Tunisia’s first-ever open data hackathon taps into digitalization’s potential for greater development impact

The role of government is rapidly evolving, and open data has the potential to be an important impetus of this change. With this in mind earlier this year Tunisia’s first-ever national open data hackathon, brought together 170 participants comprising 38 different teams with the support of the World Bank.

Co-creating problem-driven solutions
In preparation for the hackathon, transport, culture and health government representatives identified issues that could be solved using data and technology. Moez Guerfal, a hackathon participant, said: “We have been working as a team and have learned to share ideas and efforts as team members looking for digital solutions to the specific problems faced by citizens and civil servants.” 

The hackathon brought citizens, innovators, the private sector, and civil society together using a GovTech approach, a whole-of-government concept, that focuses on two core elements: 

  • putting citizens at the center of the reform process; 
  • combining innovative public sector reforms and the use of digital technology to promote efficiency and high-quality service delivery. 

Tunisia, a member of the multilateral Open Government Partnership, is now implementing its third consecutive Open Government Action Plan. This will make data available to the public in open and machine-readable format. In addition to the National Open Data Portal, there are now data portals for numerous public agencies, including the Ministry of AgricultureMinistry of CultureMinistry of Transport, and Ministry of Industry

Tunisian government officials are increasingly recognizing that enhanced data analytics can lead to an integration of data analysis into policymaking.  This can in turn pave the way for: improved coordination; more informed and evidence-based decisions; and simplified administrative procedures and processes. 

More accessible government data can allow providers to tailor public services to citizens’ needs , thus improving policy outcomes. Open data can also enhance the accountability of institutions and provide citizens with more tools to scrutinize government.

What’s next? 
The World Bank is currently supporting some of the winning solutions that directly benefit government operations, and others which have an indirect benefit by providing digital tools to society at large :

1. Internal Use Cases (Solutions that will benefit the respective Tunisian administration or Ministry directly)

  1. Smart PN: Embedded artificial intelligence and installed sensors on level crossings to make alert and alarm systems more reliable and targeted. This will help reduce the high number of accidents.
  2. Digicom: Digitization of the Ministry of Culture’s grant governance system to ensure transparency, enable data analysis of public funding and allow citizens to participate in budget prioritization of cultural events. 
  3. CNAM Smart Portal: Using AI to deploy healthcare providers to areas lacking coverage and to respond better to pressing needs, as well as monitor pathologies to take preventive measures. 

2. External Use Cases (Solutions that will benefit the Tunisian administration indirectly and whose output is a start-up)

  1. Wasla: A platform to connect women in rural areas with safe transportation. This will reduce exposure to road accidents.
  2. Thnity: An app that generates real-time open and community crowdsourced data to help individuals and businesses mix and match public and private modes of transport to fit their needs.  
  3. Phœnix Tech: A mobile application to monitor arrival and departure times of buses in real-time. This will keep commuters informed and enable an optimal distribution of buses in different cities.
  4. Be Free: A mobile app that uses augmented reality and 3D descriptions to highlight historical sights, events, and museums. This will better inform local residents and tourists about cultural sites.  

COVID makes this approach more important than ever

The global pandemic heightened the need for dynamic collaboration between government and non-government innovators to solve real and evolving problems creatively and efficiently. 

Tunisia’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan could benefit from the gains that can result from open data. Many studies have projected that open data initiatives can have a significant economic impact. For example, a study published by McKinsey in 2013 showed that an estimated $3 trillion in annual economic potential could be unlocked across seven areas of the global economy. In 2015, the European Commission estimated that the use of open data would reduce administration costs by 1.7 billion euros in the 28 EU countries by the end of 2020; save 629 million waiting hours on European roads; and reduce energy consumption by 16%.

Realizing this potential, while paying close attention to the multiple challenges outlined in the Tunisia Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA), presents an opportunity to boost  the economic recovery plan, and potentially reconsider the economic model more broadly. 

To build on the experience of the hackathon, and to reflect on the lessons of 2020, the government has just announced the launch of its 4th Open Government Partnership Action Plan for 2020-2022 in tandem with its commitment to adopting a GovTech approach. 

Together, these send a signal of moving a step closer to a digital transformation and a new economy.

TunisianMonitorOnline ( World Bank)

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