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6 min

How Open Data Can Help Tanzania

Multiple people in a conference room.
Written by
Hawa Adinani
Published on
March 23, 2020

On Saturday March 7th, OpenMap Development Tanzania (OMDTZ), Crowd2Map Tanzania and Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), with strong support from Open Knowledge Foundation and Open Heroines hosted Open Data Day event — an annual event that highlights the benefits of open data and encourages the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society. The event brought together more than 57 participants with diverse backgrounds in GIS analysis, community mapping, development, health, disaster response and other participants interested in open data.

Data availability and access are crucial in the development of projects, new research, policy formulation and organizations to reuse and develop new methods from existing datasets instead of recollecting already existing data.

The event theme ‘How open data can help Tanzania’, had the aim of creating discussions on how we can use the potential of open data to create solutions to challenges such as access to health care, flooding, gender issues i.e. female genital mutilation and early child marriages, access to energy, etc.

Is Accessing Open Data Enough?

While advocating for open data, it is crucial to ask ourselves a question, ‘Is open data enough? — From OMDTZ’s perspective, open data is not enough if we don’t have open technology, knowledge and open-minded people that are able to use, reuse, develop and replicate the processes of open data. This is the reason why OMDTZ is promoting and championing open data, open knowledge and open tools to help solve localized community problems.

During the event, we had several presentations focusing on how we can use open data and open technologies to solve localized challenges that the communities face. The talks based on the projects that OMDTZ, Crowd2Map, Tanzania Resilience Academy and Tanzania Data Lab have/are implementing. These included the following:

  • Mapping for FGM: Crowd2Map discussed how they are mapping rural Tanzania into OpenStreetMap to support FGM activists and the police who are rescuing young girls at risk. They also talked about how they are training digital champions in each village to report gender-based violence to social welfare using ODK. These women are first-time smartphone users who have ongoing training via a WhatsApp group.
  • Ramani Huria project: Community mapping for flood resilience in Dar es salaam — How community-generated data can support planning, mitigation and response to flooding in Dar es Salaam and other areas with similar issues. Addressing flooding issues in the city is super connected to addressing effects that women and children suffer during the flooding simply because this group is the most affected when it comes to flooding. This is because most of the small scale businesses owned mostly by women in the localities are swept away by flooding. On the other hand, access to social services especially schools and hospitals are minimized to the extent that both genders, girl and boy children, find it difficult to attend their schools for a period of time which deprive them of their basic education needs.
  • Data Zetu project: Empowering communities to make better and more evidence-based decisions — The presentation was based on how the collected data supported the creation of a dashboard in Amana hospital Dar es salaam to track malnutrition to children as they were being brought to the hospital late. During this project, household surveys about data on access to maternal health care were collected to understand and provide solutions on the issues that women go through to access maternal health care in the city. This has then led into an initiative to provide a mobile clinic for the places that are built far from the main hospital to serve women residing in these areas and make sure they don’t walk many miles to get this kind of services.
  • Digitization: Creating building footprints in the OpenStreetMap and get a base map for different analysis, also highlights how OMDTZ is involved in validating machine digitized data. This team is particularly led by women and has a 50/50 distribution of the team members who have grown their technical skills and managing data validations and quality checks, including day to day management. This is to make sure women are never left behind in this open data ecosystem.
  • Drones for river mapping: How the captured drone images have supported the development of open routing analysis to transport waste from rivers to Pugu (the main dumping site in Dar es salaam) and helped Ilala and Kinondoni municipalities to understand the issues facing trash collectors and improve the situation. To make sure gender issues are addressed, we also have female drone pilots who were/are trained by OMDTZ and can fly drones.
  • Community Cadastres: Piloting the use of Geo-frequency satellite receivers for land rights and supporting poor populations in Dar es salaam that are living in informal settlements. If this succeeds the impacts will be greater especially to women who are normally marginalised to access land rights.
  • Innovation Ecosystem Map of Tanzania: A platform that will bring all innovation stakeholders in Tanzania on one map. The map will act as a platform for innovators in the ecosystem exposing them to incubation, accelerators, funders etc.
  • Resilience Academy: Using open data cases to provide student skills while addressing resilience issues in the City.
People having a meeting.
Workshop on how to map using JOSM and Id Editor: Photo by Godfrey Kassano, OMDTZ

Workshops were also conducted to introduce participants to different tools that we use for data collection, analysis and data storage — the aim was to introduce participants to these tools, and if interested, they can request for additional training. OMDTZ also emphasized that the processes used to develop open data should be free (unless in circumstances that we must use proprietary tools/software i.e servers). Open data is both free in terms of not costing money, as well as free in that you can add more data or develop a feature on to the platforms to fit your needs, but you must document and make it accessible for others to reuse and develop.

Workshops were categorised into four categories:

  • Introduction to open mapping mobile tools (Open Data Kit, Open Map Kit, etc): Aiming to make participants familiar about data collection tools that we use. And how they can use them if interested. And help remote mappers who are using to map rural Tanzania and support activists who work to rescue young girls from FGM
  • Accessing geospatial open data platforms (, Geonode, Humanitarian Data Exchange etc): how participants can have access to collected data if they want to use them.
  • Mapping using JOSM and iD Editor: Participants were trained on how they can add features on the map if they wish to be data contributors.
  • Introduction to GIS and QGIS: Introducing participants on how to export data from Openstreetmap platform and other servers to make analysis through QGIS.

The event was also to remind people of the data ecosystem and that open data and data sharing goes beyond depositing in a repository. The approach of open data should be holistic, developing discussions on data validation, quality checks, and data use for countries’ most pressing challenges.

As OMDTZ, we call for communities in Tanzania that are open data users and enthusiasts such as developers, analysts, universities, policymakers, disaster responders, etc., to join our efforts in advocating the use of open data and open geospatial technologies to solve issues that matter to the community. All together with a common question on our mind, ‘How can open data help Tanzania?

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