questions that were asked included:

“Is Open Data really a practical way to move forward?” Asked Ednah, who explained an incident where a certain gentleman used to extract information and images from their non-profit website to use on his website to solicit for funds. Catherine explained some basic principles that apply when opening data including having an open data license to give clarity the host’s rights.  To Ednah’s question of ‘if open data was really a practical way to move forward?’, Catherine also added the advantages of open data, and shared how most people have learned some skills like web design, programming, graphical design, etc. through data contributed freely by others on the internet.  She also referenced a highly useful open source website: Wikipedia.

“To what extent should data be open?” asked Robert. Some of the participants explained that not all data is to be opened, some data is sensitive and need to be protected.  Ashiraf gave an example of how Apple Inc. could not share information from a client’s phone that would be used to curb terrorism.

Some of the participants from Youth in Technology – Uganda were not conversant with ICT laws in Uganda to protect their ideas, saying that they work sleepless nights to come up with innovations and for them to just provide them in an open source manner for people to just use without crediting them didn’t make sense.  Ashiraf explained, “All ideas need to be patented for you to be protected”.  He continued by outlining a few Data laws in Uganda which include;

 Computer Misuse Act 2011

 Electronic Transaction Act 2011

 Uganda Electronics Media Act

 Data protection and Privacy Bill 2014

 Electronics Transaction Act

The discussion was continued and was also available twitter using the #TechchatAfrica