Open data training for researchers and academics

GODAN Action in partnership with the University of Nairobi’s Centre for Agricultural Networking and Information Sharing (CANIS) – hosted a two-day workshop for 38 participants from research, academia and government sectors during 4-5 October 2017 in Nairobi. The workshop was also supported by local partners Local Development Research Institute (LDRI), Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Regional Centre for Mapping Resource for Development (RCMRD).

The workshop was opened by the Director General (DG) of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) who emphasised that, agriculture being the mainstay of the economy, it was necessary to identify sources of quality agriculture and nutrition statistics for evidence based decision making, policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects. He averred that data, when shared, does not diminish in value but rather, when considered from a value chain thinking, shared becomes the ‘raw-material’ for knowledge based innovation.

Workshop Objectives

Lead trainer, Kiringai Kamau (CANIS) during a session

The workshop addressed the following objectives:

  1. Understanding open data
  2. Identifying the process of sourcing and acquiring data in a devolved agricultural setup
  3. Promoting innovation through open data in agriculture and nutrition
  4. Understanding open data exchange and where to publish- open data journals
  5. Understanding the legal aspects of open data use.
  6. Making partnerships with data sources and beneficiaries of research outcomes e.g. farmer organizations, nutrition practitioners etc.
  7. Understanding provenance and; identifying what priority datasets are needed for reuse.

Use Cases Presented

a. Use Case: Open Data in the African Landscape

This session sought to bring the participants to a level of understanding of the continental role their work in open data will play in supporting the cause of African Union’s Agenda 2063.

b. Use Case: aTex Hub

This session presented the Agriculture, Technology and Extension (aTex) Hub that deploys students as the interface for producer farmers to collect critical data as well as unpacking the data/research/knowledge from research or universities.

c. Use Case: Systems orientation to project implementation

This session was included in the training to help researchers identify the pitfalls of sub optimization and the importance of a systems focus in their engagement as data value chain actors.

d. Use Case: KALRO Farmer Information Platform

This session was conducted to help researchers academics and other agricultural value chain actors to appreciate how a data leaning focus can impact a traditional research organization to become the driver or innovation by just adopting approaches that make use of the resource they always take for granted – their data repositories that are never aggregated.

e. Use Case: RCMRD Collaborative Framework for the ESA Region

This session sought to help participants to identify how they can use digital technology to support them through a tool that is increasingly becoming a critical integrated knowledge base that is now part of every aspect of the lives of research and academia.

Effort was taken to ensure that the delivery was tailored to the experiences of participants and their organizations, the experience of the facilitators in a local Kenyan and African context. As such, the theoretical components of the workshop were interspersed with discussions, group work and presentation of Kenyan and African use cases.

The workshop participants were able discuss the opportunities that data in its open form presents, were equipped with an understanding of how to initiate the process of opening datasets for the creation of new knowledge. Key group discussion questions for the participants were:

Group work
  • What ways can universities help make the data most needed become more available
  • What actions would be needed to start with open data next week in your institution?
  • How can synergy and alignment in research and development give a boost to open data availability?
  • What areas should agricultural research prioritize to enable efficient sharing of research data, information & knowledge with its stakeholders?
  • As researchers whom do we need to bring on board for our open data objectives to be realised and create impact?

Evaluation

From the outcomes of the group discussions it was clear to the participants, the importance of creating awareness on what open data means, particularly for both the researchers/academics and management in the various institutions and then the need for creating working groups or round tables which will advocate and set up mechanisms for identifying demand driven data release and publishing priorities. The use case on innovation and data driven tools and services for smallholders, as shared by KALRO, sparked a lot of interest among the participants. Many were not aware of the potential that lies in the data they were collecting. 

On analysis of the evaluation forms, the participants indicated their top lessons and takeaways from the workshop as being:

Understanding the value that open data can potentially unlock:

Open data has lots of benefits to include giving opportunities for people working in the same fields to understand what has been and the opportunity to make use of the data to achieve different outputs far beyond the initial intended outputs”.

What data sets are a priority for release and data management practices at institutional level:

“The potential of realising new partners, networks for funding/collaboration on research through open data initiatives”.

“Availability of many important online programmes using open data such as the KARLO website”.

When asked what other issues or topics they would like to explore further, the majority of participants indicated the desire to learn how to develop an open data strategy - practical based. They were advised in the meantime to register for the GODAN Action MOOC that was soon to be announced. In addition to this, further activities with CANIS would be planned to further their capacity with open data.

Post-workshop follow-up

All participants unanimously indicated interest to either participate in becoming future trainers; contributing use-cases in their areas of specialization and/or engaging to develop an open data capacity framework for Kenya while advocating for more release of data for agriculture and nutrition in their respective institutions.

Therefore, plans are underway to do an impact survey and interviews in 2018. The survey will aim to measure if and how the participants are using open data for their research work or whether they have begun any open data initiatives in their respective institutions.

Special thanks to local partners who lead and presented use cases: Kiringai Kamau, Director, CANIS; Muchiri Nyaggah, Executive Director, LDRI; Boniface Akuku, Director of ICT, KALRO;   Dr Niek van Duivenbooden, Lead Researcher Trimpact,; and Dr. Kenneth Mubea, Lead Capacity Development, RCMRD.

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Keywords: Open data