What conceptual and theoretical orientations shaped discussion in this collaborative call?


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Angela Okune's picture
September 29, 2020

Kim asked the group: "What do you worry about related to open data in Kenya... Tell me a little bit about what would be a disappointing result, 10 years from now with open data."

Wambui noted: "I think [it] would be a disappointment....if further down the road, we don't do much with open data...My fear is that there will be no ripple effect. We'll be stuck at, let's get the budget information. And we don't see the bigger picture," (12:06).

In other words, if data just stays data and doesn't activate people to use that information to take action, that would be disappointing.

Kim then later follows up to clarify, "what kind of data infrastructure and data availability would actually produce that kind of change in Nairobi, where you have parents mobilized as education activists, or people mobilized for transportation infrastructure, where you actually have a citizenry that's asking something..." (45:48).

I (Angela) don't have an answer to that question, but noted on the call that this idea of helping to promote an engaged citizenry has been part of the narrative about why open data is important for improved governance. But the promise of this kind of citizenry activated by open data to take action and hold government to account does not appear to have really transpired in quite the way that donors and community open data advocates had hoped.

I mentioned, that was "the orienting ideal that started a lot of the open data movement push. Yes, an active citizenry that will hold the government to account, you know, using information that they now have access to, that used to be behind closed walls, but now people can access and then they get energized, and then they want to hold people accountable. But then that never really played out. And then it became a tired kind of narrative that was then used to get donor money. And then you know, open data for better governance and for transparency and accountability, like those are all key buzzwords, you know, that ended up being just used on both ends from those who apply for funding, and then the funders who give them out, like in their calls for proposals, you know, it just became kind of another part of the next thing that then got funded," (52:06).

Kim called out this double bind: "I think that's a double bind, right there - is that it's not that you don't need more transparency and a mobilized citizenry. But even that has been locked into a certain frame. And so, you know, it's become a kind of cynical endeavor. And I think that's precisely I mean, the kind of inertia you get when something that is, in fact, promising becomes kind of locked down. That's a real double bind. And so, you know, it's those kinds of contradictions that you need to creatively imagine what kind of data infrastructure can work within that paradoxical space." (53:17)

Angela Okune's picture
September 29, 2020

This call was organized around Bateson's concepts of deutero-learning and double bind which heavily influenced the discussion points raised in the call.