In Kenya, Open Contracting Improves Efficiency & Curbs Corruption

September 9, 2020 Open Contracting and Procurement Analytics Charlene Migwe-Kagume
Open Data, Procurement, Program, Subnational

On 31st August 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Health to come up with a transparent, open method and mechanism through which all tenders and procurement done by Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) will be available online. The directive follows allegations of corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 emergency supplies.

With citizens’ lives on the line and government spending at record highs, ensuring accountability to citizens is imperative to maintaining trust and effectively managing KEMSA’s procurement in response to COVID-19. Open procurement data can help in improving the efficiency of emergency procurement and support civil society groups to detect corruption and monitor the effectiveness of service delivery.

“This level of transparency and through the use of technology will go a very long way in ensuring that we have the confidence of our people that those placed in institutions are able to manage the resources of the Kenyan taxpayer plus our development partners in an open and transparent manner” – President Uhuru Kenyatta

Much can be learned from Makueni County in Kenya, a county that publishes and uses open, accessible, and timely information on government contracting to engage citizens and businesses. The Makueni Open Contracting Portal is an interactive site built by Development Gateway (DG) that provides detailed information on each step of the tender, award, and contract implementation process at the county level. These steps are now recorded within the interactive Makueni Open Contracting Portal – making information available for citizens at each step of the process. The county plans to go a step further to publish all implementation data such as community monitoring reports, also known as PMC reports and supplier payment vouchers.

The goal of the portal is to improve the efficiency of public procurement management and support the delivery of higher-quality goods, works, and services for residents of Makueni County through enhanced citizen feedback.

What We Learned from Makueni County

Lesson 1: Public Data Improves Efficiency

The primary role of the Ministry of Health and KEMSA in Kenya during an emergency situation is to provide citizens timely, affordable, and efficient supplies and services. Digitizing and publishing procurement data will provide the Ministry insights on whether funding and services are reaching intended beneficiaries. 

Publishing procurement data will also encourage better monitoring from relevant state and non-state actors. The Ministry of Health and KEMSA will have the opportunity to aggregate non-state actors’ feedback and state actor insights. This feedback will enable them to make data-driven decisions that will improve service delivery to citizens, promote efficient allocation of resources and ultimately saving costs.

DG has developed interactive M&E dashboards to support analysis currently used by Makueni County. The series of charts and visualizations provide helpful data insights – such as top suppliers that received contracts and the percentage of awards that go toward the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), which requires tenders to be awarded to women, youth, and people with disabilities.

Since the start of the use of the Makueni open contracting portal in 2019, improved resource utilization and efficiency in procurement has been identified by the County leadership. Governor Kivutha Kibwana cited that the County has saved Kes. 30,000,000 from the Roads department as a result of using the portal.

Lesson 2: Building Trust is Essential to Combating Corruption

The complexity of emergency responses such as COVID-19 requires cooperation between the private sector, national, and county government to ensure timely delivery of supplies. KEMSA publishing data will promote feedback and engagement of business and citizens further building trust and collaboration. Publishing procurement data also equips civil society and citizens with the information needed to help combat corruption. For example, reporting counterfeits, frauds, and scams – which has been a key corruption issue identified globally in COVID-19 response procurement, particularly PPEs.

DG has implemented its corruption risk dashboard in Makueni, which uses high powered analytics and global research to identify risk profiles for potential corruption in procurement. KEMSA can adopt the corruption risk dashboard as a red-flagging tool to assist in identifying procurement activities that merit in-depth auditing of corruption risk – including fraud, collusion, and process rigging – over time. These analytics will allow the organization to address cases of corruption before taxpayer money is lost.

Lastly, publishing Beneficial ownership data can enable governments to quickly perform minimal standards of due diligence on companies they are buying goods and services from. As well as reducing the immediate risk of corruption, beneficial ownership data provides a valuable trail for future audit.

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An aerial view of Bogotá, Colombia on the cover of the Data Value Project’s white paper. Photo credit- Bergslay:Pixabay.
Challenging Pessimists—and Optimists—to Reimagine Data and Power

Josh Powell and Jenna Slotin reflect on the Data Values Project and building a movement for change in data for development.

May 10, 2022 Global Data Policy

Josh Powell is the Chief Executive Officer of Development Gateway: An IREX Venture, who chairs the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Jenna Slotin is Policy Director at the Global Partnership and has worked closely with Josh and other members of the TAG and Global Partnership team throughout the public consultation. Both Josh and Jenna regularly contribute to the Data Values Digest.

This post was written in partnership with The Data Values Digest. You can find the original post here.

This is a big month for the Data Values Project which is seeking input on a white paper through a public consultation until May 20. The white paper, Reimagining Data and Power, summarizes inputs from more than 240 people who have weighed in over the past year on what should characterize a fair data future. This week, the Digest’s editors sat down with two of the facilitators of the Data Values Project, Development Gateway’s CEO Josh Powell and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s Policy Director Jenna Slotin, to talk about the project and building a movement for change in data for development.

You’ve both been working in the data for development space for years. What specific event or moment made it click for you that something like the Data Values Project was needed?

[Josh] I think it was a growing unease that I’d felt as someone who spends a lot of time in several different camps: working closely with governments as they aim to digitize their work while being part of a civil society ecosystem with legitimate concerns and objections based on privacy and group-level harms and often advising development agencies with strong ambitions to help “leapfrog” technologies to fill data gaps. I’ve developed a lot of respect and empathy for each of these perspectives and often tried to be a bridge between them, but I felt that a large-scale effort to invite debate and disagreement and identify commonalities was needed.

[Jenna] The turning point for me was the Global Partnership’s independent evaluation that showed that policy advocacy was an under-explored route to scaling our work and that a majority of partners wanted to see the network foster more collective advocacy. This reflected an emerging trend in popular culture and media examining how data was (re)shaping society and asking some uncomfortable questions about its effects on people.

Initially, it was exciting to realize that there was more we could do in this area. Then, it was terrifying. What does policy advocacy mean for such a broad and diverse network? How would we navigate these complex issues, define an agenda, and build collective ownership? With advice and guidance from the Technical Advisory Group, the Data Values Project was born.

There’s clearly a global consensus about the potential harms and risks associated with data collection and use—this Digest has explored many of these topics with authors from different sectors weighing in. Considering broad agreement about these problems, why hasn’t there been a more constructive collective conversation about these trade-offs? 

[Jenna] While we do have a global consensus that there are risks, we don’t have consensus about which ones matter, to whom, why, or under what circumstances. At the outset of the Data Values Project, we found stark polarization between the optimists, who believed that new data sources and methodologies would inevitably lead to greater efficiency and better outcomes, and pessimists. In its extreme form, the optimistic view leads to policies that promote innovation above all else, even if people are harmed in the process. On the other end of the spectrum, pessimists see the potential risks and harms as so significant that they approach every new data-driven solution with skepticism and fear. This view leads to protectionist policies, limited experimentation, and a tendency to assume the worst.

I’m caricaturing to make this point that the failure to take a more balanced view that explores the trade-offs inherent in each decision has held back a more constructive conversation. But the conversation was also dominated by an elite few in governments, businesses, international organizations, civil society and academia. We had a hunch—and later found—that when you engage a broad cross-section of people and organizations who care about how data dominates their lives, a different, more nuanced picture emerges.

[Josh] I think there is a consensus that risks exist but disagreement as to the severity of those risks and their relative tradeoffs to perceived opportunities. For example, there’s a lot of alignment on the need for removal of personally identifiable information in datasets, but less so on how to structure or minimize data to avoid re-identification risk. Similarly, there’s a lot of excitement about using satellite imagery for a variety of questions (nighttime lights as proxy for poverty, estimating crop yields, etc.) but less attention paid to the possibility that imagery data can be used to target land grabs. In my view, laying out some core principles as the Data Values Project aims to do is a starting point, but then it is still crucial for each sector to take serious note of the potential risks in their own work and have a clear-eyed, good faith governance process on trade-offs.

Hundreds of people from around the world have engaged with the Data Values Project since last year. What’s one thing so far that has really surprised you? 

[Josh] The most pleasant surprise has been just how much we’ve seen a shift from a purely technocratic lens of data toward a real focus on power and politics. Agency, accountability, and action, as described in the Data Values Project white paper, suggest a growing understanding that data exist within a cultural and political framework and that you cannot create a more equitable data ecosystem without engaging with those frameworks, mores, incentives, and histories. Obviously, this creates a far broader, often more muddled, picture of where to go and what to do, but it’s also far more honest and the only way toward a data for development community that affects meaningful and positive change.

[Jenna] I was also really surprised by how little people wanted to talk about technical issues. Time and again, we heard about the role of people, politics, relationships, skills and the fundamental value of participation in decision-making around data. From across the diverse community that has contributed to the Data Values Project so far, both optimists and pessimists see the need for a more nuanced, non-technical conversation, but many are just embarking on this journey and are looking for ideas and guidance.

What’s been the most challenging thing about this effort, either for you personally or for the project at-large?

[Jenna] One of the biggest challenges has been ensuring that we’re authentic. The Data Values white paper puts power at the center and argues that building a fair data future requires that all stakeholders take concrete steps to shift power to the people and communities that are affected by data collection and use. We are trying to connect with diverse people and communities, to listen rather than assume we know, to simplify our language and question the power of our own positions. But, we also want to be realistic about what concrete steps policy makers and institutions can make by identifying viable ways to shift that power. Finding this balance and preserving authenticity have been—and will continue to be—very difficult.

[Josh] Agreeing with too many people in principle and disagreeing in practice. The empathy I described earlier, and the inclusion of political and cultural lenses, mean that there are no clear answers to almost any of the questions we’re tackling. Each community often feels that they have the right approach but in practice may only have a piece of the puzzle. Working to pick out the best in each perspective and blend with the rest is a tricky balance.

What do you see as the potential impact of this project or this movement in the long-term?

[Josh] At its core, I hope that the Data Values Project will help to outline a clear agenda where there is emerging consensus, as well as to point out the fault lines between communities where more work is needed to broker compromise and deliver participatory approaches to data governance that feel legitimate, fair, and fit for purpose.

My first hope about what will come from this is that we will have a clear set of agreed-upon principles at a high level, which can feed into global debates at the UN, OECD, and so forth, to create a more nuanced conversation on the role of data in society and a continued shift away from simplified “data as oil” narratives. My second hope is that the Data Values Project creates just enough of a starting framework that communities focusing on issues such as agricultural transformation, child protection, gender equity, education, and so on can find a common point of reference from which to build more detailed, sector-specific approaches to negotiating trade-offs and delivering better policies and services that improve lives.

[Jenna] I hope that this movement inspires development practitioners to think more carefully about data and digital transformation and consider how their interventions may foster or undermine equity in society. My second hope is that this movement contributes to a new consensus on common values that people in different national contexts and working across sectors like health, agriculture, education can use as a touchstone to harness data in a way that balances trade-offs and empowers people.

The public consultation on ideas emerging from the Data Values Project is open through May 20th. Visit the consultation hub to weigh in on shaping the global campaign for a fair data future.

Photo credit – Bergslay: Pixabay.

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