Prof. Muliaro: The advent of big data heralds huge opportunities

The advent and emergence of “Big Data” and its related technologies has brought with it immense opportunities which can be seized if a new era of openness that leverages on various technologies, institutional and organizational frameworks that are critical in harnessing data are developed.

This was revealed during a public lecture titled: Openness in Data, Science and Governance,  delivered by Muliaro Wafula (Pictured Above), an Associate Professor in the Department of Computing, School of Computing and Information Technology and Director of the ICT Centre of Excellence and Open Data at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), yesterday.

Addressing the audience that included the President of CODATA, Prof. Barend Mons and the Executive Director, Dr. Simon Hudson, Prof. Muliaro gave an exposition on the concept of Open data, Open science, and Open governance.

Characterizing open science as a combination of concepts, tools, platforms and media to promote creation and dissemination of knowledge in free, open and more inclusive ways Prof Muliaro stated that “the goal of open science is to accelerate scientific progress and discoveries to benefit all, guaranteeing that scientific outputs are publicly available and easily accessible for others to use, re-use, and build upon.

He identified what he termed as key open science challenges namely; lack of established best open science practices, competition among scientists, existing credit systems that favour closed science, non-disclosure agreements and copyright laws and intellectual property guidelines as some of the drawbacks against full realization of open science.

Citing the partnership that brings together Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, JICA AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project, IBM East Africa, CODATA and the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), Prof. Muliaro said, the parties were working closely to promote the value of open research data through organizing hackathons on selected datasets of interest to the public in disciplines such as public health and agriculture.

Leveraging on their synergies, the initiative seeks to build, among others, “innovative mobile and web applications that make access and consumption of research data easy for the benefit of the society; encourage scientists to open their research data for public consumption and use, showcase open data capability in providing innovative solutions to societal challenges,” Prof. Muliaro stated.

He mentioned Smart Health Application based on indigenous vegetables data, Children Food Nutrition Formula Application based on local Kenyan foods, and Effects of Mugukaa on Health, as some of the key outputs under the initiative.

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi, in her opening message said, the journey towards embracing open data at JKUAT began five years ago when the institution established the ICT Centre of Excellence and Open Data (iCEOD) – which is expected to serve Kenya and Africa as a region, adding that the Centre had already taken its strategic role seriously, making contributions at the national and global level.

Prof. Ngumi further observed in the remarks read on her behalf by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Research, Production and Extension, Prof. Mary Abukutsa, that “JKUAT is among few leading universities that have taken a bold step towards creating an enabling environment for open data by formulating and adopting an Open Data Research (JORD) Policy in line with the CODATA – led Nairobi Open Data Principles of 2014.”

She however decried insufficient and poor public sensitization on issues such as open data, open science and open governance, arguing that “the tradition and culture for most people has been to be private by default.” Prof Ngumi called for a deliberate strategy to towards changing that mindset.

The President of CODATA, Prof. Barend Mons, said Africa could lead the initiative to use data at the global level noting,  “data or knowledge is the new oil or gold and it could be more useful if it is shared,” while CODATA Executive Director, Dr. Simon Hudson, underscored the importance of data in implementing sustainable development goals by “creating and measuring data to make meaningful, mindful informed decisions.”

Present at the public lecture included; Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Prof. Bernard Ikua; Principal, College of Pure and Applied Sciences, Prof. David Mulati; Deans of Schools including the Dean, School of Computing and Information Technology, Prof. Stephen Kimani,  Heads of Departments and Faculty and students.

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