Questioning How Government Works, Using Data Stories

Years after Sodiq Ajala’s family had to relocate severally from one part of Lagos to another, he is still in the bite of the mega-city’s housing challenges.

So when he became one of six journalists selected to write data stories on open contracting, it was only a matter of putting pen to paper and narrating a lived experience. Sodiq and more than forty journalists within Lagos participated in a two-day workshop organized in May by the Open Data Research Centre of the Pan-Atlantic University’s School of Media and Communications (SMC). The training featured practical demonstrations and exercises on the use of data to tell stories, using technological facilities like Google Street View and chart-creating software to evoke compelling engagement from audiences.

Roads, Health and Chaotic Splendour

For Desola Afolabi, finding data to prove that the Lagos State Government isn’t siphoning money with its road construction projects was the centerpiece of her data story. She had seen road projects around PEN Cinema and Abule Egba go from infancy to completion, easing her commute to work. She was convinced the government was at work but selling that narrative in her daily conversations with fellow passengers wasn’t flying without concrete evidence. They wanted to know that the money spent on the roads weren’t over normal costs.

Working on maternal mortality, Funmi Ishola and Victor Ogunyinka found a troubling pattern in the data: the death rates spike in Lagos every four years. Precisely, election years. What does that say about the use put to health budgets during election campaigns and the period of a new administration?

And as more cars and more car renewals add to the evidence for increasing population, the traffic conundrum in Lagos isn’t going away soon. David Oputa’s data story investigates what the government is coming up with in terms of alternatives. How much open data is available to help citizens evaluate the waterways projects? His research and story led him to realize the layers of secrecy overlying information on public projects

Data Stories – Here To Stay

These stories and more, unveiled today at an event in CivicHive Yaba, showcased the meaningful conversations that should be ongoing about data and public procurement. Citizens interested in whether they are getting best value for their taxes can relate to the narrations portrayed, and will find great motivation to ask questions. Stories like the above are common experiences and their availability should create a more active community of citizens demanding accountability.

There is hope that the message will gain momentum and get to high authority. Barr Ayo Adebusoye, a member of the Governing Board of Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, observed at the event that the Board is at work on an e-platform to make data on public procurement open to the public. The data, according to him, will be in accordance with Open Contracting Data Standard.

But these stories are only the beginning.

Dr Patrick Enaholo, lead facilitator of SMC’s May workshop and main editor for the stories project, announced upcoming collaborations with Google and Transparency International for more data storytelling. The challenge to journalists is simple: to be interested in increasing their competencies and be available to do their job of enlightening the public and holding public officers to account.

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Featured Image source: John Eromonsele | Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter

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