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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Improving agriculture with open data journalism

A weeklong open data workshop for a section of Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Journalists Network, recently ended in Nairobi, Kenya, with a call for embrace and more training in media sphere. REMMY NWEKE who was there for NaijaAgroNet reports.


Prologue:
CONCERNED about repositioning the continental media in Africa to the buddingopen data revolution aimed at increasing agriculture growth rates to a minimum of six per cent annually to create wealth, paved the way for a week-long workshop for members of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Journalists Network in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi.
NaijaAgroNet reports that the training session which held between July 25 and 28, 2016 recognises that CAADP whose growth-focus is on agricultural development agendaof the African Union (AU) Heads of States and Government.
Welcoming participant, the Project Coordinator at Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) Ms Isaura Lopes Ramos on behalf of the Programme Manager, Policy, Markets and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), Lamon Rutten, noted CTA is leading the partnership for the open data training which is part of the Global Open Data for Impact and Capacity Development on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODIVAN) scheme, a Department for International Development (DFID) project.

Partnership that works:
This project, Ramos saidis a joint venture of international partners with the aim to increase agricultural sector production, improved nutrition for consumers and more evidence-based policy making, in which these desired changes are based on enabling communities to practically engage with open data.
NaijaAgroNet also gathered that within the context of this project, CTA in partnership with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agencyas facilitated by Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) organized the 4-day open data training with the goal to build the capacity of media practitioners so as to monitor progress and report on the implementation of the CAADP through the use of agriculture data and research, thereby strengthening reports on agriculture in Africa and developments as well as intensifying the advocacy efforts of civil society organisations, whilst participants becoming greater champions.

A head start to open data journalism exploration:
In his remarks, the Executive Director, LDRI, Mr. Muchiri Nyaggah called on African media to adopt open data to allowmore evidence-based story delivery, underlining the training objectives among others to include enthroning innovative ways to disseminate news and advocacy content to increased awareness on the agricultural transformation agenda in Africa.
Nyaggah also suggested five head starts which could motivate discuss on open data from the African perspective among media practitioners, so as to encourage improvement in agriculture produce. His catalogue include the possibility of African media practitioners focusing on progress in agricultural productivity, stunting in children under five, domestic food prices, possible advances in agricultural produce and improving capacity to generate agriculture statistics for good governance.
These outlines, he said, are doable and could be explored before the end of this year, mostly collaborating with members of the network. He expressed optimism that the outcome will be memorable as LDRI and partners are on queue to technically support participants in order to improve their deployment of open data in daily newsroom activities.Even as he disclosed, some of the suggestions will be further espoused on TransformAgriculture.org and selected for the CTA magazine.

Between Media, agricultural revolution and Africa we want:
The chief executive officer, Africa Media Initiative (AMI) Mr. Eric Chinje, in his remarks at the training described open data as critical to solution of the Africa’s continent challenges, urging media practitioners to discharge themselves of the ‘watchdog’ or ‘forth estate of the realm’ maximsif they cannot use their tools to enthrone good governance and leadership for the common good of Africans.
According to him, any supposed dog watching over certain part of the society on behalf of the people or less privileged must be able to stand up to be counted at all times through holding of those in leadership or authorities adequately responsible for the path or direction the society goes to. Stressing,“The purpose of the media is helping Africa to address the change we all wanted,” urging media  to live above board by ensuring that they bridge the gap through reportage that are evidence-based and undisputable by anybody because such a report has sufficient data to show or vindicate itself.
Chinje was hopeful that Africa and media practitioners precisely have a brighter future by offering adequate coverage on what unites the continent more like agriculture than what divides Africa, adding that such a focus should be on building a legacy worthy of emulation in no distance future.

Open data gospel according to Steve Nyumba:
Scaling the workshop, the co-founding director at the Local Development Research Institute (LDRI), Mr. Stephen Nyumba offered some insights on how open data concept could be leveraged through application for the agriculture sector by African media. He told participants in a paper“Open Data for Agriculture” that in being open connotes a lot for different people and media practitioners must discern these to ensure whatever definition they are using is seemingly holistic.
As said by him, for a data to be open means that the “Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose,” hencehe posited that concept and application entails that open data and content are often provided by the publisher with “explicit permission allowing for their use, re-use, re-distribution or re-purposing with little or no restriction.” Just as Nyumba canvassed that before any reuse, it is important for the user which in this case is a media outlet or practitioner, who wants to tell his or her story differently with infographics to check if the potential content is open or restricted.
This, Nyumba said, could be achieved by way of looking critically at the license of the publication, which very often comes as Creative Commons, otherwise, he advised that the publisher be asked for permission or clarification, so as to eschew any kind of legal bottleneck afterwards,therefore affording media the opportunity to make informed assumptions.

Understanding files extensions in open data:
In addition, Nyumba underscored the importance of file extensions in open data, stressing that their exploration on open data contents cannot be over-emphasised. According to Tech Terms Computer Dictionary, a file extension or ‘simply extension’ is the ending of a file that helps identify the type of file in operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. In Microsoft Windows, the file extension is a period that is often followed by three characters, but may also be one, two, or four characters long. For example, the filename “myfile.txt” has an extension of “.txt”, which is a file extension associated with text files.
He highlighted some kinds of file formats open data content come with such as the Comma Separated Values (CSV), the Microsoft Excel created spreadsheet file extension known as XLS and assumed the most widely-used spreadsheet programme which comes in either XLS or XLSX. The XLSX file formats are extensions created in 2007 and later versions.
As the Portable Document Format is for (PDF) file extension, he noted that DOC extension file is an abbreviation of ‘document’ for Word Processing documents, most commonly Microsoft Word Binary File Format and have since been extended to even Word Perfect file format. Just as the DOCX file extension is a Microsoft Word Open XML Format Document file dating from Microsoft Windows 2007, which comes as part of the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack.
In addition, he highlighted that the Extensible Markup Language (XML) file formats do exist, whereas the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) is a lightweight data-interchange format, among others, of which datasets are documented. Pointing out that some of the extension file formats could sound like jargons, but it is crucial to know a little of some of these formats, mostly for media practitioners who stand in-between the data contents and populace who ought to understand the gist in the story, no matter how complicated the data seems.
He assured of LDRI determined support for African Union (AU) member states in their efforts to end hunger, poverty and reduce inequality through data exposition, emphasizing that with good datasets, good stories could emerge with evidence.

Outsourcing infographic options:
Equally sharing thoughts on technicalities of fast-tracking adoption of open data and application in corporate environment like media, Research Analyst, Gro Intelligence Kenya, Mr. Antal Neville, said they are ready to accommodate the outsourcing of datasets into infographics to aid busy professionals in their service deliveries.
He noted that by transforming data into information, Gro Intelligence assists customers to easily search clews to gain intelligence and be better informed in their decision making, just as Neville enjoined African media practitioners to take advantage of the entity options to maximize their narratives.

Submission:
After the weeklong training, some of the participants confessed to NaijaAgroNet their skepticisms at the beginning from the open data workshop, but eventually, they can now tell a better story using infographics made out of open datasets as part of the exercises, which include practical, group works and presentations.
Therefore, giving credence to the promise made by LDRI and partners that participants drawn from CAAD Journalist Network will be trained on how to find, present and visualise data suitable to journalists’ needs, such as creating charts, maps or galleries, whereas providing them with essential concepts, techniques and skills to effectively work with data and produce compelling data stories.
However, the need to continuously keep a tap on participants with more capacity building on open data through exposure to more innovations based on active participation in open data conferences and interfacing with expertsare also critical as much as participant’s individual determination to embrace new concepts in telling their stories, which definitely will stand them out among equals, aside the incentivisations along the side.

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