Last week a group of data experts from Tanzania became the first wave of new trainers to teach people across the country about the potential uses and benefits of open data. The ODI’s intensive, week-long Train the Trainer course had previously only been run in the UK, but those involved in Tanzania’s growing open data movement enabled the ODI to run its first international session in Dar es Salaam in September 2016

Mahadia Tunga is one of these experts: a lecturer and researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam since 2009. A computer scientist by trade, Mahadia is passionate about making open data useable for others to build things. In her own words, she is ‘driven by that lightbulb moment when someone realises what open data can do’. Mahadia will now be spreading open data knowledge across Tanzania. But why is it so important that Mahadia’s open data skills are passed on to others, and why are data skills so vital in the 21st century?

The data revolution is changing and improving how government services are delivered, how businesses generate revenue and develop new products, and how citizens hold their governments to account. The need for better data literacy is found globally, but increasing data literacy in the developing world will probably have the greatest impact. In short, the developing world has the most to gain from open data: publishing data is cheap, quick and supports service delivery, transparency and innovation. However, most countries – including Tanzania – lack trainers who can educate others to reap those rewards.

The world faces many challenges, as shown by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ODI has stated that open data can contribute towards achieving the SDGs, through improving development programmes, monitoring progress and contributing to economic growth.

In Tanzania, the government has prioritised publishing open data on education, health and water on its government open data portal, complemented by user-friendly dashboards. For example, open data on schools can provide families with insights on attainment levels, facilities, and the ratio of boys and girls – giving them something they didn’t have before: the ability to make an informed decision about the best school for their children. In addition, there are other areas – such as agriculture and transportation – where open data can have a transformative impact.

But the country is now facing a tougher challenge: encouraging businesses, public officials and citizens to use open data. This is where on-the-ground trainers become a valuable asset. Tanzania now has a team of open data trainers, who will soon be training citizens, businesses and public sector workers, to show how publishing and using open data – from Tanzania’s open data portal, for example – can help them make more informed decisions.

One of the key roles of the Tanzanian trainers is to demonstrate the value, application, and the ease of publishing open data to civil servants, journalists, academics, data publishers and developers. The trainers have a range of backgrounds, with three coming from the University of Dar es Salaam, five working as part of the open data team at the World Bank, and two being private digital experts. This sustainable way of improving data skills has a multiplier effect by equipping people with the right skills to train others. It is also reducing the asymmetry that exists between qualified trainers in the developed and developing world.

Mahadia commented during the training: ‘As a researcher, open data provides me with the opportunity to easily access research done by other researchers or institutions, therefore saving time and duplication of efforts. During the training I want to gain practical experience and improve my teaching skills from world certified open data trainers - I will be training data professionals and lecturers at the university, as well as students, NGOs, startups and individuals who wish to learn about open data use or make a business out of it.’

Another participant, Rose Aiko, is a researcher and consultant for the World Bank. Rose said: ‘I’m looking forward to really working with more people in Tanzania... on open data. What I’ve realised on this course is that we have a lot of misconceptions about what open data is. Getting those clear in people’s minds will help the open data initiative move forward easily and faster, because people will be more comfortable. My intention is to do more training around how people can publish open data. I think if we engage well on that, we can make it more comfortable for people to work with us on the open data initiative.’

At the ODI we are proponents not only of open data, but openness as part of organisational culture. In our Train the Trainer course we see open learning: the transfer of skills, leading to greater agility, and the ability to capitalise on local knowledge. Only by working in this ‘porous’ way, letting ideas, knowledge and technologies flow in and out of organisations and communities, can we tackle the global challenges ahead.

The ODI is delivering a programme of work to support the Tanzania Open Data Initiative. This work is coordinated by the World Bank, and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development.

Will is Junior Consultant at the ODI. Follow @williamdgerry on Twitter.

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