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September 6, 2016 José Luis Marín

Holding both a Telecommunication Engineering Degree and a Business Administration Degree from the University of Valladolid (Spain), Mr. Marín’s professional career has been developed at the company Gateway S.C.S. (owner of the brand “EUROALERT.NET“), where he is currently one of the partners and member of the management board, as well as CEO. In his position, Mr. Marín is supervising the huge challenge undertaken by Euroalert to build up a pan-European platform to aggregate EU public procurement data which represents about 18% of EU GDP, and deliver commercial services for SMEsand organizations all over the world.

He is author of the book “Web 2.0. Una descripción muy sencilla de los cambios que estamos viviendo”, published by Netbiblo, (2010) and co-author de “Open Data: Reutilización de la información pública” (2013). As a strong supporter of open source software, innovation, and the spread of free and open knowledge, Mr. Marín participates in many initiatives, projects and events such as those related with the Open Data movement. He has been speaker at events like FICOD09, PSI Meeting 2010, Digital Agenda Assembly, Share PSI or SICARM, and Universities like Oviedo, Almería or Girona, always with the objective to promote the release of public sector data in open and reusable formats.

As you may already know, one of the issues where there is greatest consensus within the open data community is the need for determined political support at the highest level to promote the opening of data. By political support I do not mean -at least not only- the enactment of laws, regulations or ordinances, but instead that political leaders must be convinced that the opening of public data in adequate conditions for their reuse is something necessary and beneficial for society.

Perhaps there is not a more efficient action to boost the opening of datasets in a public administration than its political leaders talking about “open data” in their discourse.

Since Barack Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government in 2009, we have seen that the countries in which there have been more developments concerning the opening of public data have been those with a committed political leader. The case of the United Kingdom is meaningful because the first steps of Gordon Brown were strengthened with the political shift that came with the arrival of David Cameron to Downing Street. The open data policies of the European Union have the personal stamp of the former vice president Neelie Kroes; and we could keep adding examples such as the pioneering initiatives in Spain at regional (Basque Government) and local (Zaragoza) levels that originally counted on firm support from their political leaders.

However, with the resignation of David Cameron in the United Kingdom as a consequence of Brexit, the end of Barack Obama’s term of office in the White House towards the end of the year and the dismissal of Neelie Kroes from the European Commission last year, it seems that this stage is coming to an end and we are witnessing a clear decline of these supports, as it is still unclear whether the new leaders will keep open data in their highest level agenda. In the case of Spain, political parties do not even include clear open data policies in their agenda. Does this mean that priorities have changed and that we are facing a period with little interest in open data policies?

 

Cover photo by Alvin Engler


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July 26, 2016 Sara Ramírez0

Sara Ramírez Abal graduated in Psychology with a Master’s negree in Decentralized International Cooperation from the University of the Basque Country. Her career has been developed between international cooperation and her participation in political and social spaces in her home region, Galicia. As for International Cooperation, she worked as international advisor, supporting organizations such as Unicef in tasks related with data analysis and the role of data for public policies. She also made various evaluations of projects in Central America, based on participative techniques and their combination with data retrieved from surveys. In Galicia, she was vice-coordinator of organization and finances in Espazo Ecosocialista Galego, one of the political parties that formed Alternativa Galega de Esquerdas (AGE), political confluence with nine members in the Galician Parliament (since the regional elections of 2012) and one Eurodeputy in the European Parliament (since the European elections of 2014).

Currently, even though detached from political activity, she keeps her activities of political incidence and social participation from social organizations.

It is evident that the technological revolution is strongly attached to urban settlements. However, generating participative processes has always been much easier in the countryside. Could these two conditions, apparently independent and derived from opposite phenomena, be connected in any way?

If so, what opportunities do they bring for the creation of evidence-based public policies?

Another matter would be whether there is any opportunity not to miss the open data train in the countryside, despite its technological gap with cities.

Data are not the remedy for every democratic deficit in the definition and elaboration of policies, because as much as technology offers several opportunities, it still does not have the answer for everything.

The sometimes idealized community participation is not a remedy either. In fact, territorial empowerment when managing the common is sometimes seen as separate from institutional public management. While the future of communal mountains, paths or access to drinking water is being decided on in a more or less efficient and consensual way, the community easily detaches itself when it comes to municipal management, as if it had nothing to provide or contribute to the development of infrastructure, or as if it were not a general issue, given that it is “the mayor’s concern.”

We are certain that open data policies can improve transparency, accountability and even the design of evidence-based public policies; all aspects strongly linked to the need for more or less involvement in politics.

On the other hand, physical closeness with institutions facilitates direct participation, but there are certain actions or policies that require data to become truly participative. This means, defining whether it is a priority to create a primary education school or a day center for the elderly is something that people themselves have to decide caring about considering their needs, without appealing to data analytics. It is simply something that they should care about and whose effects are tangible in their everyday life at short term. But what happens with those policies or actions whose results are not that clear or there where it is not that easy to visualize at what extent they can affect us?

The probability model of the elaboration of Petty and Cacioppo maintains that messages of little relevancy are not cause for a great cognitive (rational) analysis by the recipients of the message (Petty and Cacioppo 1986). People give their opinion about that which is not considered especially relevant for their lives in a rather emotional manner, and consequently easily influenced; arguments not based mainly on evidence have been widely efficient due to their capacity to spark fears or hopes.

People need participation tools so that they can decide on things that directly affect their lives, but also need to have contrastable information so that they can make a decision or even consider to what extent that decision can be relevant for their lives.

Thinking about opportunities from Galicia, Spain

It is feasible for people to get closer to the world of data, but also they can strengthen each other by combining their community experience, participation and data.

Galicia is one of those places in the world where socio-demographic characteristics are characterized by, other than some exceptions in its coastline, small population centers, high population aging and urban-rural inequality. However, the establishment of agreements, added to a certain socio-political pragmatism, is also part of the socio-cultural and political Galician context.[1]

Corcoesto is a county within a Galician council called Cabana de Bergantiños, with around four thousand inhabitants. This small locality became famous in 2013 when a mining project approved by the Galician government was eventually terminated due to the social backlash it caused.

However, this positioning against the project was not as large initially. During a visit to the area a few months before the agreement, some people admitted feeling quite ambivalent regarding the matter: opposing the mine, against the promise of job positions in an economically depressed area, generated emotional conflicts. It was then that between the opposing organizations in the mine conflict, there was the Sociedade Galega de Historia Natural (Galician Society for Natural History), an environmentalist organization formed by professionals in the area of research in natural sciences. This organization warned about the negative effects of the mine over the community, focusing on arguments based on data and scientific studies.

People started to gather and attend meetings that both fronts convened to discuss the matter, accessing both arguments and data, apparently contrary, that they were founded on. The result was such a strong mobilization that ended up paralyzing the project, extending to the whole of the Galician territory.

It is true that there were more factors, but it gives an idea of the potential there is in this combination of data and community tradition; this example also illustrates the idea that we must start considering differentiated strategies for certain territories when considering how to implement open data policies. If we achieve drawing from an analysis about the particularities of each reality, in terms of socio-cultural, economic, demographic and gender conditions, maybe the roadmaps towards open data policies turn out to be pretty different, but we may also find surprising results.

[1] This “pragmatism” is seen in the construction processes of political confluences, which had a trajectory prior to the municipal elections of 2015.

 

Bibliographic references

Petty, R.E., and J. T. Ccacioppo. Communication and persuasion: central and peripheral routes to attiude change. Nueva York: Sprienger-Verlag, 1986.

 

Cover photo by Jeremy Cai

 


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May 31, 2016 Silvana Fumega

Silvana Fumega is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She just submitted her PhD thesis (University of Tasmania, Australia), which it is focused on international NGOs working with Open Government Data and Freedom of Information policies. She also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and a degree in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina). She also participated of the Research Programme Chevening Hansard (United Kingdom). She has served as a consultant for several international organizations, governments and civil society groups.

The increased use of the concepts of transparency and openness has fuelled the demand for measurements, rankings and assessments on FOI (Freedom of Information) legislation and OGD (Open Government Data) policies, especially as global comparative exercises. The past two decades have witnessed these FOI legislation and OGD policies become key developments in the transparency and openness areas. The number of FOI laws worldwide has exceeded 100. In less than a decade, OGD initiatives have also increased with the number of countries with OGD expanding significantly after the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) [1].

Even though these developments (FOI and OGD) have taken place in a relatively short period of time, actors need to start analyzing what are the gaps between expectations and reality. It would be a sign of maturity to limit the grandiose statements and focus on what governments and society are achieving by publishing and reusing government data and information.

It is getting much clearer that measuring impact (despite it has become a buzzword these days) in the strict sense of the word, is extremely difficult, in particular when trying to link certain changes to a particular isolated intervention.

Actors on both the demand and supply sides of government-held information and data are behind the requests for such measurements. On the demand side, advocacy groups and practitioners need to present impact-related figures to donors and governments, but it is difficult to do so when its impact is difficult to be empirically proved. On the supply side, the champions of increasing access to information within public administrations need to “sell” the benefits of these types of policies by showing the decision-making heads of agencies and/or governments, and the staff required to implement the policies, that their ‘pros’ surpass their ‘cons’.

International rankings, ratings, indices, barometers all refer to the idea of placing the elements of a given domain in a particular order. However, this order is not arbitrary. All the measurement mechanisms refer to the placement of a certain list of objects according to a set of criteria or variables, which in turn depend on the values of those creating the measurement tool. Even though measurements and assessments in both fields relate to the availability of different types of information/data, the main features of each field differentiates them. Thus, the criteria and variables selected in the FOI field differ from the ones applied in the OGD context.

Unsurprisingly, despite the many differences between the FOI and OGD fields, in both cases the measurements and assessments relate to the availability of different types of information and data. However, there are also other elements in common that could help organize (and possibly correlate) some of the most well-known assessment exercises, as well as explain the main differences between the two fields. Some of the main elements to differentiate both fields are the object (information, data, proactively and reactively disclosed, for example to measure transparency and/or broader goals), the geographic scope of the exercise (one-country, regional and global assessments), and the type of assessment (legal, performance/implementation, among others).

Different assessments cover different jurisdictions as well as they examine different aspects of the disclosure of government information. In doing so, they use a variety of criteria and methodologies. Regardless of the particularities, comparative measurements and assessments are based on the idea that those holding the first position in the ranking are more valuable/useful/have greater impact than the lower ranked objects. However, what it actually means is that those policies or laws that are ranked highly are just closer to the preferred — or ideal — model set by the author of the scale. As the criteria and variables selected for measurement in the FOI and OGD domains differ, so the ideal conditions for each domain exhibit differences as well.

As rankings/ratings, and other exercises, assess particular aspects and characteristics in each initiative (FOI and/or OGD) they do not necessarily place a country/district in the same position, as they tend to examine different aspects of the disclosure of government information. Thus, comparing the results of such assessments should therefore be done with an eye on these differences, in order not to draw any quick conclusions.

Examples of that partial and misleading picture could be found if we were to draw conclusions by simply extrapolating from the RTI rating results for India and Liberia. On paper, both of these countries have enacted strong FOI legislation, which are placed among the best laws in the field. In the case of India, despite its high score of 128/150 in the RTI rating, the country is placed 85/175 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and the Open Data Barometer gives the country a 39/100. Liberia presents a similar scenario. The RTI rating gives the country’s FOI law a high score (124/150) but the World Justice Open Government Index 2015 [2] scores the country with a low figure (0.35/1), as does as the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (94/175).

Thus, to obtain a more accurate picture of a given jurisdiction it is necessary to gather information from a myriad of assessment’s exercises on different aspects of the disclosure of government information and data. This combination of information (from different assessments made by different actors on a variety of aspects regarding government’s disclosure of information and data) also could help to identify the cases of resistance to effective transparency by understanding administrative bottlenecks and the type of information/data that governments are withholding, among other elements. In a similar vain, because the letter of the legislation sometimes says little about the actual implementation of it in practice and thus the reality of access to government-held information and data in a given country, it is necessary to assess the production of statistics on compliance with FOI and OGD requirements. This information is mostly provided by governmental assessments (agencies in charge of implementation and/or oversight agencies) of their own policies and legislation. These systematic exercises allow advocates and academics to learn about the implementation status of the legislation and policies.

To sum up, there is a need for comprehensive exercises in terms of government-held and produced information and data. So far, we have partial snapshots and not the whole picture. Adding to this lack of comprehensive exercises, there is also a need for further research to develop a framework to understand not only the availability but also the use of information and data in a global comparative exercise. In order to take the first steps to achieve these improvements in terms of measurements and evaluation, a closer collaboration between the actors behind the demand and supply of data and information is needed.

Just to close this posts that it is getting too extensive, it is necessary to highlight that there is a need for comprehensive exercises of the availability and use of government-held and produced information and data but, in order to achieve that, it is also necessary that the actors working in the field, in particular civil society actors making use of that information and data, start evaluating and planning their actions more carefully. If the actors can provide a clear idea of the results (I’m consciously avoiding the use of the word impact) it would help in the design and implementation of a global aggregated measurement exercise. To have a clear picture of the whole ecosystem would benefit all actors involved.

 

Footnotes:

1 Many of the ideas included in this post were already explored in the article “Understanding two mechanisms for accessing government information and data around the world”: http://webfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/UnderstandingTwoMechanismsforAccessingGovernmentInformationandData

I’m grateful for the useful comments provided by Marcos Mendiburu. However, I’m solely responsible for the content of this post.

2 It is worth noting that several FOI specialists have questioned the World Justice Open Government Index. For example: http://www.freedominfo.org/2015/04/design-of-wjp-open-gov-index-skews-results/ and http://www.freedominfo.org/2015/04/wjp-open-government-index-raises-interesting-questions/

 

Bibliographic references:

 

  • Worthy, B. (2015, April 9) WJP Open Government Index Raises Interesting Questions. Freedominfo.org. Retrieved from: http://www.freedominfo.org/2015/04/wjp-open-government-index-raises-interesting-questions/

 

 

Cover photo by Patrick Tomasso.


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May 24, 2016 Silvana Fumega0

Silvana Fumega is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She just submitted her PhD thesis (University of Tasmania, Australia), which it is focused on international NGOs working with Open Government Data and Freedom of Information policies. She also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and a degree in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina). She also participated of the Research Programme Chevening Hansard (United Kingdom). She has served as a consultant for several international organizations, governments and civil society groups.

There is some recognition of the silos in which organizations in the government-information field currently work. Despite a general uniformity of treatment, or even minimal coverage, in the academic literature, Freedom of Information (FOI) and Open Government Data (OGD) communities have not only different backgrounds but also a diverse set of goals and drivers. ICT influence is a mayor element that allows for a better understanding of those differences [1].

In the past decade ICT driven changes has dramatically influenced the way citizens and governments interact with information. Citizens and governments now have direct channels to interact, from feedback mechanisms, to information and data requests platform, to formal and informal participation in decision-making processes. A diverse set of channels of interaction is now available, e.g. citizens demand information and also governments use social media tools to let the public know about their performance (Davies and Fumega 2014 p.2). Thus, in the case of the FOI field, citizens face the possibility of accessing information at just a click away. Furthermore, the option of submitting on-line requests enables users to request information even when they are not in the same city or even the same country, depending on the specifications of the platform (Fumega 2015 p.4).

However, ICT has not only exerted its impact over government-citizen relationships by providing new channels to connect and communicate. ICT presents a twofold influence over the information management-related fields as well as the advocacy organisations. On one side, ICT developments have provided new tools and channels to facilitate communication and to manage information and data in un-anticipated ways. On the other hand, the background behind many of the experts on these digital information and communication tools has influenced actors in civil society and also in government circles [2].

As the informational environment has changed because of the influence of ICT in all communication and information areas, so did organisational structure of some of the FOI organisations that were created after the second half of the 2000s. ICT developments allowed for flatter and more flexible structures [3].

This differential influence of ICT over the organisations, in terms of the influence of ICT tools in the period they were created, provides the necessary explanation for those newly created FOI oriented organisations. Thus, some of the organizations created in this past decade, despite pursuing transparency and accountability goals and relying on adversarial approaches towards government, are structured in a more flexible and flatter way (closer to post-bureaucracy organisational types). They are some of the organisations that are better positioned to connect with some other OGD organisations. Their understanding of ICT tools as well as ICT related topics, for example the connections with the digital rights’ field, positions them slightly closer to their OGD counterparts without losing their identity. Thus, in the context of a networked society, these newly created organizations tend to work in closer collaboration with others, outside and within organisations. They also tend to be more flexible and adapt to new methods of operation more easily.

ICT has proved to be the facilitator for mayor changes in communication and information management. Thus, despite the fact that organisational changes are particularly noticeable in FOI and OGD fields, they are intrinsically connected to the changes in how information and data is handled, including by governments and civil society organisations. However, these trends could also be translated to other fields, as people deal with information and data in all sorts of ways to perform their daily tasks. Organisations in most other fields might not adopt the hackers spirit that some of the OGD organisations embodied but they are moving towards more flexible and adaptable structures, taking advantage of the new developments which face, among other issues, budget constraints, as some newly created FOI organisations clearly demonstrate.

The key point, which requires further exploration, is how the traditional organisations working in the government information field (most of the FOI organizations) adapt to the new channels of communications and information management. Despite the importance of having FOI legislation and the more traditional advocacy approach, it is important to question FOI organizations’ ability to adapt (and the entire FOI field).  The principles behind the right that allows the public to access and use government-held and produced information and data will probably remain unaffected for the next few years. However, the channels and tools to access and make use of those resources are rapidly changing. The ability of the rights-based FOI organisations, in particular, to adapt to this changing environment and to adopt new tools and channels will determine the future of the field, or at least their role in the informational resources ecosystem. In this context, collaboration between the actors working with governmental information and data is not longer desirable but necessary.

Footnotes:

[1] The ideas included in this post are part of a larger study on International NGOs working on governmental information and data (PhD thesis, supervisor: Rick Snell).

I’m grateful for the useful comments provided by Marcos Mendiburu and Fabrizio Scrollini. However, I’m solely responsible for the content of this post.

[2] A popular initiative among transparency advocates is the permanent hacker lab inside the Brazilian Congress. For more information: Swislow, D. (2014 January 3).

[3] Post-bureaucratic structures rise in parallel with the increasing influence of technology in communications and some of their features would be impossible without ICT developments.

Unlike bureaucratic organisations, the main features of post-bureaucracy forms include, the reduction of formal levels of hierarchy, an emphasis on flexibility and an increase use of sub-contracting, temporary work and the use of consultants rather than permanent and/or in-house expertise. All these aspects are closely tied to the development of ICTs, and in particular, the influence ICTs have in developing new forms of communication

 

Bibliographic references:

Davies, T. and S. Fumega (2014). Mixed Incentives: Adopting ICT innovations for transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption. U4 Issue 2014 (4). Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.cmi.no/publications/file/5172-mixed-incentives.pdf

Fumega, S. (2015). Information & Communication Technologies and Access to Public Information Laws. Washington DC: Transparency and Access to Information Network (RTA) and World Bank. Retrieved from: http://redrta.cplt.cl/_public/public/folder_attachment/a5/1a/1a8b_42ea.pdf

Swislow, D. (2014, January 3). A permanent hacker space in the Brazilian Congress. Open Parliament Blog. Retrieved From: http://blog.openingparliament.org/

 

Cover photo by Florian Klauer.


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April 28, 2016 Antonio Moneo1

Antonio works at the Inter-American Development Bank promoting open data as a collaborative tool for governments, citizens, entrepreneurs and universities to solve developmental challenges. At the IDB, he launched the blog “Abierto al público” and organized the first civic innovation hackathons. He is a steward of the Open Data Charter and a registered trainer at the Open Data Institute. He previously worked for several universities, and has completed a PhD in Political Science and a Master’s in International Trade. He is currently a Learning and Knowledge Management Senior Associate at the IDB.

Open data is essential to local governments. As stated in principle 5.4 of the International Open Data Charter, “city or local governments are often the first point of interaction between citizens and government, and that these governments therefore have a crucial role in supporting citizen engagement on open data.”

Through open data policies, a local government can contact and collaborate with communities of innovators who are interested in improving public services, therefore establishing international partnerships and efficiently improving services for citizens. However, despite these advantages, there are still cultural, technological and legal challenges that hinder the advancement of such policies.

During 2014 and 2015, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) worked with Mar del Plata (Argentina), Xalapa (Mexico), Valdivia (Chile) and Tegucigalpa (Honduras) to explore the potential of open data in the resolution of urban challenges. Below is a summary of five key strategies learned from these projects:

1. Raise awareness and train civil servants and citizens through in-person events

The open data debate is still unknown to many, which is why awareness is important. In-person events such as hackathons have been useful for many governments, as they have allowed them to create links with civil society and start conversations about open data. It is easier to understand open data’s potential by participating in such events. While some criticize their lack of effectiveness in terms of establishing projects, no one denies that they are useful for encouraging collaboration between governments and citizens.

Further information about IDB hackathons

2. Focus conversation on practical applications

While open data sounds like something technical that only computer scientists would understand and discuss, it has interesting applications in all sectors. For this reason, it is best to focus discussion not on open data itself, but instead its use as a tool. For example, when we look at our cellphones, we see the current temperature and the picture of a cloud or a sun indicating the weather forecast. Few people know that open data is what enables apps to provide such information. It’s always recommended to focus on debate from a sectoral perspective, such as considering how open data can improve information related to transportation, cultural agendas, health, education or politics.

Further information about the Weather Channel case

3. Focus efforts on specific high-impact problems

Open data has great potential in almost any area of government, but trying to solve every problem at the same time hinders the generation of tangible and relevant results. An effective way of using open data is to select specific topics and try to delve into them as deeply as possible. In Mar del Plata, Xalapa, Valdivia and Tegucigalpa, the IDB used information from the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative to define priority areas in each city. Generally, they dealt with citizen insecurity, urban waste and water management, tourism and housing.

Further information about challenges that cities face in Latin America and the Caribbean

4. Establish partnerships with other cities and international bodies

There are common cultural, technological and administrative barriers that hinder the enactment of open data policies in many parts of the world. Initial resistance is usually strong, as governments fear revealing inefficiency and putting their security systems at risk. Governments that have overcome these obstacles already have specific examples of the benefits that open data can produce, which is why it is fundamental to transmit that knowledge to local realities. In addition, there are international initiatives that allow governments to collaborate, such as the Open Government Partnership and the International Open Data Charter, which have had a special focus on subnational governments since 2016.

Further information about the International Open Data Charter principles

5. Develop laws and allocate resources within budget to consolidate progress

Many government experts acknowledge that the success of open data policies mainly depends on the motivation of specific people or teams. That is, these policies are not well institutionalized. While important progress has been made without a specific regulatory framework, only the approval of laws and regulations can guarantee the sustainability of initial efforts.

For example, at the end of 2013, the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (Argentina) published decree 478, which established that “all data produced, stored or collected” by its agencies would be published in an open format on the website data.buenosaires.gob.ar. Following such promotion at the municipal level, open government practices started to permeate into national legislation, resulting in the publication of a decree that established an “Open Data Plan” on January 13, 2016.

Learn about the case of Xalapa, Mexico, whose regulations define it as an “open city.”

 

 


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March 24, 2016 Natasha Agarwal

Natasha Agarwal has completed her PhD in economics from the Nottingham ​U​niversity(U​K​). She has worked in various capacities including a post-doctoral fellow, research fellow, junior economist and an independent consultant at Nottingham university (UK), University of Oxford (UK) Indira Gandhi Institute of Development research (India), Centre for Advanced Financial Research and Learning (Reserve Bank of India, India), and Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (India).She is currently working on several projects in the area of international trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), migration, and open government data. Her research has been published in the form of articles published in peer-reviewed leading scientific journals, books, blog-posts, policy reports, policy-briefs, newspaper articles as well as working papers .Her research has often been cited by the media including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Quartz, amongst othe​rs.

In a recently concluded international open data conference, the international data community identified five priority areas for harnessing open data for sustainable development. These five areas include 1. deliver shared principles for open data; 2. develop and adopt good practices and open standards for data publication; 3. build capacity to produce and use open data effectively; 4.strengthen open data innovation networks; and 5. adopt common measurement and evaluation tools.

With the launch of data.gov.in in October 2012, India also embarked on its own journey in opening government data to the general public at large. On the surface it appears to be a success: over 21,000 resources published, 5.6 million views and 2.24 million downloads.[1]? Nevertheless, in a policy brief, I find that the data.gov.in which facilitates the dissemination of India’s OGD, has only just begun its journey: critical datasets continue to be missing from the portal, and the available ones are more often than not outdated, duplicated, incomplete, lack semantic interoperability, and are inadequately referenced. Top level metadata such as data collection methodology and a description of the variables are also either missing or incomplete. Besides, there isn’t available an effective communication mechanism for querying and trouble-shooting.

Being one of the pioneering countries in embracing the Open Government Data (OGD) initiative with a robust and one of its kinds National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), some challenges India faces in its approach to align itself with international community and solutions are:

Problem – Lack of clarity in NDSAP itself. For instance, the policy currently requires government agencies to segregate datasets into high- and low-value, and upload as many as high-value datasets as possible. This is in addition to publishing at least five high-value datasets on data.gov.in within three months of the notification of the policy.

Solution – It is essential that the government decommissions the prioritization requirement. If, for legislative reasons, the government is unable to decommission the prioritization requirements, then the government agencies by applying analytics (such as Google Analytics) should make available datasets that receive at least 100 unsuccessful requests. The government on its part can monitor the same analytics and ensure deliverables from the agencies.

Problem – Inconsistency in the implementation of NDSAP. For instance, several uploaded datasets on data.gov.in are on performance indicators like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the employment levels of the country, a state, a district, a sub-district, village or a town. Such data is available over time. However, these datasets operate in silos, and have no dimension to facilitate semantic interoperability.

Solution – One of the ways to achieve consistency could be to integrate the e-Governance standards laid down in the National e-Governance plans (NEGP) with NDSAP, and make it mandatory for agencies to comply with e-governance standards for uploading datasets on data.gov.in. Therefore, implementing Metadata and Data Standards (MDDS) would ensure that the government agencies implement practices that enable standardization of data and metadata such that the precise meaning of information is understood across government agencies, within a single government agency, and over time.

Problem – Inadequate interaction between the consumers (namely the data users such as researchers, analyst, application developers, amongst others) and suppliers (government agencies) of data. This is largely because data-suppliers are unaware of the economic benefits attached to opening government data and data users are either unaware of the existence of data.gov.in and or prefer to use the agencies web-portals because of ease of operations and familiarity.

Solution – Reinstate the capacities of government agencies by encouraging private participation (such as individual researchers, academic institutions, or data miners) in the entire process from data collection to data dissemination. This could be achieved by developing internship programmes, consultation roles or having a roster of private participants that could be brought in as and when the need arises. This would also help in developing a pool of resources for troubleshooting of queries posted on the platform, and have an accessible archive of resolved queries. In addition, this would reinforce the motivation of government agencies by cutting down on bureaucracy, and encouraging them to innovate.

Problem – Inadequate infrastructure and capacity constraints that data-suppliers face to implement the dissemination of OGD.

Solution – Building an independent data infrastructure agency within India’s OGD initiative such that it creates a balance between physical and intellectual capacity and enables centralization of dissemination activities. Such an independent agency would invest in computers that have updated, and multiple statistical packages, seamless internet connectivity, host of super computers for processing larger datasets, and an engineering team to troubleshoot computer problems to sustain a functioning data infrastructure. Such an agency could be established could be established centrally and locally to meet local government requirements.

To conclude, the Indian government should commit to improving and sustaining OGD initiative by taking into considerations the recommendations highlighted above. Further Identification and rectification of similar barriers can help India in internationalizing its commitment to open data.

1 Last updated on 23rd February, 2016.


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