November 8, 2017         Education

Surrounded by desktops, laptops, iPad, tablets, smartphones, feature phones, watches, cars, etc. we are ejecting infinite amounts of data daily. In fact, IBM recently estimated that our daily data exhaust is about 2.5 quintillion. This is contributed by vast amounts of data enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). Whether it is a mobile money transaction, an Uber drive, a tweet, a Facebook post, a google search, an Instagram photo upload or a YouTube video view, among others, we are already directly or indirectly enmeshed in this cobweb of data mix. Today, every single earth’s occupant contributes towards data supply and in one way or another most people subscribe to the demand side of data.

The infinite influx of data also translates to the preponderance of information at our disposal. Right at our finger tips, we are now able to access an endless amount of information from anywhere in the world, at any time. This technology-driven transformation of our daily lives fundamentally changes the way we work, communicate, consume and make decisions. This therefore means that the best skill to muster in this age is how to select what information to consume and avoid sinking in the sea of information overload.

In the era of the inexorable wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting industries around the globe, transforming production, management and governance, understanding and making best use of data is the next big deal. You only discard it at your peril.

This is not an exception for Africa. In Uganda, data enthusiasts are already getting enthralled by new platforms being built to promote constructive engagements about data. To understand the data scene in the country, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and Pollicy hosted the first ever#DataClubUg to bring together data enthusiasts from government, civil society, the private sector and academia to chat, discover and network on all things data. Relaxed electro beats, drinks, snacks and the open co-working space at DesignHub Kampala offered the perfect backdrop for the participants to spend their evening listening lightening talks and engage in networking on all things data.

From connecting farmers speaking different languages via SMS to creating on the fly data dashboards to collecting geo-data to influence decision-making, the evening’s speakers highlighted that data is already being utilized to create lasting impacts across a wide array of sectors in Uganda.

Visualizing data that is both “shareable and nice to look at for everyone” isn’t easy, explained Lydia Namubiru from the African Center for Media Excellence (ACME). No one should be subjected to “unaesthetic Excel charts”. Often, the best way to tell as story is visually. That’s why ATLAS, a data visualization platform from Quartz, is the perfect tool for users to easily visualize complex data that can then be interactively shared across social media platforms. Since it was launched in 2015, it has served over 80 million charts to 25 million people. Lydia, who leads the Journalism & Media Research Cluster, showed the participants how to easily access and use the platform. Furthermore, Lydia shared about www.data.ug, a new open data platform which is a free online repository of analyzed data on key sectors, state and non-state programmes, among others. Some of the key datasets available on the platform include salaries of government officers, Uganda Revenue Authority tax collection and targets, profiles of all the current members of parliament, among others.

Another way data can be visualized is through on the fly data dashboards, explained Joseph Kaizzi from Thin Void, a company dedicated to employing cutting edge solutions to provide creative-tech solutions for communities and businesses in Uganda. Data goes through a life cycle: collection, analysis, insights and visualization. Microsoft Power BI, a suite of business analytics tools, connects the insights to their visualization. Data can be pulled from hundreds of sources to produce reports and graphics across mobile devices and media platforms. Perchance, it is the specialization in this tech field is what made Thin Void to be named the 2017 African start-up of the year.

Apart from tools to simplify data visualization, Bernard Wright from GeoGecko impressively demonstrated the vast difference in the amount of data the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) collects vs. the data tech giant Facebook is able to collect from Uganda. The last population census in Uganda was done by UBOS (Uganda Bureau of Statistics) in 2014. Facebook, in comparison, has collected data on the Ugandan population for every 30×30 meter grid across the country. Despite this impressive difference, Facebook’s data often lacks context. According to Bernard, “data should answer questions and influence decision-making”. But because Facebook’s vast amounts of data often lacks context, it has not been able to reach its full potential. This explanation buttresses the argument that national statistical units are crucial component of the data movement, a point further expounded by Diana Nabukula, a statistician from UBOS who stated that the “bureau undertakes and carefully executes research and data collection projects which are of national importance”. The beauty is that, “this data is available anytime for public consumption on the bureau’s portal”, she added.

The potential of data doesn’t stop there. Small-scale farmers across Africa develop a diverse range of innovative and low-cost solutions to the many challenges they face, such as climate change. However, the majority of farmers live in remote areas often with very limited or no internet connectivity. Fhiwa Ndou, Country Manager at WeFarm, a peer-to-peer service for farmers explained that the social enterprise recognized the potential that lies in the fact that over 70% of farmers have a mobile phone. The app enables farmers to share information via SMS. They can ask questions on farming and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes. You could ponder for a bit that the multiplicity of languages in Uganda could pose a significant threat to this novel idea. But that’s not quite right! The solution: Artificial Intelligence! Through machine learning and natural language processing, the data sent via SMS is unpacked and the language is recognized. The app is working towards creating its own database in languages like Luganda and Swahili to create its own database and translation services. Currently, WeFarm boasts an impressive 410,000 users, with numbers growing by 2,000 every day. We Farm now boasts of being the world’s largest farmer to farmer digital network.

To wrap up the evening, the participants proved that networking doesn’t always have to be about boring or awkward conversations. Using a #DataBingo, the participants from a wide range of sectors were able to get to know like-minded individuals through bingo fields ranging from “publishes data-driven journalism” to “loves pivot tables” to “teaches others data skills”.

The evening impressively showed the potential the data revolution has in store for Uganda. Look out for the next #DataClubUg to join in on the conversation!

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