23 May, 2012

Africa Shares Technical Expertise With Moldova

Civic hackers in Moldova have won cash, hardware, technical support, and sponsored office space for using that country's open data initiative to create ways for citizens to keep politicians honest and expose the hidden 'puppet masters' who control the mass media.

Promit.MD clinched the top prize for a platform that records promises made by politicians, and then publicly monitors whether they deliver on their pledges. MediaOwners.MD received a special mention, for building a platform for citizens and researchers to unravel the web of often hidden shareholders who control media and information networks in Moldova.

The digital apps were amongst 18 projects built during a TechCamp and subsequent hackathon in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, as part of an Open Innovation Week that saw the African Media Initiative (AMI) and World Bank Institute (WBI) share Africa’s growing technical expertise around digital democracy.

“We were able to offer the Moldovans both hands-on training and pragmatic policy advice on many of the challenges they face in rolling out their open data initiative,” explains AMI digital strategist and Knight International Journalism Fellow, Justin Arenstein. “Kenya’s socio-economic conditions are often more relevant to Moldova that those in North America or Western Europe, so our experts could offer invaluable insights.”

The Moldova Open Innovation Week was organised by the World Bank and Moldova’s eGovernment Center. It included a series of linked knowledge-sharing sessions, ranging from a Smart Government Day and National ICT Summit, to Moldova’s first ever Data Journalism Bootcamp, the civic society TechCamp, and a two-day hackathon. The journalism bootcamp is based on a model pioneered in Kenya, where it has also produced world-class civic apps. Participants in the Smart Government event included some of the original pioneers of open government and the linked open data movement in the USA, UK, Brazil, Russia, and various European countries.

“Barriers have been broken and strong links have been created between Moldova and the rest of the [open data] world. We are particularly pleased at the cooperation with our new African friends. We look forward to working with them in the long term, including linking up civic coders in Moldova with their African counterparts,” said the head of Moldova’s eGovernment Centre, Stela Mocan.

"This south-south transfer of technical knowledge from Kenya to Moldova on opening, owning, using, and producing data is an important step forward for the emerging global community of practice in this space," said Craig Hammer of the World Bank Institute, "it highlights the key roles of media, civil society, and coders as drivers and sustainers of open and collaborative governance, and serves as a model for other countries across regions."

A number of the winning projects from the hackathon are already being paired with African media or civic engagement organisations, to build African versions for entry into the $1m annual African News Innovation Challenge.

“This demonstrates the power of knowledge exchange and open innovation. African trainers helped Moldovan journalists and developers learn new skills and technologies -- and now the Moldovan ‘graduates’ of this process are teaming up with African partners to take their creations to places like Kenya and Ghana,” says Open Institute executive director, Jay Bhalla.

The exchange is part of a wider joint effort by the World Bank and World Bank Institute to build a global community of practise around open technologies, and to encourage those at the forefront of open data initiatives to share their successes and failures as a way of establishing global best practise.

Oleg Petrov, who coordinates knowledge sharing activities at the World Bank, said that the impact of the African experts at the Moldova event was proof that bringing in expert ‘practitioners’ instead of just consultants helped produce real results in an extremely short time.

The chairman of Kenya’s Open Data Task Force, Al Kags, agrees: “Already, we see that Moldova has learned from and improved on some of Kenya’s experiments. Moldova’s systematic approach to putting resources and support services in place, plus its clear modular roll-out plan for opening up government data, offer a streamlined model that will set new benchmarks.”

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