Sarah Williams, Elizabeth Marcello & Jacqueline M. Klopp (2014). Toward Open Source Kenya: Creating and Sharing a GIS Database of Nairobi. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 104, Issue 1, pages 114-130
To make good decisions about the future direction of cities we need data to contextualize and make recommendations that are based on past results and potential models for the future. Yet access to information including geographic information systems (GIS) is challenging, particularly as data are often seen as a commodity or source of power by those who control it, a dynamic more severe in contexts like Kenya. By generating GIS data for our own transportation model and then sharing them with those interested in doing research on Nairobi, we experienced firsthand some of the power dynamics associated with accessing and generating information in the developing country context. The project had several important lessons: (1) Simply developing data does not make them open; how “open access” is provided to the data is just as important as making them freely available. (2) Developing data can show commitment to a particular place or project that can help generate support for stronger partnerships and project goals. (3) Openly sharing data about place might help push those with access to information to share information as well. Overall this research project illustrated that sharing data can help support a more open access ecosystem locally by establishing a culture of data sharing but only if those interested in using it have the technical ability to both access and use data sets provided.