When a research project is completed, researchers often discard the data they have collected. JKUAT wanted to capture, preserve, share and re-use this valuable data for the good of the community.
JKUAT is building an open cloud data platform where academics and social entrepreneurs can access and harness research datasets—encouraging innovation in social welfare and economic development.
Reducesthe cost of research by enabling researchers to re-use existing datasets
Drivesinnovation by making data accessible for academics and social entrepreneurs
Supportsfamilies by sharing health and nutrition information via mobile apps
Business challenge story
Making the most of limited resources
The mission of social researchers at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) is not only to study key issues for Kenyan society such as nutrition and public health, but also to ensure that their research has a real-world impact on the wider community.
At the same time, with limited research funding available, it is vital for JKUAT to ensure that the money it invests in research projects is well spent, and that nothing is wasted.
The University recognized that data collection was one of the biggest expenses for most of its research projects. It realized that if it could change the culture of the way its academics collect, manage and preserve data, it could make research much more cost-effective, while also leveraging research datasets for the benefit of Kenyan society as a whole.
Professor Muliaro Wafula, Director of ICT at JKUAT, explains: “Our culture needed to change—we treated our meager resources and tight research budget as if they were limitless!”
Valuable research datasets were often discarded or lost once a project finished, or else stored in disparate systems and on academics’ own personal devices. The loss or inaccessibility of the data meant that the same information often needed to be collected multiple times for different projects.
“Our library lacked storage capacity, so we were only able to preserve published papers rather than the underlying datasets,” comments Professor Wafula. “Thus, even though data collection takes up 60 percent of our research budget, we were throwing most of it away before we truly got the full value out of it. Rather than building on past research, our scientists were collecting the same data and re-doing the same work over and over again.”
The University wanted to create an environment for data preservation and sharing, so that it could make its datasets more widely available and harness them to their full extent.
“We wanted to maximize the value of our datasets—both to save money and, crucially, to encourage innovation and collaboration in the wider community,” says Professor Wafula. “For example, we knew that improving research and knowledge in areas such as nutrition would be important in enhancing the health of Kenyans—many of whom also need to maximize limited resources when it comes to buying the best food for their families.
“If we could take our data outside the confines of academia and allow developers and social entrepreneurs to harness it, we hoped that they would start building applications to use this information for the public good.”
Sharing data on an open platformThe University decided to build a platform where data could be openly stored and shared, and turned to IBM for advice and support.
Professor Wafula notes: “We were delighted that IBM understood the importance of our vision and agreed to partner with us on this project—it would most likely have been a pipedream without their support.”
The University is harnessing the IBM® Bluemix® cloud application development platform to build its open knowledge management solution. Bluemix enables the JKUAT team to access and integrate a wide range of cloud data services and APIs—including IBM dashDB™, a cloud-based data warehouse service, which the team is using as the final repository for its data.
“We decided to use IBM dashDB because it provides a secure and fully managed environment for capturing and analyzing structured data,” comments Professor Wafula. “We are also using services such as IBM DataWorks for data refinery and transformation, and we have harnessed IBM Mobile Quality Assurance for Bluemix to develop a mobile app, which is already in use.”
The project is a work in progress, as much of the existing research data still needs to be cleaned up and imported—but with the IBM solution in place, this should not take long. The University also plans to host regular hackathons, which will help it identify the kinds of datasets that researchers and developers find most useful. This will help the team prioritize its workload and decide which datasets to ingest into the solution next.
“IBM has been an invaluable strategic partner throughout the project,” adds Professor Wafula. “We are very excited to finally have a platform where we can gather and preserve valuable data for public consumption, without restrictions.”
Harnessing knowledge for the greater goodWith the IBM solution in place, JKUAT can now preserve and re-use its data more efficiently. By enabling a new, collaborative approach to research and innovation, the initiative is already bearing fruit in a number of social projects.
“By making datasets available for users across the research community, we are saving money and time that would have been spent gathering data multiple times,” says Professor Wafula. “What’s more, researchers can now collaborate and exchange ideas to further our knowledge.”
The IBM platform is further enabling JKUAT to open up its data to all of society—not just scientists at the University.
“As well as researchers, we are opening up our findings to the wider community,” comments Professor Wafula. “For example, many people living in rural areas can’t afford to do soil tests on their land, but we’ve done a lot of research into soil quality already. By making that data available online, farmers can check which crops will be most successful in their area—helping them get the most out of their land.”
This direct link between research and the rest of society has never before happened in Kenya, and could help to alleviate the need for government spending in many areas of public welfare. For example, the University has already created a mobile app based on its research into nutrition for young children, which advises families about how best to feed infants under two years.
Professor Wafula explains: “99 percent of people have mobile access in our country, so this is a brilliant way to deliver research findings into the hands of regular citizens. A mother with the equivalent of two dollars in her pocket might struggle with decisions—should she buy special baby food for her infant, or try to save money by giving it the same food as the rest of the family?
“Our mobile app advises her how best to provide a nutritious meal for her young child, while still having money left over to feed the rest of the family. Over time, we hope to upgrade the app with new research data that cover the nutritional needs of children from all age groups.”
Already, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is receiving requests to use its data from researchers across Kenya—and even further afield.
“We have seen interest from people in Gabon and Ivory Coast,” notes Professor Wafula. “Because the IBM solution is cloud-based, our datasets can be shared across Africa—driving collaboration on a continental level.
“By preserving and sharing data on the IBM platform, we can truly maximize its value and drive research forward. In turn, this can help us make life better for ordinary citizens by delivering the resulting knowledge into their hands—helping them make the best decisions for their families, and improving people’s health and welfare across Kenya and beyond.”
About Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
Established in 1994, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is a public university in Nairobi, Kenya. With a focus on contributing to Kenya’s social and economic development, it offers accessible, high-quality courses in agriculture, technology, engineering, science, architecture and building sciences. The university also conducts ground-breaking research in nutrition, public health, biotechnology and engineering, amongst other fields.
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