How Can CSOs in West Africa Make Use of Open Data?

How Can CSOs in West Africa Make Use of Open Data?

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There used to be a time when data was something only academics and statisticians had to worry about.  But in recent times, there has been an increased prioritisation of data across all sectors. Data refers to raw facts that need to be processed and organised to provide something useful. In fact, “Open data” is the new buzzword flying around many circles; governance, private sector, media and civil society.

What is Open data? Open data simply refers to data that can be “reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike” (Fernando, 2017). It is hinged on the idea that the more “open” the data, the closer we are to achieving greater transparency and accountability in governance. It is also important in building effective and sustainable institutions.

On a global scale, the era of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) informed the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the International Open Data Charter.  In Africa, there is also burgeoning commitment among some countries to make data more open and accessible. For example, eleven African countries (six from West Africa) signed the Open Government Declaration.

In 2014, the African Data Consensus was initiated by African Heads of State as a response to the need for a “sustained data revolution” in driving a much-needed social and economic transformation within the continent.[2]  There has also been a rise in the number of initiatives like CodeForAfrica, CodeforNigeria and CodeforGhana which seek to empower active citizenship to foster responsible governance.

The state of open data in Africa: progress or decline?

African countries generally rank poorly on the Open Data Barometer (ODB). In West Africa, no country is ranked in the top 50. Kenya is the only country from Sub-Saharan Africa to be among the top 40.

The challenge for many civil society organisations (CSOs) in West Africa is hardly the absence of data, but for CSOs to make the data available and accessible to its stakeholders. Most data generated by CSOs is not open. For example, WACSI operates an online directory for promoting and connecting CSOs within West Africa. However, the number of CSOs registered on, updating and utilizing information on the website is significantly low compared to those working across the region.

Other challenges range from low level of technical know-how to lack of adequate infrastructures such as electricity and internet, to weak language translation expertise, to political and legal restrictions. Therefore, they end up with loads of data that are not fully curated, analysed and shared due to limited capacity.

The idea of having data that is “open” may seem contradictory and counterintuitive. Perhaps, there are two questions we need to answer. First, how relevant could open data possibly be for CSOs and the social sector? Second, are CSOs in West Africa doing enough to make data open?

The relevance of open data to CSOs

Let me state that I am aware of the scepticism about “getting all this data” when there are still many systemic issues that need to be addressed before “sharing data” can become a reality for CSOs in West Africa. There is equally a limited understanding of the strategic value of open data for CSOs within the region.

The West Africa CSO directory is one way you can make data about your organisation open and accessible. These are some of the potential benefits of open data:

  • Increased visibility for your work: When your data is made available to people outside your organisation, you make it possible for other people to be aware of your work. They can promote your work more widely and in ways that you might not have envisaged.
  • Sharing success stories and good practices: By identifying ways through which your organisation has succeeded in addressing a challenge, you also contribute to a greater understanding for those within and outside your line of work.
  • Foster greater engagement and increased transparency: by sharing data in an open and transparent way, you set a good example for others to imbibe and allow citizens to actively engage with your cause – based on the data provided.
  • Collaboration: Making your data open also eliminates any form of horizontal or vertical distrust that might exist. First, between your organisation and other CSOs and second, with the government. This way, there is room for more collaboration which would ultimately lead to increased impact for all parties involved.
  • Attract more support and funding: being open about your work allows existing and prospective donors to easily review your results and make faster funding decisions which could be in support of your work.

Challenges associated with making data open

Open data may be gaining momentum globally, but many within the data space agree that there are still several barriers to be addressed.

Socio-Political Context: In knowing why an organisation shares enough data or not, a glance at the political landscape could provide a better perspective. According to ODB, Ghana currently leads in the subregion for open data, ranking 59 (out of 115 countries), followed by Burkina Faso and Nigeria ranking 67 and 70 respectively. Most of the countries are reported to lack fully open data sets. This makes one ask the question “how open is open?” For example, the health and education datasets in Nigeria now have restrictions of use for certain purposes. In terms of readiness and implementation for open data, most West African countries clearly exhibit a lack of political will especially in terms of the right to information. This is also conflated by a heavy reliance on third parties for funding and sustaining open data initiatives.

Methodological framework: Another major barrier to increased data sharing and usage are problems related to making “evidence-based” decisions without adequate information on the methodology that informs the data collection process.

Who determines what was included and what was left in this dataset? Whose interests are being protected through this data?

Privacy: This brings me to the point about privacy. Whose data is it? How is it used?

This is perhaps one very controversial issue depending on how one wants to look at it. Without standard privacy and consent frameworks, open data could encourage the use of data in unethical ways and might lead to unintended consequences.

Demand Vs Supply: If privacy triggers questions surrounding ownership and usage of data, it’s only logical to know the demand and supply drivers of open data. The 2015 International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) report suggests that there is not enough incentive for CSOs to publish and share quality data “because no one is using their data”. The low demand for open data is reportedly due to its inadequacy in certain contexts. [5] Hence, the challenge is not just in increasing open data but ensuring there is enough use of it to drive development outcomes.

Paving a way forward

In a region where some still struggle to capture the most basic forms of data, it is hardly a question of whether CSOs are simply sharing data or not. It’s a bit more complicated. It’s an awkward mix of capacity, politics, quality, infrastructure, sustainability amongst others.

Many CSOs are already using data in one way or the other, although only a few have the capacity to use this data in innovative ways.

One way to bridge this gap is by improving the data literacy of CSOs through workshops that would expose them to the value of open data, help them identify relevant data sources within their fields and boost their confidence in using data.

Furthermore, “global” players within the open data community should seek ways to collaborate with local actors in creating richer data sets that reflect local needs and foster grassroots adoption.

Academics and practitioners also need to get past the chasm between their approach in order for data to inform practice and vice versa.

CSOs and government should also see open data as a common ground for them to work together – relying on facts rather than opinion.

Furthermore, governments need to improve commitment towards open data with stronger privacy laws, freedom of information legislation and the right to access data. This way, open data interventions are not just window-dressed, but truly satisfy the full criteria.

Finally, CSOs should exhibit responsible generation, ownership and control of data by committing to privacy and consent practices.




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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.