India to Open Up Its Data

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj, Journalist | 10/8/2012 | 23 comments

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj
Open source, open access, open content… now we have open data. India has joined a select group of over 20 countries whose governments have launched open data portals. With a view to improving government transparency and efficiency, (in public beta stage at present) will provide access to a valuable repository of datasets, from government departments, ministries, and agencies, and autonomous bodies.

Open data will be made up of “non-personally identifiable data” collected, compiled, or produced during the normal course of governing. It will be released under an unrestricted license -- meaning it is freely available for everyone to use, reuse, or distribute, but citations will be required.

Of course, no government can make all data public, so guidelines have been passed to manage what data is available. Sensitive and restricted data will be kept out of the portal, but some of it may be accessed directly -- perhaps for a price -- from relevant agencies. India passed the Right to Information Act in 2005 and has been working since on multiple projects to ensure meaningful government-citizen engagement, democratization of information, and community collaboration. The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) of 2012, announced by the Department of Science and Technology, also allows access to government-owned “shareable” data.

As of now there are just a few raw data sets available, though the policy mandated that every department would upload at least five “high value date sets” within three months and the rest within a year. Since information is power, there is reluctance to share the data. In response, the NDSAP has created an oversight committee to ensure implementation. Even the protected lists of data will be periodically reviewed to keep only some highly sensitive, defense-related data outside the public domain.

The potential of the open data sources is clear. Imagine a developer integrating geo-spatial data on droughts with data from a government food assistance program to create a mashup that improves the model for food security welfare schemes. Indeed, the data portal already provides data on the outcome of a rural employment scheme in terms of employment, physical asset creation, and financial allocations. Another dataset provides the number of allopathic hospitals and dispensaries and beds in government hospitals for a 10-year period. Surely, this is a treasure-trove for the healthcare industry, healthcare management consultants, media organizations, researchers, and others.

Even more enticing is that it is estimated that there are more than 1 million datasets from worldwide governments in the open domain. These include location of toxic waste dumps, regional healthcare costs, and statistics on crime, transport, education, and so on. The World Bank data portal provides downloadable access to 8,000 development indicators from its datasets. Imagine the insights that a combination of multiple worldwide datasets could provide.

The potential for combining worldwide data is clear, but the effort to put this data out is only just beginning. It poses multiple challenges to government CIOs, including putting it out in easily read formats, making it compatible with other databases, working with developers, and doing it cheaply so the publishing of the data doesn’t become a burden. And, of course, while the data itself is open and doesn’t need to be protected, it is important to create processes to insure that data remains anonymous and that sensitive data isn’t accidentally released. The scale of the challenge poses a real problem.

While government CIOs are trying to ramp up their efforts, private-sector CIOs should begin planning on accessing the data from India and the other open government projects in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. There’s too much valuable information to ignore.

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Syerita Turner   India to Open Up Its Data   10/18/2012 5:48:06 AM
Re: Security!
Great information and very interesting. It is good to see that they are opening up and sharing information. Most of the time people view the lack of transparancy as something to hide when that is not the case. The information will be very useful to thos who need it and it may prompt other countries who are not currently sharing this information to get on board and share what content that will need to share in order to bring understanding and peach among the nations.
stotheco   India to Open Up Its Data   10/15/2012 1:17:01 AM
Re: Security!
Sudha-- Thank you for clarifying these points. I was about to raise the same questions the others did. To some, the data that you mentioned might not be deemed as "public" but then different organizations/governments have varying definitions. The background checks also sounded alarming to me at first but good to know they are only on an as-needed basis and that a process still follows.
Salik   India to Open Up Its Data   10/13/2012 2:51:00 PM
Re: Security!
Thank you Sudha for clearifying the points. Your prespective is also very considerable.
Susan Nunziata   India to Open Up Its Data   10/11/2012 4:54:16 PM
Re: Security!
@Sudha: Thank you for clarifying these points, makes alot of sense though the cynic in me can still envision an agency being tempted to bend its rules if there's enough money or political pressure inovlved.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   India to Open Up Its Data   10/10/2012 10:29:14 PM
Re: Security!
@Salik, The answer to your question is esconced in the term "shareable data". The NDSAP has mandated only five sets of data to start with --once a beginning is made, initial fears, reservations and "ownership" feelings will retreat. You will be surprised to know there is a school of thought that says public information in the form of geographical, statistical, scientific, financial, social sector data, and development and demographic data should anyway be "open" and available in public domain as it is collected with public finances. The trick lies in getting over the mindset that it is government data. State secrets will not be passed on to anyone, needless to add...The backgroud checks come into play only when there is a request for access to data classified as sensitive...a process that is followed even today and where the state machinery is well-oiled.
Salik   India to Open Up Its Data   10/10/2012 3:02:59 PM
Re: Security!
@Sudha Isn't it going to be a very difficult task for the govt to apply background checks for every transaction from any outside source? Within the department it seems legit, but providing data to outsiders is a bit risky don't you think? And it is govt data ofcourse. So if background check is the backbone of security then how can the govt manage it? Your comments on this will be appriciated. Thank you.
Gigi   India to Open Up Its Data   10/10/2012 5:42:29 AM
Re: Potential for tension
Sara, the demand can drive the business. I know some of the companies are buying statical datas from various government agenesis for analysis purposes, especially in health and community living sides.
Gigi   India to Open Up Its Data   10/10/2012 5:39:31 AM
Re: research
David, government of India is doing lots of amendments in IT sector, which can incorporate the latest trends and changes in IT along with data and cloud. Among that the public access to in and making use of public cloud for various government services are important. But how the citizens and companies are making use of such facilities are important.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   India to Open Up Its Data   10/10/2012 12:42:23 AM
Re: Security!
@Susan, @Salik, Seems like there is some confusion here. The government --each department --is within its rights to classify some information (even among shareable data) as restricted, or sensitive, or even put it under a negative list. Now, if some interested party wants some information for some legitimate reason, they must apply to that relevant department, stating reason, nature of use etc and if deemed fit, they would be granted access to this information (maps , topo-sheets with a lot of detailing, come to mind). The department (say, Survey of India) may in such cases charge some money to issue the material. Hope this clarifies the matter, because the credentials would be checked before acccess is granted. If there are security concerns, the government may even decline. 
Susan Nunziata   India to Open Up Its Data   10/9/2012 9:36:25 PM
Re: Security!
@Salik: You are sounding a legitimate alarm. As Sudha states: Sensitive and restricted data will be kept out of the portal, but some of it may be accessed directly -- perhaps for a price -- from relevant agencies. It's the latter part that strikes security fears: Once you introduce the concept of another party accessing the most sensitive and restricted data, one can imagine all manner of security disasters ensuing.
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